Sweet Thursday

Steinbeck, John

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler
  • Date of entry: May-05-2005


Returning to the scene of Cannery Row (see this database), made so famous in the eponymous novel, Steinbeck finds a few of his familiar old characters (notably Doc and Mack) and some new ones inhabiting a world that appears to have changed little during the intervening years, despite the closing of the canneries and a World War. Mack and the boys, still up to their usual self-sabotaging shenanigans, collude with Fauna, the proprietor of the local brothel, to bring together Suzy, a new prostitute recently arrived to Cannery Row, and an increasingly lonely and frustrated Doc.


The impulse to re-visit a place is often partly due to the desire to preserve it and partly to see how things have changed; such an impulse necessitates a certain balance of sentimentality for the past and acuity for the present. Likewise, returning to a literary environment years after it was explored with conviction and energy requires a sharp eye for how things have changed, but also runs the risk of a dual sentimentality: sentimentality for the place and sentimentality for what one said about it.

Although this novel sparkles at times and although Steinbeck remarks with some bitterness how the environment of Cannery Row has been degraded, there is also the feeling that Steinbeck is working too hard to re-capture a wit and vigor from the past, almost to the point of self-parody. That he should decide to name the chapters this time is one thing; that he should name several chapters "Hooptedoodle" strikes a cloying note, and does a disservice to the chapters in 'Cannery Row' where Steinbeck similarly goes off on tangents, which are anything but hooptedoodle.

Compared to Cannery Row, in Sweet Thursday the drinking is toned down, the poverty less grinding, and the characters sometimes seem eccentric in order to keep up with the eccentricity of the earlier novel (where their eccentricity was secondary to their humanity). Steinbeck is too skeptical about social progress and too suspicious of convention to become trite, but Sweet Thursday does tend towards the saccharine.

Whereas Doc was frequently called upon to serve as the physician to the community in Cannery Row, in Sweet Thursday, the focus is on his role as a marine biologist and his work as a scientist, inhibited not so much by his poverty or drinking as by the loneliness and psychological mire. The community's desire to help him find love, though, continues to derive in part from how Doc is seen as a compassionate, generous figure.


First Published in 1954



Place Published

New York



Page Count