Cannery Row

by

John Steinbeck

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Cannery Row: Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
When Doc returns from collecting starfish, Mack goes to Western Biological, passing Sam Malloy on his way. “You know any kind of glue that you can stick cloth to iron?” Sam asks, but Mack doesn’t stop to help, though he’d normally “throw himself headlong into this problem.” “Hiya, Doc?” he says when he enters the laboratory. Doc, for his part, likes Mack but is somewhat nervous when he appears. “It was not that trouble always came in with Mack but something always entered with him,” Steinbeck notes. “Doc, you got any need for any kind of animals now?” Mack asks, saying that he and “the boys” need money for a “worthy cause.” Hesitantly, Doc says, “I could use three or four hundred frogs. I’d get them myself but I’ve got to go down to La Jolla tonight. There’s a good tide tomorrow and I have to get some octopi.”
It’s worth noting that Mack would normally “throw himself headlong” into helping Sam with his strange curtain problem. This is a testament to Mack’s willingness to devote himself and his time to his fellow community members—a mark of kindness and general goodwill. However, Doc understands that Mack is a complicated man, for although he often means well, he also frequently invites “trouble,” or at least “something” like it. As such, readers see that Mack’s good intentions don’t necessarily save him from his tendency to make mistakes, though Steinbeck hasn’t yet clarified how, exactly, these mistakes manifest themselves.
Themes
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After establishing that Doc still pays a nickel for every frog, Mack says he and “the boys” will do the job for him. He then asks if they can use Doc’s car, but Doc reminds him that he needs it to drive to La Jolla. As such, Mack decides to ask Lee Chong to borrow his truck, but first he asks Doc to lend him money for gas. “No,” Doc says, because he has “fallen into this before.” “Once he had financed Gay to go for turtles,” Steinbeck writes. “He financed him for two weeks and at the end of that time Gay was in jail on his wife’s charge and he never did go for turtles.” Instead of giving Mack money, then, Doc gives him a note to give to the gas attendant, telling him how much gas to put on his tab.
Doc’s suspiciousness in this moment calls attention to the idea that Mack is perhaps not the most trustworthy person. However, Doc obviously wouldn’t do business with Mack if he thought he was malicious. It becomes evident once again that Mack is a good person who is sometimes misguided when he tries to do something for someone else. His intentions, though, are pure.
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Mack goes to Lee Chong’s and asks to borrow his truck, but Lee informs him that the truck is broken. “Doc needs them frogs,” Mack says. “He give me this order for gas to get them. I can’t let Doc down. Now Gay is a good mechanic. If he fixes your truck and puts it in good shape, will you let us take it?” After considering this for a moment, Lee decides to let Mack and “the boys” have the truck, though he knows it’s a risk. Still, though, he doesn’t want to let Doc down. “By the way,” Mack says before leaving. “Doc’s paying us five cents apiece for those frogs. We’re going to get seven or eight hundred. How about taking a pint of Old Tennis Shoes just ’til we can get back with the frogs?” “No!” Lee yells in response.
In this scene, readers see how persuasive and charming Mack can be when he’s trying to get his way. To convince Lee to lend him his truck, for example, he calls upon the grocer’s kindheartedness, saying that he shouldn’t “let Doc down.” It’s also worth noting that he has already made a slew of promises. Not only has he told Doc that he will capture frogs for him, he has now also promised Lee that Gay will fix his truck. As these claims pile up, readers begin to understand why Mack isn’t always able to deliver what he says he will, thus receiving a reputation as untrustworthy. If it’s not already clear that he’s undependable when it comes to his business dealings, he pushes his luck just one step further by asking Lee to give him a bottle of whiskey on credit, thereby demonstrating that he has no qualms with spending money he hasn’t even made yet.
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