Cannery Row


John Steinbeck

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Cannery Row: Chapter 32 Summary & Analysis

The morning after the party, Doc wakes up and finds lipstick on his beard. Looking around, he surveys the damage and smells a combination of firecrackers, wine, whiskey, and perfume. Rising, he walks to Lee’s to buy beer. “Good time?” Lee asks. “Good time!” he replies before returning to the laboratory. On his way, he hears “cool, soft, soothing music” in his mind. After doing a bit of tidying up in Western Biological, he puts on a record of Gregorian music and washes dishes. Then, when the record finishes, he picks up the book of poetry he read the night before and reads aloud once again. Putting the book aside, he returns to the kitchen sink and continues reciting the poetry as he runs the water. “Even now / I know that I have savored the hot taste of life,” he delivers, wiping tears from his eyes.
The poem that Doc reads both at the party and to himself the following morning is an eleventh-century Sanskrit poem known (in English) as “Black Marigolds.” The poem is largely about a condemned man’s love for a young princess, and, as such, deals rather heavily with nostalgia. When Doc recites the lines, “Even now / I know that I have savored the hot taste of life,” readers will recognize the mixture of melancholy and happiness that defines Cannery Row, since the poem celebrates the beauty of life (the “hot taste”) while insinuating the sad fact that the experience of being alive is fleeting and often painful. Happy to be alive but sensitive to life’s tribulations, then, Doc is able to fully appreciate the human experience, which is emotionally charged and wonderfully complex.
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Reality, Randomness, and Disorder Theme Icon