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Cannery Row

John Steinbeck

Chapters 22 - 25

Chapters 18 - 21

Chapters 26 - 29

Summary

Henri the painter, a good friend of Doc's, is not French and his given name is not Henri. He is an American who fantasizes about the avant-garde and follows the artistic and political movements in Paris with an especially keen eye. Henri has gone through several artistic phases in which he has worked only in a certain medium, like chicken feathers, or has worked under other strange principles, like not using the color red. While his paintings may be of questionable artistic value, there is no doubt that he is an excellent craftsman. He has been working on his boat for quite some time and secretly intends never to finish it. The shape of the vessel keeps changing but it is always a masterpiece. The difficulties of living in the boat have driven away two wives and numerous girlfriends. After each woman leaves him, Henri gets drunk and mourns. His latest girlfriend has just left, and Henri has just begun to get drunk when he sees a "devilish" young man and a blonde little boy appear on the bench next to him. The young man slits the baby's throat with a razor. Henri flees the apparition and ends up at Doc's. Doc has invited a young woman over for the evening. Henri tells the story of the ghost to the young woman. She is intrigued and asks to go up to the boat to see if there is anything there. She becomes the next of Henri's girlfriends, to Doc's chagrin.

The main narrative finds Mack and the boys feeling blue after the disastrous party. Public opinion accuses them of stealing and trashing Doc's lab, and more than one person wants to fight them for what they have done to Doc. This is not a fair interpretation of what happened, of course, but everyone believes it. Doc and a friend of his (the same man who interrogated the flag-pole roller skater) are watching the boys sitting on a log on the Fourth of July. Doc is telling his friend that the boys are true philosophers because they know better than to want worldly success, which is only accompanied by bad things. The two men bet on whether the boys will look up when the Independence Day parade passes. They do not look, and Doc claims that this is proof of their innate wisdom: They know what is in the parade and don't need to see it again. Meanwhile, the boys, who have been working steadily since the party and have come as close as ever to respectability, are still depressed over what has happened.

Other bad things begin to happen all over Cannery Row. Dora's bouncer throws a drunk out and accidentally breaks the man's back. A storm beaches several fishing boats, and a man falls asleep on the train tracks and loses his leg. The Bear Flag is shut down by crusading women from the town, and Dora loses the business that would have come from three conventions that are in town. Worst of all, Darling gets severely ill and begins to waste away. With nowhere else to turn, the boys go to see Doc for advice. He instructs them on how to care for Darling, and she is soon better. Things then begin to improve all over the Row: Dora is allowed to reopen, and Lee Chong forgives the boys their debt from the party. Mack and the boys begin to dream again and decide to do something for Doc. Not sure what to do, Mack goes to see Dora, who suggests they give a party that Doc can actually attend. The boys love the idea and begin to plan.

The narrative digresses for a moment to visit Mary Talbot, a local woman. Mary, the descendant of a woman burned for being a witch, is quite beautiful and rather childish. Her husband, Tom, is an unsuccessful writer. To keep from being depressed, Mary throws parties for every possible occasion; often, these parties are nothing more than teas for the neighborhood cats. After a particularly bad day for Tom, Mary is throwing a cat party and goes out to collect the cats. One of the neighbor's cats is in the middle of torturing and killing a mouse when Mary approaches it. She is horrified and begins to panic. Tom rushes to her aid, kills the mouse, and chases off the cat. To humor Mary, he forgets his disappointments and participates in her tea party. Later that year, Mary throws herself a baby shower, and the town remarks on how much fun a child of hers will have.

Everyone on the Row is flourishing. The boys are still trying to plan their party for Doc when Hazel suggests that it be a birthday party. They love the idea and Mack goes over to Western Biological to ferret out the date of Doc's birthday. Doc is suspicious of Mack's questions but Mack's obvious gratitude at Doc's role in healing Darling touches him, and, for the first time since the party gone wrong, relations between Doc and the boys are normal. Doc nevertheless gives Mac a false birth date. Later, when rumors of the party begin to circulate, Doc realizes why Mac was acting so strangely in trying to find out his birthday.

Commentary

These chapters continue to interrogate the balance of evil and good in the world. A series of bad things happens to individuals of varying degrees of moral standing. Henri, who seems to be innocent of any real wrongdoing, is haunted by a specter that com es out of his head. The experience is terrifying for him, yet in the end, he profits (at least temporarily) by it: It gets him a new girlfriend. Mary Talbot, perhaps the most innocent and sentimentally sympathetic character in the novel, is subjected to one of the more horrible and cruel aspects of nature simply because she wants to give a tea party for the neighbors' cats. Although she has been traumatized, she too benefits in the end, as her husband forgets his troubles momentarily and (it is implied) they conceive a child that day. The runs of bad and good luck that visit the whole Row are also significant. Symbolically, the run of bad luck has at its root the estrangement between the boys and Doc; when they come to him for help with Darling, the string of misfortunes ends. Perhaps this is meant to symbolize the importance of community and forgiveness over individual scores. It is clear that in certain ways the divide between Doc and the rest of the row is permanent: As his bet over the parade shows, he doesn't understand their motives as well as he thinks he does, and his romanticization of their lifestyle is more of a handicap on his part than he realizes. As the preparations for the party begin, too, Doc is alienated still farther by the conspiracy around him. Although the surprise party is meant to make Doc happy and to show him how much he is admired, it has the effect of making him feel more alone than ever, despite the fact that he knows what is going on.

The redemption of Mack and the boys is significant, though. The acquisition of real jobs and more domestic habits does little for them; in fact, it is linked to the bad times that the Row goes through. Once the boys begin to think of others, however, th ings begin to change. First they have to nurse Darling back to health. This reminds them that, just as Darling is indebted to them, they are indebted to Doc for their continual well-being, and they once again resolve to do something nice for him. This time, though, they seek outside advice, from Dora, who knows, thanks to her business interests, more than anyone about balancing good and evil. The attempt to shut down the Bear Flag highlights the symbiosis between good and bad, moral and immoral, high society and low-class. Dora is able to work with the boys' original good intentions, and by directing them properly, she comes up with something that the boys will be capable of doing for Doc. The boys need to think and work toward their goal this time, though; the much longer span (several months) between the idea and its execution this time shows an advance in their capabilities. Somehow, though, Doc still remains above the rest of the inhabitants of the Row, too aware of their behavior and their habi ts for the surprise to be successful.

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