Cannery Row

by

John Steinbeck

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Doc Character Analysis

A marine biologist who owns, operates, and lives in Western Biological, a laboratory teeming with sea creatures, chemicals, books, and other oddities. Doc is an important figure in Cannery Row, as all of his neighbors respect him for his kindness, compassion, and thoughtfulness, though he is also an essentially lonely figure. Indeed, Doc is the kind of man who has no problem taking in someone like Frankie, who comes to his laboratory when things get rough at his own home. In addition to showing Frankie how to do small tasks around the lab, Doc often helps other people when they injure themselves. Mack, for one, has benefited from Doc’s ability to wrap bandages, which is perhaps why he is inspired to show Doc his appreciation by throwing him a surprise party. Unfortunately, Mack’s first attempt to do this ends terribly, as he and his friends drunkenly destroy Western Biological before he even comes home. In the aftermath of this, Doc experiences an uncharacteristic moment of fury and punches Mack in the face, though his anger quickly abates. Because of his levelheadedness, he soon forgets about the entire ordeal, though it isn’t long before he overhears that Mack and his friends are planning to throw him yet another surprise party. Instead of thwarting this plan, though, he goes along with the charade, secretly buying food and drinks for the party so that his guests aren’t unhappy when they run out of supplies. When the party finally takes place, Doc is his usual self, humoring his friends, drinking large quantities of beer (he has an unmentioned but rather evident drinking problem), and playing sad records on the phonograph. At one point, he begins reciting an old, nostalgic poem, which gives the party a “sweet sadness” that aligns with Doc’s emotionally complex personality.

Doc Quotes in Cannery Row

The Cannery Row quotes below are all either spoken by Doc or refer to Doc. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Books edition of Cannery Row published in 2002.
Chapter 6 Quotes

Doc swung his heavy sack of starfish to the ground and stood panting a little. “Nuts?” he asked. “Oh, yes, I guess so. Nuts about the same amount we are, only in a different way.”

Such a thing had never occurred to Hazel. He looked upon himself as a crystal pool of clarity and on his life as a troubled glass of misunderstood virtue. Doc’s last statement had outraged him a little.

Related Characters: Doc (speaker), Hazel, Henri
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

“The remarkable thing,” said Doc, “isn’t that they put their tails up in the air—the really incredibly remarkable thing is that we find it remarkable. We can only use ourselves as yardsticks. If we did something as inexplicable and strange we’d probably be praying—so maybe they’re praying.”

Related Characters: Doc (speaker), Hazel
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

We worked it out that we wanted to give Doc a party. So we come out here and have a hell of a lot of fun. Then we’ll go back and get the dough from Doc. There’s five of us, so we’ll drink five times as much liquor as he will. And I ain’t sure we’re doin’ it for Doc. I ain’t sure we ain’t doin’ it for ourselves. And Doc’s too nice a fella to do that to. Doc is the nicest fella I ever knew. I don’t want to be the kind of a guy that would take advantage of him.

Related Characters: Mack (speaker), Doc
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 17 Quotes

In spite of his friendliness and his friends Doc was a lonely and a set-apart man. Mack probably noticed it more than anybody. In a group, Doc seemed always alone. When the lights were on and the curtains drawn, and the Gregorian music played on the great phonograph, Mack used to look down on the laboratory from the Palace Flophouse. He knew Doc had a girl in there, but Mack used to get a dreadful feeling of loneliness out of it. Even in the dear close contact with a girl Mack felt that Doc would be lonely.

Related Characters: Doc, Mack
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:

Because he loved true things he tried to explain. He said he was nervous and besides he wanted to see the country, smell the ground and look at grass and birds and trees, to savor the country, and there was no other way to do it save on foot. And people didn’t like him for telling the truth. They scowled, or shook and tapped their heads, they laughed as though they knew it was a lie and they appreciated a liar. And some, afraid for their daughters or their pigs, told him to move on, to get going, just not to stop near their place if he knew what was good for him.

Related Characters: Doc
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

He sat down on the beach in the coarse dry sand and pulled off his boots. In the jar the little octopi were huddled up each keeping as far as possible from the others. Music sounded in Doc’s ears, a high thin piercingly sweet flute carrying a melody he could never remember, and against this, a pounding surf-like wood-wind section. The flute went up into regions beyond the hearing range and even there it carried its unbelievable melody. Goose pimples came out on Doc’s arms. He shivered and his eyes were wet the way they get in the focus of great beauty.

Related Characters: Doc
Related Symbols: The Dead Woman
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 21 Quotes

“We’ll pay for it, Doc.”

