Cannery Row Chapter 8 Summary
by John Steinbeck

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Chapter 8 Summary

Chapter 8 introduces two new characters: Mr. and Mrs. Sam Malloy, the most recent residents of the vacant lot. 

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Three years prior to their arrival, the boiler at the Hediondo Cannery blew up for the third and final time. The owners decided it would be cheaper to just invest in a new one than try to repair the old one yet again. The troublesome old boiler was moved to the vacant lot. There it sat, between Lee Chong's and the Bear Flag. Rust grew around it but sweet smelling plants did as well, wild anise and the white bell flowers from a datura tree. 

The boiler was about the size and shape of a railroad car, minus the wheels. And into this now dry and safe space moved Mr. and Mrs. Malloy. They had to crawl in through a small door but once inside they could stand up straight. They wrestled a mattress inside and called the boiler home. 

Two years later, Cannery Row experienced a fishing boom. So many new workers came in to can the sardines that housing soon became a problem. Mr. Malloy surveyed the large, empty pipes that lay strewn below his boiler. It occurred to Sam that he could rent out the pipes as sleeping spaces to the temporary male workers. He covered the holes with pieces of tar paper and carpet squares. Despite being warm and safe, some men just could not get used to not sleeping curled up; these men had to move out. But plenty of men found the arrangement just fine, and incredibly inexpensive as well, so Sam and his wife enjoyed a steady business. 

Mrs. Malloy began to think of ways to spend their new-found wealth. She furnished the boiler with rugs and lamps and other homey things. One day, she asked Sam for a little money because a department store was having a sale on curtains. This request seemed ridiculous to Sam, because, of course, the boiler had no windows. Mrs. Malloy pleaded for them anyway. When Sam continued to refuse, his wife claimed that he was "trying to begrutch her nice things." Sam was gentle with his wife and told her this was not the case; he wanted her to have nice things he said, but even if he got her the curtains, not only would they be of no use, there was no way to hang them on the steel walls of the boiler. The logic of his argument fell on deaf ears. Mrs. Malloy claimed that men "just don't understand the way a woman feels." Sam spent a long time sympathetically rubbing her back and getting her to go to sleep.