Cannery Row

Cannery Row Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7-12


Chapter 7

Upon moving into the Palace Flophouse, Mack draws squares in chalk to indicate where each man will sleep. As they become more attached to the warehouse, the men start bringing in random furniture and decorations from all over the place, which makes it feel more like a home. They even purchase a massive stove, which takes them three days to transport back to Cannery Row. Once installed, the stove becomes "the glory and the hearth and the center" (41) of the Palace Flophouse.

Eddie, one of the Palace residents, is an "understudy bartender" at La Ida, whenever Whitey, the regular bartender, is sick. He makes it a habit to empty the alcohol from abandoned cups and pitchers into one jug, creating an unexpected mixture of spirits that he regularly brings home for the boys. Because of this, Eddie is beloved around the Palace Flophouse.

While Hazel is out with Doc collecting specimens, Mack, Eddie, and some of the other men sit around the Palace talking. They revisit the subject of doing something nice for Doc, and decide to throw him a party. They realize that they have to take temporary jobs and earn enough money to throw Doc the kind of party he deserves.

Hughie says that he used to go up the Valley to collect little creatures for Doc, which might be an option. Mack comes up with a plan to go to Carmel River to gather frogs, for which Doc will pay five cents apiece.

Chapter 8

In 1932, the Hediondo Cannery's boiler blew out and was replaced. The old one ended up abandoned in the vacant lot between Lee Chong's and the Bear Flag Restaurant.

Soon, Mr. and Mrs. Malloy moved into the boiler and fixed it up. It was a safe, dry, and pleasant abode for the couple. Mr. Malloy also began acting as the boiler's landlord, renting out sections of its pipes to men who needed a place to sleep. Mrs. Malloy has now become obsessive about beautifying the boiler, vocalizing her desire to hang up curtains even though there are no windows.

Chapter 9

Hazel and Doc return from their venture. Mack walks over to the laboratory and asks Hazel about Doc's mood because he is planning to speak to Doc himself. Mack finds Doc in the basement, where he is entangling all of the starfish by placing them on the cool concrete where they can stretch out.

Doc and Mack converse cheerfully, although Doc is a little nervous about what Mack might want this time. Finally, Mack asks if Doc has anything they might do for a bit of money. Doc is relieved, and mentions that he needs about three hundred frogs. Mack eagerly takes on the assignment, but he needs a car and asks Doc if he can borrow his. Doc replies that he has to take it to La Jolla tomorrow for work.

Mack then asks if Doc will advance him some money for gas if he can get Lee Chong's truck, but Doc says no, as he does not trust Mack with the money. Mack is dispirited, but Doc realizes that he still needs the frogs. He offers to write a note to the gasoline man, authorizing him to fill up the truck's gas tank and charge the cost to Doc.

Once everything is settled, Mack crosses over to Lee Chong's and asks for permission to use grocer's truck. Chong replies that the truck is not working, but Mack offers Gay's mechanic services as long as Chong allows the boys to use the truck once it's up and running. Chong hesitantly agrees to the deal.

Chapter 10

Frankie is a young boy who started hanging out around Western Biological when he was eleven years old. Frankie had been kicked out of school because he could not learn and struggled with coordination. It took him a long time to muster up the courage to talk to Doc, but once he did, they quickly established a friendship. Doc once asked Frankie why kept coming to the laboratory, and Frankie said it was because Doc did not hit him or give him a nickel and ask him to leave like his own family did.

Frankie grew to love Doc and wanted to help out around the laboratory even though he was not very useful. He also loved the parties Doc threw in the laboratory, hiding behind a chair and laughing when everyone else laughed and furrowing his brow when everyone else was serious.

At one party, Frankie delivered a drink to a girl in a chair, and he overheard Doc say that Frankie was a great help to him. This thrilled Frankie to the core, and when the next party came around, Frankie worked hard to prepare an entire tray of drinks for Doc's guests. That night, he came out through the kitchen door carrying the tray, but as a result of his poor coordination, Frankie dropped the entire tray on a girl's lap. Mortified, he fled to the excelsior box and hid, whimpering. There was nothing Doc could do to console him.

Chapter 11

Lee Chong's Ford Model T has a long and illustrious history, but by the time Mack and the boys get to it, it is basically just four wheels and a crotchety engine. It has not worked in a long time and Lee Chong does not care.

However, Gay is an inspired, intuitive mechanic and knows just how to fix the vehicle. Mack's crew gathers around the Model T and Gay gets to work. At one point, Gay asks for dry cells, which are at his house. Someone will have to sneak in so as not to arouse the awareness of Mrs. Gay. Eddie is able to complete this task successfully. In the meantime, Gay works on the brakes like a "little mechanic of God, the St. Francis of all things that turn and twist and explode, the St. Francis of coils and armatures and gears" (65).

Finally, Gay gets the engine to work, and the men pack up their gear and head out on their expedition. Because the truck has no license plate, they take a back route to avoid the main streets. At the gas station, Mack tries to get Red, the owner, to give him some gas and some cash, but Doc has already warned Red against acquiescing to any of Mack's requests.