“No you won’t, Mack,” said Doc. “You’ll think about it and it’ll worry you for quite a long time, but you won’t pay for it. There’s maybe three hundred dollars in broken museum glass. Don’t say you’ll pay for it. That will just keep you uneasy. It might be two or three years before you forgot about it and felt entirely easy again. And you wouldn’t pay it anyway.”

Related Characters: Doc (speaker), Mack (speaker)
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 23 Quotes

Look at them. There are your true philosophers. I think […] that Mack and the boys know every thing that has ever happened in the world and possibly every­ thing that will happen. I think they survive in this particular world better than other people. In a time when people tear themselves to pieces with ambition and nervousness and covetousness, they are relaxed. All of our so-called successful men are sick men, with bad stomachs, and bad souls, but Mack and the boys are healthy and curiously clean. They can do what they want. They can satisfy their appetites without calling them something else.

Related Characters: Doc (speaker), Mack
Page Number: 129
Explanation and Analysis:

“It has always seemed strange to me,” said Doc. “The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.”

Related Characters: Doc (speaker), Mack
Page Number: 131
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 25 Quotes

It’s all right not to believe in luck and omens. Nobody believes in them. But it doesn’t do any good to take chances with them and no one takes chances. Cannery Row, like every place else, is not superstitious but will not walk under a ladder or open an umbrella in the house. Doc was a pure scientist and incapable of superstition and yet when he came in late one night and found a line of white flowers across the doorsill he had a bad time of it. But most people in Cannery Row simply do not believe in such things and then live by them.

Related Characters: Doc
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 30 Quotes

Hazel was so taken by the sound of the words that he had not listened to their meaning. But a little world sadness had slipped over all of them. Every one was remembering a lost love, everyone a call.

Mack said, “Jesus, that’s pretty. Reminds me of a dame—” and he let it pass. They filled the wine glasses and became quiet. The party was slipping away in sweet sadness.

Related Characters: Mack (speaker), Doc, Hazel
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Cannery Row LitChart as a printable PDF.
Cannery Row PDF

