Cannery Row


John Steinbeck

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Cannery Row: Chapter 28 Summary & Analysis

Like everyone else, Frankie wants to give Doc a nice gift, but he has no money. Nonetheless, he finds a “black onyx clock” with a bronze figure atop it that looks like Doc. Going into the shop where this clock is displayed, he asks how much it costs, and the owner tells him it’s 75 dollars. “Frankie walked out without replying,” Steinbeck writes. The boy then goes to the beach and lies beneath an “overturned rowboat,” trying to put the clock out of his mind. By nightfall, though, he hasn’t stopped thinking about the beautiful piece, so he returns to the shop, breaks the window, grabs the clock, and runs away. Unfortunately, a nearby police officer chases him down, and though he’s remarkably fast, he doesn’t get away.
Because Doc has been so kind to Frankie, the boy wants to do something in return. As such, Steinbeck once again illustrates the ways in which kindness creates more kindness. Unfortunately, though, Frankie doesn’t go about expressing his appreciation for Doc in an appropriate manner, since stealing ultimately means harming someone else (in this case, the shop owner). This, Steinbeck intimates, is not a good way to commit an act of kindness, which shouldn’t negatively affect anyone.
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Later, Doc comes to the police station and asks if the chief can let Frankie out on “parole.” “I don’t think the judge will do it,” the chief says. “We’ve got a mental report. You know what’s wrong with him?” Doc tells the chief that he’s aware of Frankie’s condition, and the chief says, “And you know what’s likely to happen when he comes into puberty?” adding that “the doctor thinks” he should be “put away.” “We couldn’t before,” he says, “but now he’s got a felony on him, I think we better.” Turning to Frankie, Doc asks why the boy took the clock. “I love you,” Frankie says, and Doc runs out of the station, gets in his car, and goes “collecting in the caves below Pt. Lobos.”
There are plenty of characters in Cannery Row who are outcasts living on the margins of society, but Frankie is one of the most tragic ones, for he is more alone than anyone else. This is because of his mental abilities, which the surrounding society is unable or unwilling to accommodate. Now that he’s out of Doc’s hands, unfortunately, there’s no one to accept him in spite of his challenges. It is perhaps because Doc recognizes this crushingly sad fact that he runs out of the jailhouse and goes “collecting,” for he knows that there’s no longer anything he can do to help Frankie.
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