Mack and the others continue along their journey in the Model T for a while, but then, the carburetor goes out and the car comes to a stop. Mack asks Gay if he can fix it, but Gay says he needs a new needle valve to do so. Gay itches a ride to see if he track one down, but the others do not see him again for one hundred and eight days. Due to a series of impossible events, Gay ends up in jail again, which seems to be his inexorable fate.

As night falls, the men build a fire. Finally, Eddie decides to go to the construction site up the hill to see if they have any Model T's.

Chapter 12

Monterey's own illustrious literary history is very important to the residents of the town. Therefore, all of Monterey was horrified about what happened to Josh Billings, the renowned humorist.

There used to be a gulch where the new post office is now. On one side of the gulch was the house of a French doctor, who served most of the town. He even experimented with embalming, which made some people angry or confused.

One morning Mr. Carriaga, an elderly man, ran into a young boy carrying a liver, while his dog was carrying an intestine. The boy said that he would use the organs to make chum for catching mackerel. After they parted ways, Mr. Carriaga began to think. He realized that the organs the boy was carrying came from a human body.

At the Adobe Bar, Mr. Carriaga heard that Josh Billings had died the night before at the Hotel del Monte. Realizing the horrible truth about where the boy had obtained the human organs, Mr. Carriaga assembled a committee. They all went to ask the doctor if he had embalmed Billings, and when he said that he had, they asked what he had done with the organs. Embarrassed, the doctor told him that he discarded the "tripas" down by the stream.

Having solved the mystery, the committee was able to recover Billings's organs from the little boy and demanded that the French doctor wash them and add them to Josh Billings's coffin.


Domesticity is one of the prominent themes in Cannery Row. Steinbeck's characters are all scraping by financially and have atypical family structures, but they are all inclined toward making their makeshift shelters into permanent homes. For example, Mack and the boys delight in bringing together a motley collection of furniture into the Palace Flophouse until eventually, "the house [grows] dear to them" (40). Mr. and Mrs. Malloy furnish an abandoned boiler and live there happily. Mrs. Malloy eagerly takes on the role of a traditional housewife - perhaps to the point of delusion, as she tries to hang curtains in a structure that has no windows. In fact, none of the main characters in Cannery Row lives in a traditional house; besides the boiler and the warehouse, Doc lives in his laboratory, while Dora and her girls live in a whorehouse. They are all content with their living situations, though, because they are able to exercise power and ownership over these spaces. Having a place to call "home" helps them to cope with the aspects of their lives that may be out of their control.

In Cannery Row, Steinbeck both celebrates and cautions against science and technology. For every peroration of a Model T, the classic American car, there is a Josh-Billings-embalming scandal. Overall, though, the novel is notable for its "blurring of distinctions between the natural and technological realms" which also "extends to the human," as critic Sarah Perrault writes. Doc is a scientist who absorbs the rhythms of nature into his very being. Steinbeck describes the inhabitants of Cannery Row as if they are specimens themselves, comparing them to fragile marine animals. Perrault points out that Steinbeck creates an "interpretation of different realms – the human, the human made, and the natural – to create a seamless picture of the ecology of a place where humans live in close interrelationships with each other and with the natural world."

Steinbeck is always keen on challenging readers' assumptions on the intrinsic merit of a person.The character of Mack is particularly fascinating because he embodies seemingly mutually exclusive characteristics. He is uneducated but philosophical. He is a bum, but manages to create a rich and fulfilling life for himself. He has pure intentions, but has difficulty seeing them through. He manipulates other characters, even mildly threatens them, but does so in order to do something nice for Doc. He behaves callously toward some people, like William, but, he exhibits selfless love for his dog, Darling.

That Mack is occupies such a central role in the text is part of Steinbeck's message; it does not matter that Mack has not achieved the material trappings of worldly success, because he is indispensable to Cannery Row. He is one of the "beauties of the hurried mangled craziness of Monterey" (15). Mack is an indelibly human character precisely because of these contradictions; his flaws are only equal to his attributes. Steinbeck also refers to Gay as "the little mechanic of God, the St. Francis of all things that twist and turn and explode, the St. Francis of coils and armatures and gears" (65). By doing so, he ennobles this man who is, for all intents and purposes, a criminal and a bum.

While these imperfect individuals are inextricable components of the Cannery Row ecosystem, they can often find themselves on the wrong side of the law once they venture outside. Frankie is one particularly tragic example. He is not integrated into the Cannery Row community; he is only connected by virtue of his relationship with Doc. He does not fit in at school or at his home because of his learning disabilities and lack of social and physical grace. Doc offers Frankie safety within the walls of the laboratory, but Frankie's pride is shattered when he embarrasses himself at Doc's party. He ends up leaving Cannery Row and ultimately committing a crime (for the purpose of buying Doc a birthday present), after which he is deemed a threat to society and incarcerated. Similarly, Gay finds himself in prison after the Model T breaks down and he ventures out alone to find the parts.