John Steinbeck

Sweet Thursday

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Sweet Thursday Summary

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Nobel Prize-winning American author John Steinbeck’s novel Sweet Thursday (1954) is a sequel to his 1945 classic Cannery Row, continuing the story of marine biologist Doc and his friends and introducing several new characters along the way. Sweet Thursday takes place in the years following the Second World War, with Doc returning home from service to find his hometown of Monterey, California, markedly changed.

The canneries have all closed because of a sharp decrease in local sea life. Lee Chong, who owned the general store, sold his business to a shady entrepreneur and left town. The Bear Flag—the local brothel—has been taken over by Fauna, whose sole intent is not to make money but to make her girls respectable and marry them off; she honors these success stories with gold stars on the wall of the brothel. Doc’s friend Mack returned to Cannery Row after a failed trip to find uranium. The war claimed the lives of many of the town’s vagrants. Doc, who owns Western Biological Laboratories, finds that his former colleague, Old Jingleballicks, abandoned the business.

It is to this Monterey that Doc returns. Nevertheless, he knows the possibility in the community, and he dedicates himself to getting things returned to normal. He begins ordering new equipment and collecting specimens for the lab. Despite his best intentions, however, Doc isn’t able to recapture the old feel of his work or his community.

Still, the people of the town love him and want to see him happy again. His remaining friends decide to do whatever it takes to improve his life.

Meanwhile, Doc studies octopi for a paper he is writing. The emotional responses of these multiarmed sea creatures intrigue him, but even with his strong interest in his subject, he is unable to focus on writing the paper. He spends his days at the lab, coming up with excuses as to why he can’t write the paper.

A young woman named Suzy steps off the bus in Monterey with just a few cents in her pocket. She takes a job at the Bear Flag, even though she doesn’t appear to be a typical prostitute. Fauna, with her eye ever on marriages for her girls, senses that Suzy and Doc would be a good match. She sets them up together and a spark ignites. Fauna is also an amateur astrologer, and the town gets a kick out of her prediction that Hazel, a not-terribly-bright young man, will someday be President.

Over at the Palace Flophouse, where many of Doc’s friends, including Mack, live, the denizens of the building believe that the Mexican man who purchased Lee Chong’s store—a man named Joseph and Mary—is also the owner of the Flophouse. Joseph and Mary is a shyster, and the group thinks he will evict them. Mack comes up with a plan. They will hold a raffle, with the proceeds going to purchase Doc a new microscope so he can do his octopi research; the raffle’s main prize will be the Flophouse. Mack will fix the raffle to ensure Doc wins because Doc, Mack knows, would never collect rent from his friends. Teaming up with Fauna, Mack holds a raffle party with a Snow White theme—and with Suzy in the role of Snow White. Fauna also plans the event to be an engagement party for Suzy and Doc, but when the couple recognizes the strength of their feelings for one another, Suzy flees in fear. After Doc wins the raffle as expected, he reveals something truly unexpected: Lee Chong left the Flophouse to Mack; he never sold it to Joseph and Mary, so Mack was the owner all along.

Hazel attempts to convince Suzy to get back together with Doc. Nevertheless, Suzy, who quits the Bear Flag and gets a job at the Golden Poppy Diner, says she will never talk to Doc again. Unless he is somehow injured—then, she will bring him soup and speak to him again.

That’s all Hazel needs to hear. He goes to Doc’s lab in the dead of night and breaks his arm.

When Suzy learns Doc is hurt, she goes to be with him and, as promised, brings the soup. She informs him of her true feelings, vowing to help him gather his specimens and do his work. Doc relents, finally admitting that Suzy makes him happy and that he wants to be with her.

At the close of the novel, Doc and Suzy are getting ready to go to La Jolla, California, to continue Doc’s work. The residents of the Flophouse teach Suzy how to drive. Just before she and Doc depart, Mack and the gang present them with a gift: a new microscope. There’s just one problem; it’s not a microscope, but a telescope. As Doc and Suzy drive off, Fauna considers putting up Suzy’s gold star, and Mack begins to rethink the idea of Hazel becoming President of the United States.