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Tortilla Flat

John Steinbeck

Chapters 6 & 7

Chapters 4 & 5

Chapters 8 & 9

Summary

Chapter 6

The next day, Danny comes out onto the porch of his house to enjoy the sunshine. He has visited the ashes of his house earlier in the morning and has run through a series of emotions. At first, he feels conventional anger at the carelessness of his friends, then appreciation for spiritual property as preferred to the transitory nature of material things, and then he comes into his final emotion, glad to have had the burden of the second house removed. He settles into his chair to await his friends, knowing that he would have to be firm with them, but also looking forward to the new harmony that would surely flourish between them.

When Pilon, Pablo, and Jesus Maria woke up in the pine needles of the forest, they decided that it would be better for them to come clean with Danny. Before they get to his house, however, the friends smell the scent of deviled eggs. They easily scam the picnickers from whom the odor was drifting into surrendering the contents of their basket, which they take to Danny as an offer of penitence. Danny is able to curse at his friends for a while, but before long, the sight of the food overcomes his memory. They eat to the point of discomfort, and then offhandedly discuss the fire. Since they had all been asleep, Pilon and Pablo became suspicious of either an unknown enemy or an act of God.

Pilon brings out the silk undergarment that he had intended as a gift for Mrs. Morales, but Danny is not excited to give it to her. Since his house had burned down, a wonderful coolness had come into his relationship with the older woman which he could not explain but which nevertheless would make such a gift seem like poor taste. Instead, to show that he was over the loss of his house, and that he expected nothing of his friends, Danny brings out a quart of grappa to share. Pablo offers his thanks to Danny for his solace, and Jesus Maria, prompted by the wine, promises that while he lived in the house, there would always be food to eat. It is a large promise, with implications that worried Pilon and Pablo, but he was sincere. "We shall be very happy living here," Pilon says in conclusion.

Chapter 7

In Monterey, there was a character that was known only as the Pirate. Every morning, the Pirate chopped a wheelbarrow full of pitch wood, which he sold as firewood. When the wood was sold, the Pirate would visit the back doors of four or five restaurants, from which he received packages of leftover food for his dogs. He had five dogs, whose names were Pajarito, Rudolph, Enrique, Fluff, and Senor Alec Thompson. Every night, the Pirate retired to an abandoned, cramped chicken house with his dogs. The dogs were the Pirates best friends; they kept him warm at night and they alerted him to any incoming danger. Whereas the Pirate's body was quite large and developed, his mind was not. His mind was still like that of a child's, so he often avoided talking to people. Most people knew at least a little about the pirate from seeing him with his load of wood, but Pilon knew everything about him.

Pilon knew everything about almost everyone in town, but the Pirate was special. Pilon had realized that the pirate had been selling his driftwood for a quarter each day for a long time without ever being known to spend any of it. Pilon did the math, and realized that the Pirate must have accumulated at least $100 over his years of work, and therefore must be hiding it in the woods somewhere. Pilon felt bad for the pirate, but at once realized the opportunity to benefit from the situation. The pirate must not understand the value of money, Pilon surmises, for he has no warm cloths or good food to eat. Pilon wants the Pirate to have those things, but having no money of his own, he cannot give them to him. However, if he were to offer the Pirate use of his mind, then it would be an act of merit. Pilon is proud of his plan, so much so that he wants to tell Pablo, but he realizes that if he tells anyone else, the goodness of his idea might be corrupted.

He goes to the Pirate's shack late one night, and though the Pirate is initially hesitant to let him in, Pilon wins his way by offering a sugar cookie. The Pirate splits the cookie into seven pieces, which he distributes among Pilon, himself, and his dogs. Pilon starts his argument by telling the Pirate that he has friends that are worried about his health. Sleeping in the chicken house without warm cloths or blankets and eating food that other people throw away is unhealthy. Pilon reveals that he knew that the pirate had hidden money, and he offers his expertise in spending it. The Pirate is overjoyed of the news that he had friends, but denies the existence of any hidden money. He claims that he had given his daily quarter away to an elderly woman every day.

Pilon realizes that he will have to make the Pirate comfortable by force and begins watching the Pirate. Still, he cannot discover the location of the secret stash. Finally, Pilon reveals his efforts to the rest of Danny's group. Jesus Maria, in his kindness, comes up with a solution, to invite the Pirate into their house. They do this, and the Pirate is overjoyed. They enjoy wine and conversation, and though the Pirate does not offer much to their talks, he enjoys the time immensely. Every day, the friends try to pressure the Pirate to turn over his secret, but he never does. They even follow him into the woods on two occasions, but the Pirate always manages to lose them. Finally, one day the friends return from looking for the treasure to find the Pirate back at the house with a smile on his face. He had realized that he was followed the last two nights and had brought the money back to the house for safekeeping. In his bag was almost $200, which he had promised to spend on a gold candlestick for San Francisco, whom the Pirate believed had saved one of his dogs. The Pirate was very pleased to have trusted his friends.

Summary

One suspicion that readers might jump to when they encounter the paisanos of Monterey is that they live the way they do because of lack of possessions. If this were true, then there would be nothing worth examining about their lifestyle because they themselves would abandon it if they could. Danny proves that this is not true, and that there is something more enduring than possession or lack of it in the paisano world. The conventional anger at the loss of his house is quickly replaced by an understanding of the worthlessness of transient things like houses when compared to spiritual things like friends. He then reaches an even more mature plateau; he feels secretly glad to be free of the burden of the house. Possession creates a sort of commitment, which creates a responsibility, which creates a cramp in the freedom that a paisano cherishes more than anything else. Owning two houses was too much for Danny. It is evident that he had already started to change because he had asked Pilon for the rent on his second house, something that the true Danny would never have wanted to do. With the second house out of the way and his position in life reduced from wealthy back to comfortable, where he wanted to be, Danny is able to live normally for a while, but in the end even the commitment represented by one house proves to be too much for Danny.

Though most of the time Pilon's charitable ideas result in new lows in human potential for wickedness, in the case of the Pirate, he truly does a good thing. It is impossible to say that, if Pilon had been successful in stealing the Pirate's money, he would have used it to make the Pirate comfortable, especially if Torrelli's was nearby, but as things end up, he gives the Pirate something far more valuable than all of his money could have bought. One of the most important messages in the book is revealed in the episode with the Pirate. The Pirate was completely comfortable in his previous mode of life, but he did not have friends. He had money, a reasonable place to sleep at night, and food to eat, but he lacked that fourth human need that truly makes one content. In his interactions with Danny's friends, the Pirate finds out that people cared about him, and he in turn learns to care about them. In being part of the group and at the feeling of acceptance that he enjoys, he is truly happy. It is something that the Pirate had not been able to achieve with his dogs, which were, of course, the most loyal of companions. Therein lies the thing that seems to separate humans from the rest of the animals for Steinbeck: the potential for two-way compassion that forms the basis of friendship. Though he is a lot slower mentally than the rest, the Pirate will be an integral part of the group for the rest of the book. No one looks down on him because of his strange ways. They allow him to enjoy life however he chooses. This is the beauty of the paisano way of life.

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