After waiting for a while, Mack and “the boys” walk to the laboratory. “Being as how it’s your birthday, I and the boys thought we would wish you happy birthday and we got twenty-one cats for you for a present,” Mack says, and Doc pretends to be surprised. Shortly thereafter, the other residents of Cannery Row enter, presenting Doc with their gifts as they arrive. “The stiffness was going out of the party quickly,” Steinbeck writes. As Doc plays “dance music,” everyone settles in and drinks, and Doc retreats to the kitchen to cook steaks. “The first fight was not a bad one,” Steinbeck notes. “One of the group from La Ida made an immoral proposal to one of Dora’s girls. She protested and Mack and the boys, outraged at this breach of propriety, threw him out quickly and without breaking anything. They felt good then[…].”
Slowly, Doc relaxes into the party environment, clearly enjoying the opportunity to spend time with his friends, even if doing so means risking his property. Once again, Steinbeck presents fighting as a happy and virtuous activity, one that makes Mack and the boys feel good because they can do something to really show Doc their appreciation of him. Indeed, by throwing these men from La Ida out of the party, they find a physical manifestation of their desire to do Doc a favor.
Before long, people begin dancing, and the party starts to “take on depth and vigor.” As Doc cooks, he drinks and feels “better and better,” and when the whiskey runs out, he starts opening “gallons of wine.” “Doc,” Dora says, “play some of that nice music. I get Christ awful sick of that juke box over home.” With this, Doc begins to play beautiful, wistful music, and everyone sits “quietly with their eyes […] inward.” Then, when the music stops, Doc rises, opens a book, and reads a long and nostalgic poem about lost love, memory, and the past. When he stops, almost everyone is crying. “Hazel was so taken by the sound of the words that he had not listened to their meaning,” Steinbeck notes. “But a little world sadness had slipped over all of them. Everyone was remembering a lost love, everyone a call.”
Once again, Steinbeck showcases the ways in which melancholy and happiness can mix with one another. In particular, the characters at Doc’s party experience a “little world [of] sadness,” but no one seems to think this is unpleasant. In fact, the general reaction is quite positive, as each person revels in the memory of a “lost love.”
“Jesus, that’s pretty,” Mack says. “Reminds me of a dame—” but he stops short. As the guests refill their glasses, they grow quiet. “The party was slipping away in sweet sadness,” Steinbeck notes. Just then, though, a group of men who work on a “tuna boat” come clomping up the steps asking, “Where’s the girls?” When Mack asks these men what they’re talking about, they say, “Ain’t this a whore house?” “You made a mistake, Mister,” Mack says, his tone curiously happy. “Well, what’s them dames in there?” one of the men says, pointing at Dora Flood’s prostitutes. “They joined battle then,” Steinbeck writes. “Dora leaped for the kitchen and came roaring out with a meat grinder. Even Doc was happy. He flailed about with the Chalmers 1916 piston and connecting rod.”
When Steinbeck writes that the party “slip[s] away in sweet sadness,” he perfectly articulates the way that sadness can combine with a certain pleasant feeling, one that recalls the overall sensation of “well-being” that Henri experiences when he cries his “luxurious” tears after his lovers leave him. Despite this feeling of melancholy contentment, though, it’s worth noting that the people at Doc’s party eagerly welcome the opportunity to forget about their nostalgic sadness by fighting, as Steinbeck once again frames physical conflict as potentially cathartic and joyful instead of malicious and wrong.
“It was a good fight,” though there is extensive damage to Doc’s laboratory. Eventually, the men from the “tuna boat” are beaten, at which point police sirens echo throughout Cannery Row, prompting the partygoers to hide in Western Biological, giggling all the while. When the coast is clear, though, they begin partying once more, and the police officers loop back, though they only join the festivities. In fact, even the men from the “tuna boat” return and are “embraced” and welcomed into the party. “Doc sitting cross-legged on the table smiled and tapped his fingers gently on his knee.” As he watches the party rage on, someone lights “the twenty-five-foot string of firecrackers.”
Steinbeck describes a scene of utter chaos. Interestingly enough, this party doesn’t seem much different than the last one Mack and the boys threw in Western Biological, but this time there is a crucial distinction: Mack and his friends haven’t lost sight of their intentions to celebrate Doc (and Doc is actually present). Indeed, Doc is having a fantastic time. Although Mack and his crew were perhaps misguided when they tried to throw Doc his first party, there’s no denying that they were right to think he would enjoy such a spectacle. In this way, Steinbeck proves that their intentions have been good for the entirety of the novel, though they are only now able to bring these intentions to full fruition.