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Tortilla Flat

John Steinbeck

Chapters 12 & 13

Chapters 10 & 11

Chapter 14 & 15

Summary

Chapter 12

Sometimes unusual good luck fell upon Danny and his friends. Such was the case when word arrived that a Coast Guard cutter had gone down near Monterey in Carmel. There was nothing that paisanos like better than finding things on the beach, so Danny's friends, minus Big Joe, who was away on private business, started over the ridge to Carmel. By the end of the night, they had accumulated a large pile of flotsam including several pounds of canned foods, some coats, a barrel, and a machine gun, which they sold immediately to a prospector for five dollars, thereby eliminating the need for carrying it all back to Mr. Torrelli's.

From the five dollars, Danny gave one quarter to the Pirate, who had skipped his day's work to be part of the salvage operation. When they got back to the house, the Pirate gave the quarter back to Danny to put in the sack under his pillow. The money had become the gravitation center of the bond between the friends. They were proud to have not touched it and had stopped thinking of it in terms of currency. To the surprise of all, the bag was gone when Danny looked for it under his bed. After a moment's shock, the paisanos settled into their course. Danny picked up and weighed a three-foot switch from the yard, Pablo armed himself with a rusty can opener, and Jesus Maria retrieved the shaft of a pick from under the porch. They sat down and waited, and sure enough, within the hour, Big Joe came walking up the path with a gallon of wine under his arm.

There was no talk and no mercy. Danny waited for Big Joe to walk past and then brained him with the stick. Big Joe went out with a light and during his unconsciousness, Danny tied his thumbs together. They then splashed him with water to wake him up. The friends worked over their fallen comrade from head to toe with their weapons, and then turned him over to do the back. As Pilon pulled off the big man's shoes so that no part of him would remain comfortable, Big Joe blurted out that he had buried the sack in the front yard. Danny and Pilon fetched the bag and then proceeded to beat their friend back into unconsciousness. When he was out, Pilon cross-thatched his back with the can opener and Pablo rubbed salt into the wounds. Danny finally tossed a blanket over the unconscious man and walked back into the house. Eventually their fury broke and the friends tended to their punished comrade.

Upon a count, Big Joe had only stolen four quarters, which he had used on the wine, which the friends were now drinking. The total came to 1007 quarters, which meant that the Pirate had enough to buy his golden candlestick for San Francisco. They immediately made plans for the donation and the mass that would follow. They would have Father Ramon buy the candlestick for them because if any of them did it, the police would think that they had robbed a slot machine. They also advised the Pirate to take the extra money and buy some decent cloths for the mass. When he went out to do so, the Pirate returned with a jewel studded belt and a large handkerchief. In disbelief, the friends realized that they would have to lend the Pirate their good cloths and not attend the mass themselves. Instead, they would stay at the house to watch the dogs, which were not allowed in the church.

When Sunday finally came after all the arrangements were made, the Pirate proceeded to the church and was stunned by the beauty of his gift. He imagined that the statue of San Francisco smiled at him all through the mass. Father Ramon mentioned the gift during his sermon, which filled the pirate with holy ecstasy, but before the sermon was over, there was a scratching at the door and the Pirate's dog's burst in. At first, the Pirate was ashamed, and he led the dogs outside and admonished them angrily, but when he came back inside, Father Ramon explained that it was good for a man to be loved by his dogs. When the mass was over, the Pirate took the dogs to the forest and reproduced the entire mass for their indulgence.

Chapter 13

On the Southern frontier of Tortilla Flat, there lived the family of Senora Teresina Cortez. It was a constantly expanding family, consisting at the time of the story of nine children and Teresina's mother. To put it modestly, "Her body was one of those perfect retorts for the distillation of children." Often, Teresina could not remember who was the father of her children. Once, she had been quarantined for diphtheria, but still conceived on her regular schedule. The family had been founded on the handiwork of a Mr. Alfredo Cortez, who had provided Teresina with her last name and the first two extensions of her family. He had then left town and resumed calling himself Guggliemo. Without a breadwinner, the family was forced to exist on what they could scrape together, which fortunately for them was three or four hundred pounds of beans each year. Mother, Grandmother, and children would simply go into the fields after the harvest and use blankets to collect what the threshers missed.

