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Tortilla Flat

John Steinbeck

Chapters 16 & 17

Chapter 14 & 15

Important Quotations Explained

Summary

Chapter 16

When Danny returned from his binge of lawlessness, he was tired, though not remorseful, but worse, his demeanor was unchanged. Danny slipped into an impenetrable fog of listlessness. His friends tried to talk to him and break him out of the rut, but it was no use. "He is changed," Pilon said, "He is old." Pilon tried giving Danny the last two glasses of wine in the house, and for a second, he saw a flicker of the old Danny in his eyes. From there, the friends knew what they must do. The next morning, Pilon, Pablo, the Pirate, Jesus Maria, Big Joe, Tito Ralph, and Johnny Pom-Pom set out to cut squid for Chin Kee in order to earn enough money to throw Danny the biggest party ever.

Word spread quickly through the town of Tortilla flat that Danny's friends were working. The news easily replaced Cornelia Ruiz as the day's most popular subject of discussion. Around noontime, word leaked out that they were working to throw a party for Danny and the town exploded with enthusiasm. No one wanted Danny to think that he had just seven friends who were willing to sacrifice time and money for his party. Chickens were slain, decorations bought, and Mr. Torrelli's boomed with business. Even Torrelli himself decided that he would pay a visit to the party and bring a few gallons of wine.

While all of this was going on, Danny sat obliviously on his front porch, completely unaware that everyone in town had passed by his house with a curious look in their eye. At four o'clock, he got up and began walking towards Monterey with no particular purpose. As soon as he was out of site, people swarmed the house with decorations, food and wine. A farmer named Ramirez dug up a keg of potato whiskey from his manure pile and donated it to the cause. At five-thirty, the band of Danny's friends trudged home, weary and cut up from the day's work, but successful. They had earned two dollars each, which was good for fourteen gallons of wine. Their expression immediately brightened and the tiredness faded from their limbs when they saw the house and all of the neighbors swarming around it. Soon, the party was ready to go, and all that was missing was Danny.

Pilon and Pablo finally tracked down their friend on a pier in Monterey. Later Pilon would say that when he had spotted Danny, he had seen a man-sized black bird over his head, and had crossed himself and whispered two Hail Mary's. Danny lifelessly responded to their questions about his health with, "I'm okay," and only livened when Pilon announced the party. Danny turned and said something unheard to the water, and then turned to his friends with a fire in his eyes. They ran up the hill to Tortilla Flat and the party began.

The party, which is now called The Party, is now a legend in Tortilla Flat. Never is there talk of another party without lopsided comparisons being made to Danny's party. There was a smorgasbord of food, more than thirty gallons of wine, and the keg of potato whiskey. It was later said that Danny himself drank three gallons of wine, but of course, Danny has ceased existing as a normal person. His drinking and sexual endurance at the party elevated Danny to the status of legend, and as with all legends, each year a few extra gallons of wine and a few extra women are added to the total. Actually, there is not a woman in the entire town who would admit that Danny passed her up that night. There were fights to end all fights, not just man on man, but entire crowds of whirling fists and flying bodies. In Monterey, the firemen stayed up all night with their engines running, just waiting for a call.

When the weaker of the partiers began to fade, and even the most tireless men had lost the will to fight, Danny was still raging. Brandishing a fearsome table leg he challenged the entire world to fight him, but there were no takers. The legends became distorted here, and the events took a turn towards the supernatural. Most agree that Danny began to grow monstrous. They say that his eyes became like the headlights of a car and that his head almost touched the ceiling of the little house. When no one took up his challenge, Danny called, "Then I will go out to the One who can fight. I will find the Enemy who is worthy of Danny!" With this, he rushed out the door. The people in the house were helpless to follow, and listened for what would come next with bated breath and then with heads quietly bowed. From the house, they heard Danny charge into a fray, and then he let out what sounded like a last cry of defiance, and then a thump. When no sound fallowed, Pilon was the only paisano brave enough to follow his friend. In the bottom of the gulch, they found Danny, twisted and contorted, apparently from the forty-foot drop. He was still alive, but Pilon knew that he was dying. Doctors and Father Ramirez were called while the paisanos brought their friend back to his bed. No one knows what happened inside his room with the priest. The doors were closed to all but Danny, the priest, and his seven friends. When the door opened, Danny was dead.

