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Tortilla Flat

John Steinbeck

Chapters 2 & 3

Preface & Chapter 1

Chapters 4 & 5

Summary

Chapter 2

The next day, Danny's family lawyer acquaints him with his new property. He is given a skeleton key and officially becomes the owner of the two houses in Tortilla Flat. He and Pilon agree that the second house they visit, which is located next to the house of Mrs. Morales, is the better of the two. It has three rooms, a bed, a kitchen with a stove and a faucet, a 1906 calendar, a red silk banner of Fighting Bob Evens, and a great pink Rose of Castile on the porch: all luxuries to which Danny and Pilon had never before been privy.

Danny makes a trip into Monterey to have the water turned on and Pilon explores the backyard. It is overgrown with weeds and tall grass, but Pilon finds this to his advantage. He opens several small holes in the fence to Mrs. Morales's yard so that her chickens would be tempted to wander over by the tall grass. When Danny returns, he informs Pilon that he had not been successful in having the water turned on because they required a three-dollar deposit. Danny says that three dollars could buy a bottle of wine and that they can always borrow water from Mrs. Morales. Danny decides that they will clean up the house the next day and that tonight he will go and cut wood for a fire and that Pilon should go to find some food. Though Pilon is wary of taking orders from Danny, he goes and artfully kills a rooster found wandering around near the road. The friends enjoy their bounty in the little house, feeling warm and content with their good fortunes. Danny wonders about what to do with the other house, seeing as they could only sleep in one, prompting Pilon to suggest that he rent it. When Danny asks to whom he could rent it, Pilon offers to pay Danny $10 a month for the house. They finally agree on $15 per month, a sum that Pilon has never possessed in his whole life, but he puts his faith in the fact that anything can happen and that he might acquire the money by chance. Pilon rummages around the kitchen for a few minutes and comes out with an armful of old kitchenware. "It is not good to have so many breakable things around," he says, and leaves. He returns triumphantly a while later with a gallon jug of red wine. The friends become drowsy in drinking toasts to their new lives and fall into a contented sleep on the floor.

Chapter 3

The next day, Pilon goes to live in his new house, relishing in the social rise he has accomplished by becoming the renter of a house. He does not know if Danny will ever ask for the rent, and so he never offers any. Still Pilon feels bad for not being able to pay. The two are together often when one comes into a gallon of wine or a good piece of meat. One night, Pilon receives a dollar by a miracle. A man thrust the bill into his hand while Pilon was walking by and asked him to go to the store and buy four bottles of ginger ale. Pilon walked up the hill with the intent of giving the money to Danny, but instead he bought a gallon of wine and used it to lure two girls into his house. Hearing the sounds of the raucous partying in Pilon's house, Danny goes in, and Pilon puts the wine and the girls at his disposal. Afterward, the paisanos have a friendly fight, which is a common occurrence of drunken nights, and during it the girls steal two cooking dishes.

A few months pass and Pilon starts feeling bad about the rent again. He worked an entire day cleaning squid in Monterey for two dollars pay. Once again, he started towards Danny's house with the money in his pocket, but instead bought two gallons of wine, thinking that Danny would appreciate the wine more than paper money. With the wine in his hand and a good deed about to be done, Pilon walked towards Danny's house very much in tune with the spiritual universe around him. He is taken with the perfection of the moment and stops walking, simply taking in the beauty of nature around him. His spirit sours and his soul is cleansed by the pureness of the moment. He is brought down from his spiritual plateau by a memory of hunger, and of course, he says, "a soul saved is a soul doubly in danger." Pilon moved on again towards Danny's house, but his feet had lost their conviction. With his soul swaying on a knife's edge between good and evil, Pilon ran into an old friend, Pablo Sanchez. The paisanos had been sitting in the ditch by the road smoking a cigarette and enjoying a glass of wine. Pilon had thought that Pablo was in jail, but Pablo explained that the judge had sent him out on parole because he ate too much to be jailed. Instantly, Pilon invited Pablo to enjoy the wine with him back at the rented house, choosing one path of generosity over another. The reacquainted friends proceed to the house and with their drinking. Before the first bottle is finished, Pilon presents Pablo with a crafty proposition. Pilon laments on the pains of sleeping out doors for several minutes and then asks Pablo if he would be tempted to rent a part of the house from Pilon for a mere $15 per month. Pablo agrees heartily, and Pilon sighs with the relief of being free of his debt to Danny. Now, if Danny ever asked him for the rent, he could blame Pablo, and he was happy.

Analysis

Though the bad side of Pilon is easily seen in his greed for social position and by the ease by which he can be persuaded to stray from a moral path, either by his friends of by himself, he is also capable of immense goodness. There are basically two Pilon's, the base, contemptible Pilon, and the spiritual and just Pilon. Though it seems here like the bad Pilon will dominate, when an important moral question is put before him, the good Pilon will always win. His aims are always for the best. Though Pilon often appears selfish, he is truly and seriously concerned with the well being of his friends. Though he takes advantage of Danny by convincing him to rent the house to him, knowing that it was a way to get a house for free, the issue of the rent hangs heavily over Pilon. He even puts in a full day of work so that he will have something to give to Danny, which is an extreme effort for any paisano to make.

As set down in the Preface, Danny's house is to be the Round Table of Tortilla Flat, and his friends will be the knights. The house itself conforms nicely to the character of the group. It is worn-down and unkempt, but is also simple, rustic, and comfortable. Like the paisanos, the house itself draws in an undemanding way from its community, symbolized by the holes in the fence through which Mrs. Morales's chickens often cross. Pablo is the first addition to the Round Table beyond its founders, Danny and Pilon. Whereas Danny is the provider and Pilon is the thinker, Pablo's part in the group is harder to define. He is every bit a paisano, he is easily persuaded by the other members of the group, and he seems to share in their moral vision, but over the course of the story, he does not add a vision of his own. Still, Danny and Pilon love him as a friend and welcome him warmly into their group. Perhaps this is, in fact, a beautiful tribute to the group's lack of expectations and its willingness to take men for what they are.

When Danny goes to Monterey to have the water turned on, the result is symbolic of the group's take on life as a whole. They choose not to pay the three dollars for water in favor of the three gallons of wine they could buy with it instead, knowing that they could easily do without water from the faucet. Basically, they trade conveniences for fun. It seems to be a part of Steinbeck's message in the novel that this is a good thing. He wrote in the preface that the paisanos were, "clean of commercialism, free of the complicated systems of American business, and having nothing that can be stolen, exploited, or mortgaged, that system [commercialism] has not attacked them very vigorously." The paisanos may or may not know that running water was probably worth far more than three dollars, and that it would save them endless trouble, but they throw it away regardless. They are rejecting the trends of modern living in favor of their more simplified lifestyle. Steinbeck's presentation of this lifestyle is endearing and beautiful, perhaps saying that we should all reject the promise of future conveniences for a little bit of fun when we can get it. This is repeated when Pilon accepts Danny's price of $15 per month for the house. Though he had never possessed $15 in his whole life, "who could tell what might happen in a month."

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