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Tortilla Flat

John Steinbeck

Chapters 4 & 5

Chapters 2 & 3

Chapters 6 & 7

Summary

Chapter 4

Life passed smoothly for Pilon and Pablo at Danny's rented house. Their typical schedule involved waking up at whatever time the sun rose them, walking out to the gulch behind the house, and then returning to the porch to enjoy the sun and discuss the goings on of Monterey. Pablo often fantasized about things like if all the drops of dew on the grass were diamonds, but Pilon was always the voice of reason. He wanted something more practical, like for it to rain wine. A great deal of their talk centered on the doings of Cornelia Ruiz, a lady of the town who was famous for her adventures with men. Today, she had cut the black Mexican, whom she had been with the night before, when he had tried to climb in her window. Cornelia had already moved on to a new man while the black Mexican had been in town, so he was no longer wanted. Still, Cornelia was apparently a very religious woman who had masses sung for her dead father.

Talk turned to Danny, whom Pablo had heard was involved with the Portagee girl, Rosa Martin. This worries Pilon because he knew that Portagee girls were always thinking about marriage, and if Danny got married, he would want to buy new dresses for his wife, which would mean that he might ask for the rent. The friends decide to go talk to Danny to make sure that he was not falling for the girl. They find Danny sitting on the porch just as they had been. Pilon brings up the gossip about Cornelia Ruiz and the black Mexican, opening the door for Pablo to jump in with a general warning about the hearts of women. Abandoning subtlety, Pilon brings up Rosa, but to the slanders applied to her, Danny merely replies, "What can you expect of a Portagee?" Danny does have a love interest, but she is not like Rosa Martin. Danny had spent a night with Mrs. Morales when she had come into some wine from the sale of her chickens. Pilon protests, claiming that a relative had whispered that she was fifty years old, but Danny did not care. Danny had enjoyed her company and had found her to be very lively, regardless of her age. She also had $200 in the bank. Danny explains that he wants to buy a present for Mrs. Morales, and offhandedly suggests that if he only had a little rent, he could get whatever he wanted. Pilon screeches in anger, "Always the rent," and stalks off with Pablo to find money, trailing obscenities.

Tired from their emotional confrontation with Danny, Pablo and Pilon sit down in the ditch by the road and discover their old friend Jesus Maria Corcoran, passed out with a half empty jug of wine. They wake him up and force him to recount the story of how he had acquired the wine and come to rest in the ditch. Jesus Maria had been sleeping on the beach when a rowboat had washed up on shore near him with its oars intact. He had rowed to boat to Monterey and sold it for seven dollars. With the money, he had bought two gallons of wine and spent the night with Arabella Gross. Though she had eventually left Jesus Maria for some soldiers, the gullible paisano had bought her silk drawers and a quart of whiskey. After that, Jesus Maria had wandered up to the woods and fallen asleep in the woods. At this point, Jesus Maria checked his pockets and discovered that he still had three dollars left. Hearing his friend's hoarse voice and deep cough, Pilon decided to take him to their house. After making Jesus Maria get some rest, Pilon and Pablo converge on their prey. They convince Jesus Maria, who was a very spiritual man, that God had floated the little rowboat to him so that he would stop sleeping on beaches in the cold. Though Jesus protests, he eventually agrees to rent the house for $15 per month with a two dollar down payment for Pilon to take to Danny. Unfortunately, the usual thought process begins, and Pilon suddenly cannot justify giving Danny money to buy candy for Mrs. Morales because it will hurt their teeth. Instead, he decides to buy wine for Danny, to ensure the future comfort of Danny's teeth. He and Pablo head over the hill to Torrelli's to buy the wine while Jesus Maria goes into Monterey to try to find some food.

Chapter 5

As the sun began to set, all of Monterey began to reel in their fishing lines, close up their shops, and prepare for the coming chill of night. Pilon and Pablo sat under a Rose of Castile bush in Torrelli's back yard drinking from the two gallons of wine they had just purchased. "He is a man who knows little restraint in drinking," they say of Danny, justifying their failure to bring the wine to his house. The level of wine in the jug withdrew gradually with the son and Monterey made preparations for its nighttime activities. Lights came on in the dance halls, water went into the gin to be served at the bar, and the train came in from Del Monte. Finally, Mr. Torrelli walked out of his house and down the road to Monterey without noticing the loiterers in his backyard. Pilon and Pablo knew their art well. They went back into Torelli's house and talked Mrs. Torrelli into giving them dinner. They called her a "Butter Duck", slapped her buttocks, and took, "various other liberties with her person." They left her, "flattered and slightly tousled," with full stomachs. About half way up the block, Pablo decided that they would need firewood for their house, and returned to Mrs. Torrelli while Pilon stood on lookout for the returning man of the house. About a half hour later, Pablo emerged with an armful of firewood and the friends walked with him, bemused and contented.

