Skip over navigation

Tortilla Flat

John Steinbeck

Chapters 8 & 9

Chapters 6 & 7

Chapters 8 & 9, page 2

page 1 of 2
Summary

Chapter 8

Finally out of military prison for crimes committed during the war, Big Joe Portagee reemerges on the scene in Monterey. Whereas he normally spent about half of his time in jail, Big Joe had spent most of his military life incarcerated, always with a charge of or related to drunk and disorderly conduct. Not wasting any time, immediately after getting off the train, Big Joe walks to Torelli's and trades his overcoat for a gallon of wine, then sets out to find his friends. Instead, he finds pimps and harpies, who entertain him while he has wine to give, but who afterwards want only for him to leave. Big Joe does not want to leave, so he breaks all of the furniture and sets the house on fire. Finally, the police seize him and Big Joe sighs at the thought that he is home again.

Big Joe is sentenced to thirty days in jail, most of which he slept away. He liked being in jail because in the old days, all of his friends would eventually pass though. This time, there was no sign of Pilon, Pablo, or Danny, and the warden reported that he had not booked them in months. When his sentence expires, Big Joe sets out to find his friends. Wandering towards Tortilla Flat, he encounters Pilon, who is walking in a very businesslike manner. Pilon explains that tonight is St. Andrew's Eve, and that he is on his way to the forest to look for treasure. On St. Andrew's Eve, all of the mystic treasures buried by long dead pirates and criminals in the hills of Monterey were said to glow with unearthly light. Pilon allows Big Joe to follow him, but he makes him promise that any treasure that they find will be given to Danny for his hospitality with the house.

After a long night of searching filled with supernatural encounters, Pilon and Big Joe see a light coming from the ground. Pilon makes a cross from some sticks and sanctifies the ground. He draws a circle around the spot, which he and Big Joe sit within, and they pray to god not to allow any undead spirit to enter the circle. The blessing works and they survive the night without mishap. When the sun begins to rise, the two memorize the location of their treasure and then part, promising to return that night with shovels. They return to Danny's house and deny that they have had any luck in their search. Danny allows Big Joe to stay at the house so long as he keeps out of his bed.

When Pilon and Big Joe meet that night to dig up the treasure, Big Joe is carrying a gallon of wine. He has stolen and sold one of Danny's blankets. Pilon is infuriated and orders Big Joe to get the blanket back or be beaten to death. He also informs the big Portagee that he will be doing all of the digging that night to atone for his sin. They locate the site and then Big Joe digs all through the night. Just as the sun begins to rise, they strike something hard and clear the dirt away from it. "United States Geodetic Survey +1915+ Elevation 600 Ft," the concrete sign reads, and Pilon sighs exasperatedly. "Johnny Pompom," found one, he explains to Big Joe, and was sentenced to two years in prison and a $2000 fine for digging it up. They walk to the beach with Pilon waxing philosophically on his good intentions and bad results. They drink deeply of Big Joe's wine and finally fall asleep on the cold sand. When Pilon wakes up, he examines Big Joe, who is sleeping soundly next to him. He notices the Portagee's fine blue serge trousers, which are the wrong size any way, and comes up with a plan. He takes the pants and walks to Torrelli's, where he sells them for a quart of wine, which he immediately drinks off. Then on his way out, he steals pants and Danny's blanket from the alcove where Mrs. Torrelli has hung them.

Chapter 9

In Tortilla flat, there was a woman named Dolores Engracia Ramirez who by her reputation for picking up gentlemen when they walked by, had earned the nickname Sweets Ramirez. When Sweets heard that Danny had become an heir, she naturally desired to become his lady, as did most of the single women of Tortilla Flat. She waited for Danny to walk by her house every day, but it was not a rout that he usually took. Consequently, when Danny finally did walk by, it was under the unusual circumstance of him having three dollars in his pocket, obtained from a sale of stolen nails to a hardware store. Sweets invited him in for a glass of wine, and as they drank it, the beast of lust grew in Danny's mind. Before he left, Sweets invited him to come back later, and Danny endeavored to do so with wine bought by his plunder.

On his way to Torrelli's, Danny runs into Pablo, who has somehow acquired two sticks of gum, one of which he immediately offers to Danny. Danny, feeling charitable, offers Pablo a glass of wine from what he is about to buy, but warns him that it is for a lady and that there will be no more. Needless to say, they drink off half of the gallon before heading to Simon's Investment, Jewelry, and Loan Company to buy Sweets a present. Danny's eye immediately catches on a large shiny aluminum vacuum cleaner, and he forgets that there is no electricity in Tortilla Flat. The proprietor asks fourteen dollars, to which Danny lays his two on the table. After much whining of poverty and fury at being cheated, Danny leaves with the appliance.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us