Doc Character Timeline in Cannery Row

The timeline below shows where the character Doc appears in Cannery Row. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
Kindness, Empathy, and Friendship Theme Icon
...of the house and looking across the lot into the windows of Western Biological, where Doc works and lives. And when Doc leaves the laboratory to buy beer at Lee Chong’s,... (full context)
Chapter 5
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Steinbeck describes Western Biological, the laboratory Doc owns, which also happens to be where he lives. The lab sells marine animals as... (full context)
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Doc is “the fountain of philosophy and science and art” in Cannery Row. Many of the... (full context)
Chapter 6
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One day, Doc collects starfish with Hazel, one of the residents of the Palace Flophouse. Hazel loves hearing... (full context)
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Hazel and Doc talk about Henri, who is building himself a boat. “He’s got it all changed around.... (full context)
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...the ground. “What they got their asses up in the air for?” he asks, but Doc says he doesn’t know. “Well, why do you think they do it?” Hazel asks. “I... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...with his friends. Now, as Mack and the gang sip the mixture, they talk about Doc. “That Doc is a hell of a nice fella,” Mack says. “He’ll give you a... (full context)
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...tells “the boys” that he used to go to Carmel Valley to collect frogs for Doc, who paid him a nickel for each one. Hearing this, Mack realizes that they could... (full context)
Chapter 9
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When Doc returns from collecting starfish, Mack goes to Western Biological, passing Sam Malloy on his way.... (full context)
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After establishing that Doc still pays a nickel for every frog, Mack says he and “the boys” will do... (full context)
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...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.... (full context)
Chapter 10
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...the door. Ten days later he was in the basement.” Although he is incredibly dirty, Doc allows him to help out in small ways. One day, he asks Frankie about his... (full context)
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Despite Frankie’s yearning to be useful, Doc can’t deny that the boy is rather clumsy. In fact, there’s something off about Frankie,... (full context)
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Wanting to replicate the splendid moment in which Doc praised him, Frankie seizes his opportunity at the next party that takes place at Western... (full context)
Chapter 11
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...T running, and the gang heads for the gas station, where Mack tells the attendant, “Doc was a little short of change. So if you’ll put five gallons in and just... (full context)
Chapter 13
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“There’s five of us,” Mack continues, “so we’ll drink five times as much liquor as [Doc] will. And I ain’t sure we’re doin’ it for Doc. I ain’t sure we ain’t... (full context)
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As Mack and “the boys” discuss the best way to honor Doc, a man appears holding a shotgun, a Pointer dog standing by his side. “What the... (full context)
Chapter 15
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...leave—whiskey and puppy in hand—Mack says, “We shouldn’t go forgettin’ we’re doin’ all this for Doc.” (full context)
Chapter 16
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...still particularly vulnerable to the illness. As a result, the local doctors are overextended, so Doc begins treating people when they need help, running around Cannery Row and doing his best... (full context)
Chapter 17
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“In spite of his friendliness and his friends Doc was a lonely and a set-apart man,” Steinbeck writes, suggesting that Mack is the only... (full context)
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Compared to most people, Doc travels slowly. This is because he frequently stops for hamburgers and beer. In fact, someone... (full context)
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
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Steinbeck tells a story about Doc’s youth, when he was a university student who—feeling depressed about “love” and having “worked too... (full context)
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
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...certain point during his trip to La Jolla—after stopping in multiple towns for burgers and beer—Doc visits a gas station, where he takes on a hitchhiker. After a while, he pulls... (full context)
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...of the car. “I’m going to find an officer,” he says through the window, but Doc grabs a wrench and gestures threateningly, and the man quickly walks away. Getting out of... (full context)
Chapter 18
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Doc reaches La Jolla at two in the morning, at which point he parks near the... (full context)
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Looking down at this dead girl, whose body is stuck in a “crevice,” Doc feels as if the image has become “burned into his picture memory.” In his mind,... (full context)
Chapter 20
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...Mack and “the boys” get back to Cannery Row, they have roughly one thousand frogs. Doc isn’t home yet, so they start preparing for his party. Going to Lee’s grocery store,... (full context)
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...Flophouse and play with Darling, their new puppy. Sitting in the Flophouse and waiting for Doc to return, they decide that the party—which will take place in Doc’s laboratory—should have decorations,... (full context)
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...of their frogs on Old Tennis Shoes and two jugs of wine, since they believe Doc loves wine. They then make their way into the laboratory—which Doc never locks—and start trying... (full context)
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...broke two windows.” Later, a drunkard says something that Mack interprets as an insult to Doc—who is still absent—and so he hits him so hard he “crashe[s] through the packing case... (full context)
Chapter 21
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Doc returns to Cannery Row at dawn. Tired from driving, he enters the laboratory in confusion.... (full context)
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When Doc returns, Mack is still washing the blood off his face, and Doc pours them each... (full context)
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Doc,” Mack says, “I and the boys will clean up here—and we’ll pay for the stuff... (full context)
Chapter 22
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Running to the laboratory, Henri tells Doc what he’s just seen. “Is it a ghost do you think,” he asks Doc. “Is... (full context)
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Just then, a girl arrives to go on a date with Doc. Upon hearing Henri’s story, though, she agrees out of curiosity to accompany him back to... (full context)
Chapter 23
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...town talks about the event, failing to understand that the gang only wanted to honor Doc. As such, “the boys” keep to themselves. “For there are two possible reactions to social... (full context)
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As Mack and “the boys” keep a low profile, Doc makes an interesting “observation” about them (for he is not, contrary to what they think,... (full context)
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Doc’s friend says he thinks Mack and “the boys” are the same as everyone else except... (full context)
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...and “the boys” do seems to revive her. As such, Hazel and Jones go to Doc’s and ask for help. When he comes to the Palace Flophouse to examine her, he... (full context)
Chapter 25
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...good to take chances with them and no one takes chances.” This is why even Doc—a “pure scientist” devoted to rational thinking—is wary of bad “omens.” “Most people in Cannery Row... (full context)
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...specifics. They decide it ought to be a surprise birthday party, but they don’t know Doc’s birthday, so Mack visits the laboratory and—pretending to be curious about his horoscope—asks when he... (full context)
Chapter 27
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Everyone in Cannery Row is excited about Doc’s surprise party. Because they think it’s his birthday, they brainstorm presents. For instance, the prostitutes... (full context)
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Having a beer at a bar, Doc hears a drunk talking about the party. “His reaction to the idea was not simple,”... (full context)
Chapter 28
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Like everyone else, Frankie wants to give Doc a nice gift, but he has no money. Nonetheless, he finds a “black onyx clock”... (full context)
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Later, Doc comes to the police station and asks if the chief can let Frankie out on... (full context)
Chapter 29
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By the time evening comes on October 27th, Doc is ready for the party. While he waits, Mack and “the boys” prepare to walk... (full context)
Chapter 30
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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.” (full context)
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“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... (full context)
Chapter 32
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The morning after the party, Doc wakes up and finds lipstick on his beard. Looking around, he surveys the damage and... (full context)