Cannery Row


John Steinbeck

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Cannery Row: Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Steinbeck presents the Malloys, a married couple who find a boiler in a vacant lot. This boiler used to belong to a cannery, but the owners decided to purchase a new one, so it was moved to the area near Lee Chong’s grocery store and the Bear Flag. When the Malloys come upon it, they decide to turn it into a home. After moving a mattress inside, they take up residence within, and Sam Malloy starts renting empty nearby pipes to other homeless people. Soon, though, Mrs. Malloy tires of the boiler. When Holman’s Department Store has a sale, she asks Sam for money to buy lace curtains. Confused, he asks why she wants curtains, since they don’t even have any windows. “I like nice things,” she insists, lamenting the fact that he won’t spend $1.98 to please her. “Men just don’t understand how a woman feels,” she cries.
Like Mack and “the boys,” the Malloys understand how important it is to feel a sense of belonging. This is why they decide to turn the boiler into a home. Although they don’t have a traditional house, they see this as an opportunity to settle down. Indeed, Mrs. Malloy’s desire to decorate the boiler with curtains (even though they don’t have windows) is nothing but a desire to feel established and rooted in her environment. This, Steinbeck implies, is how people manage to find happiness even when they live in unconventional—and even undesirable—conditions.
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