Skip over navigation

Tortilla Flat

John Steinbeck

Chapter 14 & 15

Chapters 12 & 13

Chapters 16 & 17

Summary

Chapter 14

When the sun crept up the walls of Danny's house and in through the dust and web covered windows, it was time for the paisanos to get up. The Pirate would then go about his daily habit of chopping and selling wood, and the rest of the group would slowly brush off the sands of sleep and make their way to the warming sun on the front porch. There, they would spend the better part of the day in philosophical discussion of the goings on of Monterey. This discussion often centered on whatever Cornelia Ruiz had been up to lately, but then progressed to older, more meaningful stories. Today followed that pattern perfectly. First Danny told the story of how yesterday Cornelia had been given a baby pig by a suitor named Emilio. She had loved it and enjoyed showing it to all of her friends until Sweats Ramirez had stepped on its tail, causing the baby to squeal. The huge mother sow, which had been looking for its stolen baby, heard the noise and had come crashing through Cornelia's open front door and crushed all of the furniture and tableware. Now, Cornelia wanted to kill Emilio for giving her such a disastrous gift.

The paisanos pondered the meaning of the story and commented on how life never seemed to go as planned. This reminded Pablo of the story of Bob Smoke, who had craved attention more than anything else in the world. Bob would ride in rodeos and volunteer himself to carry the flag in all of Monterey's parades, but everything that he did for attention would end up embarrassing him. He fell off of his horse early at the rodeo and at a parade; his horse had feinted and caused Bob to throw the flag so that it stuck in the ground like a spear. The laugher of the town at his mishaps pained Bob so greatly that he decided to fake an attempt at suicide to make them stop. His plan had been to wait for a friend to come and visit, and when they came in, he would put a gun to his head as if the friend had arrived just as he was about to pull the trigger. After waiting a long time for a friend to come at all, Charlie Meeler walked in the door. Instead of shouting for Bob to stop, Charlie drove at Bob to try and stop him, and in the process, the gun went off and Bob's nose was shot off. The town laughed at him louder than ever after that, but they still let him carry the flag at parades and gave him a job as dogcatcher.

The bitter laughter brought on by this story reminded Jesus Maria of the tale of Petey Ravanno. Petey had fallen in love with a young temptress, named Gracy, who simply laughed off all of his attempts at romance. This depressed him so much that he could not eat or sleep. Petey thought to himself that if he could get the girl to marry him in church he could make a decent woman of her, but at his proposal, the girl just laughed even more. Petey was so depressed that he went home and tried to hang himself, but his father walked in and saved him. Seeing the pain that she had caused, Gracy consented to marry Petey and she made a good wife after all. Now, Petey's father had loved Petey and done everything with him all through his young life. In the loneliness caused by Petey's absence, he sought comfort in Gracy's sister, Tonia, who was even more beautiful than Gracy. He fell in love with her, but the older sister was even worse that Gracy had been. The older Ravanno decided that if he faked suicide, maybe the girl would see what she was doing as well, and so he set an elaborate plan to hang himself and be found. Unfortunately, his saviors did not follow their usual routine and the old man died before he was discovered. At this thought, Danny's friends could only manage a laugh in self-defense. Luckily thought of food saved them from dwelling on the story longer.

Chapter 15

With the rising of the sun and the telling of stories, time passed quickly and monotonously in Tortilla Flat, but no one noticed but Danny. The weight of property was upon him and he began to dream of the days of his freedom; of sleeping in the woods and the superior taste of stolen food. Finally the tedium drove Danny mad and he simply vanished into the woods. The friends didn't even begin to take notice of his disappearance until a week had passed. They realized that he had been gone for too long to be involved with a woman. They went out to look for him but found nothing and when they returned, all of the food and blankets in the house had been stolen. Stories of Danny's exploits began to emerge from all over town, and every time the friends went out, new things turned up missing from the house. At first they were not anxious bout Danny's amoral actions, but just jealous of his adventures.

The line was crossed however when in the middle of the night, Danny stole Pilon's shoes. The friends knew that Danny would never commit such a crime against friendship, and they began to worry about his sanity. Confirmation of their friend's betrayal came in the form or Torrelli a few days later. Torelli had spoken angrily of how Danny had taken advantage of him and his wife earlier and had sought vengeance against him and his friends. He presented to Pilon a contract signed by Danny authorizing the sale of his house for twenty-five dollars. Torrelli presented the document and ordered the friends out of the house, but they were not so quick to give in. Playing dumb, Pilon learned from Torelli that he had not yet made a record of the sale in town and that the copy that he was carrying was the only proof of the agreement. In a flash, Torrelli was on the floor and the paper was in the stove. As they sent Torrelli on his defeated way, Danny came walking up the hill with the jailer, Tito Ralph, each with two heavy bags under their arms.

Analysis

Though life was good at Danny's house, the weight of ownership and responsibility finally catches up with Danny and never lets go. Though the paisanos are by no means respectable citizens, the change in their lives that came with living in a house was substantial. They no longer had anything to do, nothing to worry about, and no fun. It is tempting to compare Danny's falling out with a midlife crisis, but it is something that had actually been with him all along. Though it is not implicitly stated, Danny is not blind. He knows that his friends were depending on him for their continued comfort, and that made it impossible for him to have the kind of fun that he wanted to have. For this reason, he tests the friendship of his boarders by stealing Pilon's shoes, ransacking the house, and even trying to have them kicked out. He wants to see if their friendship was solely based on the comforts of the house, so he tries to take them away. Proof of the constancy of their friendship is found however when Pilon repels Torrelli's attempts to take Danny's house and even threatens him for speaking in anger about Danny. Though Danny has personally insulted Pilon by stealing his shoes, Pilon's only care is for the well being of his friend. He worries about Danny's mental health constantly and craftily preserves the house because he thinks that Danny cares about it. The end of Danny's spell of madness is not the end of his troubles, however. Danny gets the inaction that has been eating at him out of his system, but the larger problem of responsibility and the meaningless passing of time were not resolved. This will become abundantly clear in the next chapter.

By showing us the things that the paisanos talked about to pass the time, Steinbeck shows us that they have real and sensitive emotions behind their actions. There is not one in the porch who does not feel the pangs of pity and sorrow of ironic fortune when Jesus Maria tells the story of Petey Ravanno. Danny does not change the subject because he is preoccupied with food, but because does not want to dwell on the pain of the Ravanno story any longer. In the meaningless day-to-day existence, he does not want death to be thought about any more than absolutely necessary. The realization that death was coming despite his feeling of comfort and invincibility is definitely part of what drives Danny mad, as will be reiterated in the next chapter. The story of Cornelia Ruiz's pig is also symbolic of the message that is plaguing Danny. In it, the girl is given a creature comfort that she enjoys for a time with her friends. In the end however, that unnecessary frill brings nothing but destruction and hate to Cornelia's house. This will also be the case with Danny and the luxury of his house.

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