When Pablo and Pilon returned to their house, they were surprised to find that Jesus Maria had not returned. When he finally stumbled in a few minutes later, he was badly bruised and cut from fighting. Pablo and Pilon offered comfort to their friend and offered him a glass of wine. Jesus Maria then recounted the harrowing tale of how he had come to be so beaten. He had returned to Arabella gross with the intention of giving her the silk brassiere, but before the time had been right, the soldiers returned to her house and beat him up. Pilon immediately suggested that they give the garment to Danny to give to Mrs. Morales as a gift, and all are happy except for Jesus Maria. Pablo, with a deep understanding for his hurt, offered the friend another glass of wine. They drank long into the night, enjoying the heat of their fire and light from a candle that Pablo had brought to burn for San Francisco. Before the wine was gone, the friends grew sleepy and retired to their beds.

The candle, however, burned on after the drunken paisanos had gone to bed. In a moment of divine coincidence, breezes from the window caused a silk calendar hanging on the wall to flutter and at the same time enlarge the flame from the candle. The calendar caught fire, and the flame spread quickly from its fabric to the house. The old wood of the house caught fire quickly and strongly, and before long, it was out of control. Luckily, a flaming shingle fell on Jesus Maria Corcoran, who woke Pilon and Pablo and got them out of the house. They stood outside and watched the unstoppable flames. Jesus Maria noticed the not empty wine jug on the kitchen table, but Pilon stopped him from trying anything heroic. Instead, he sent Jesus Maria to Danny's house to alert him about the fire. Jesus Maria found Danny, their landlord, in Mrs. Morale's house, but Danny did not want to be disturbed. He said that the fire department would handle it, and that there was nothing that he could do. When Jesus Maria returned, the three friends decided to sleep in the woods so that Danny would not be able to find them immediately the next day.

Analysis

Whereas the rest of the friends in Danny's group are tainted in some way, Jesus Maria Corcoran is the voice of innocence. He has an almost childlike view of the world, which Steinbeck emphasizes by including details like, "He slept like a baby." Perhaps Pablo describes him best when he says, "His is a grasshopper brain. He sings and plays and jumps. There is no seriousness in him." Because of his innocence, Jesus Maria is always in trouble with women that are smarter, or at least more manipulative than he. Jesus Maria is clearly played for a fool by Arabella Gross, who accepts his presents but then leaves him when some soldiers come to see her. Even afterwards, Jesus Maria does not understand what has happened. He explains to Pablo and Pilon that it had been time for her to go, indicating that he wanted their relationship to be clean and traditional, despite Arabella's reputation as a "cannery slut." This is not a bad thing, however. Jesus Maria Corcoran is described as a very kind soul, who cared nothing for himself, and who would do anything for his friends.

The moral atmosphere of Monterey is bizarre and clearly liberal when it comes to the issues of sex. Whorehouses seem to liter the landscape, and there is casual, and often extramarital sex happening at every turn. Cornelia Ruiz is the most talked about person in town because of her nighttime exploits but despite her reputation, everyone still wants to sleep with her. Pablo and Pilon talk of her as an evil woman, but later in the book it is evident that they would pounce on a chance to win her graces. Sex is also a tradable commodity, proven by the adventures of Pablo and Pilon with Mrs. Torrelli. While affairs and one night stands are the norm, and generally applauded and encouraged by the people of Monterey, especially among Danny's friends, any sort of committed relationship is looked down upon. The endearing quality of the paisano lifestyle is the freedom that the paisanos enjoy. Any sort of commitment to a woman is a blatant attack on this lifestyle. That is why Pilon is so worried about Danny becoming involved with a Portagee girl whose reputation was that of a girl who thought a lot about marriage. If a man wanted to be involved with a woman for anything more than a one night fling, Monterey etiquette seems to imply that the man should buy his woman gifts and have drinks to offer her. This is also an obvious strain on the paisano way of life.

Like the town lifestyle and scenery of Monterey itself, the way that Steinbeck describes that town is free of overly poetic detail and his language is completely free of embellishment. He brings about the change from daytime to night by describing the fisherman who thought that fish bit during the day being replaced by the fishermen who believed that they bit at night. Idiosyncratic details, of which this is just one example, serve to create a feeling of simple, rustic, and beautiful unity. This consistency in the types of characters, the types of details, and subject matter help readers feel at home in the environment that Steinbeck creates. Once readers are inside, it is easier to accept the things that are engrained in Monterey, like the profusion of extra marital sex, which might have seemed more unusual otherwise. Instead of labeling Monterey immediately as a den of sinners, Steinbeck bends our reception of the facts, and convinces us that it is really a very wholesome community.

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