The well being of the family was staked intimately on the success of the bean crop. If it rained on three days consecutively after bushes had been pulled and set to dry, mildew would set in and the beans would be buried to fertilize the next crop. Each year, on the day of the harvest, Teresina's grandmother burned a candle to the Virgin Mary to prevent this, and for many years, the family had been able to survive on successful harvests. This year however, despite three burned candles, it rained three times, and the beans were lost. The house of Senora Cortez was filled with crying at the coming starvation.

Jesus Maria Corcoran, the humanitarian, had a knack for finding himself in situations where he could be of service, especially to eligible women. As such, it just so happened that he paid a visit to the house of Senora Cortez on the day that the very last of the previous years' beans was cooked and served. He took the plight of the family to heart and when he returned to Danny's house, he gave a moving rendition of the tale. "The children shall not starve. It shall be our trust!" the friends exclaimed together, and suddenly a crime wave began in Monterey. Crates of all kinds of food began appearing on the Senora's porch, but still the children began to get sick. Finally, she called Danny's friends into her kitchen and explained that it was beans that they needed. The fire of their passion renewed, that night, four shadowy figures snuck past the sleeping guard and into the Western Warehouse Company. They emerged shortly afterwards struggling through the shadows under the tremendous weight of four one hundred pound sacks of pink beans. When four thumps woke Senora Cortez later that night and the beans were discovered, the family declared a miracle. Senora Cortez also discovered that she was pregnant once again, and wondered which of Danny's friends was responsible.

Analysis

The most convincing proof of the goodness of the band of Danny's friends offered by Steinbeck can be found in how they handle the Pirate's money. The paisanos will do almost anything for just one dollar, but for friendship, they pass up a king's ransom of $251.75. After a few weeks, they stop thinking of the money in terms of how many gallons of wine it could by, or the number of girls that it could win them, it ceases to be regarded as currency, and exists as the centerpiece of their friendship. Further testament to the worth of this bond to the friends is the harshness of their reaction when it is broken. Big Joe was too dumb to have meant anything sinister by the theft. He only steals four coins, which he uses to buy a gallon of wine that he would have shared with the friends if they had not been waiting to pounce on him. There is also the fact that he buries the bag of coins next to Danny's front gate, which shows that he did not plan to run away with the money or abandon the group. Still, they come down hard and teach Big Joe a lesson, if not about morality, than at least about the results of breaking the trust of their particular group.

From there, the friends behave absolutely selflessly in aide of the Pirate so that he might perform his long awaited promise with dignity. They give him the parts of their clothes that are least ragged so that the Pirate would be presentable, but at the same time squelch any chance of going themselves to enjoy the moment. They also spend their hard earned five dollars, which had burned a hole in Danny's pocket for days on a party for the Pirate. As an interesting side note, the fact that Danny accepted five dollars for all of their bounty from the salvage is a testament to the innocence of the group. Among the junk that they sell, Steinbeck lists a machine gun, which must have been worth far more than five dollars on its own. The friends had no concept of the worth of such an ugly object, despite their business savvy in all other things. They were hustled unknowingly by the prospector that bought the lot from them.

The final solution to the food problems of Senora Teresina Cortez can also be interpreted in such a way that comments on the pure simplicity of the paisano way of life. When Danny's friends begin providing food for the children, they give them better foods than they had ever been able to eat before. The children will only remain healthy on a diet of tortillas and beans, however. Likewise, in the coming chapter we will see how difficult life becomes for Danny under the burden of his ownership of the house in Tortilla Flat. This simplicity can also be seen in the fact that Big Joe had no idea what to do with the $250 dollars when he stole it. Instead he tried to retreat back into his normal lifestyle, wanting only wine and the companionship of his friends at Danny's house.

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