Chapter 17

Whereas death is a private matter, a funeral is a public one, and the people of Monterey turned Danny's into almost as much of a spectacle as the party had been. Almost immediately, the tragedy of Danny's death was forgotten as preparations for the funeral were made. A new tragedy was born however for the friends still living in Danny's house. Their clothes had been unpresentable before the party, but afterwards they were a complete disgrace. Normally they could have borrowed clothes, but since everyone in town was going top the funeral, there were no extra clothes. They tried every possible solution to this problem, but in the end, they had to relent and watch the funeral from the sidewalk and not be part of the procession.

They stood outside the church for the mass, but before long, Jesus Maria broke down crying and bolted from the scene. The five other friends (Tito Ralph had turned traitor and procured a suit) followed him, with the dogs close behind. They lay in the tall grass of the cemetery to watch the funeral, which was short and of a military quality. The ladies were all out in their finest dresses, which they had to heave up to avoid the inevitable droppings of the cavalry horses. Danny's grave was almost completely covered in flowers stolen from the best beds in Monterey. The dogs whimpered when the cavalry shot off of their guns in salute, and the pirate was proud of them.

On the way back from the funeral, Pilon stole two gallons of wine from the empty house of Torrelli. Then he retired to the house and began drinking and telling short stories of the great things that Danny had done for them. Tito Ralph showed up later with a box of cigars, which he had somehow won in the post- funeral festivities. The friends drank and smoked, and experimented with a few of the old songs that Danny had liked, just to see if their voices still worked for singing. When the songs were finished, Pilon lit a match to relight his cigar, but the match flipped out of his hand and ignited a newspaper in the corner of the room. Everyone got up at once to stamp it out but then had the same idea. They say back down, and only when the flames were licking the roof did they start walking out. Pilon had learned his lesson from the last house and picked up the last of the wine on his way out. The house died, as Danny did, "in one last glorious, hopeless assault on the gods." It was better this way than to be later kicked at by some lifeless relative of Danny's. When the house was nothing but an ash, the friends departed, with no two taking the same course.

Analysis

Whether or not Danny really faced off with a supernatural "Opponent" at the end of his party is unclear, but it is also unimportant. The metaphorical truth of how and why he died is undeniable. Whether or not Pablo actually saw a supernatural black bird over Danny's head on the dock is also unimportant because metaphorically, it had been there all along. As is natural, Danny had been dying all along, but in the tedium of his monotonous days, he had noticed it and it had begun to drive him mad. Danny realized that no matter what he did, his life would have ended meaninglessly as it was. He had volunteered for the Army in the hope of doing something with his life, but had ended up shuttling cattle around the southwest. He had given his life up to help his friends, but the comfort that they found was unrewarding. Danny's lawless binge was an attempt to defy death and rediscover his youth, but he returned from it tired, having realized that his youth was gone.

One possible interpretation of the ending is that Danny's last effort in defiance of death was to commit suicide. The sounds that were heard from inside could very well have been the sounds of Danny tumbling down the gulch and letting out a last painful yell. Instead of fighting with a physical manifestation of death, Danny did the only thing that he could do to defy it. Instead of letting death torture him for the extended twilight of his life, he ends the struggle in an explosion of brilliance with the party and his suicide. In the process, Danny's life became meaningful to the town of Monterey. His violent struggle with death and for the vigor in which he lived made him a legend.

Although comments in the book lead readers to believe that the end of the brotherhood was a negative thing, it is also open to the opposite interpretation. The friends do all that they can to honor Danny's memory. They do not dirty his funeral with their scrubby appearances, and also choose not to participate in the immoral circus that his funeral becomes. They honor him in their own way by holding the pain in their hearts, and it is so unbearable that they cannot stand by the procession any longer. Regarding the house, if a distant relative had come to Tortilla Flat and kicked the paisanos out, the story of Danny might have eventually been forgotten. Whatever new life began in the house might have eventually replaced the memory of Danny and his friends in the minds of the people of Tortilla Flat. Instead, they allow the house to be torched and seal the spirit of Danny's house in the memories of the town. When they part, it is not necessarily because there was nothing left to hold them together, but perhaps because, by Danny's example, they had realized that they had to make something of their lives before death drove them mad as well.

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