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FREE Study Guide-Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck-Book Summary
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SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)

In the preface we learn that ďthis is the story of Danny and of Dannyís friends and of Dannyís houseĒ(1). Steinbeck gives a description of the town in which they reside: Monterey, CA. From here he explains the inhabitants of Monterey with whom this work is concerned; they are the paisanos (a person that has a mixture of Spanish, Indian, Mexican, and Caucasian blood). These people speak both Spanish and English with a paisano accent, and will claim to be purely Spanish when questioned. They live in a district of Monterey called Tortilla Flat.

Danny, the protagonist, is a paisano. When he was 25, war was declared on Germany (this is presumably when the United States entered the already engaged World War I). Danny, Pilon, and their friend Big Joe Portagee were drinking wine and decided to enlist. Pilon and Big Joe were placed into the infantry. Danny, who had been a mule skinner, was sent to Texas to break mules. This story opens with Danny returning from his service in the army. He learns that his Viejo (grandfather) has passed away. Danny has inherited two houses on Tortilla Flat. Initially, this is not welcomed news for Danny, who is apprehensive of the responsibility. Danny drinks a gallon of wine and becomes angry and belligerent. He encounters a group of Italian fishermen, whom he insults. The fishermen are not offended, and invite Danny to share some wine with them later. Danny continues to wander the streets violently. He is arrested when an officer witnesses him breaking a window. He is sentenced to thirty days in the jail.


During his stay in jail, Danny is heavy of heart. He is irritated by bedbugs-which he eventually makes peace with by squashing them into his rendition of the city council, portrayed on his cell wall. One night, Tito Ralph, the jailer, brings two bottles of wine to Danny and they drink together. Once the gallons are finished, they leave the jail and go to Torelliís ( a restaurant) for more. When they are thrown out of Torelliís Danny goes into the woods and falls asleep. Tito, who is also intoxicated, heads to the jail to report Dannyís escape.

Danny acquires scraps of food (some of which he trades for wine) and hides out in the woods. He meets up with Pilon in the woods. Each try to avoid the other (they do not want to share what they have), until Danny realizes that Pilon has something to share and pretends that he was looking for him to share his food. Pilon begrudgingly agrees, asking how Danny knew he was carrying brandy. Danny feigns surprise and disinterest, but Pilon tells him he will gladly share.

After drinking, they men become melancholy and Danny inquires about the whereabouts of various friends. When they begin to tell stories it is that Danny remembers he has inherited two houses. He rejoicingly shares this news with Pilon, who does not take it well. Pilon believes that Danny will forget his old friends, but Danny reassures Pilon that while he has a house, Pilon will as well.

Danny obtains a skeleton key from the lawyer for the two houses. They find the second house just as the Viejo had left it, complete with a 1906 calendar. Danny becomes worrisome and tells Pilon that he wishes Pilon owned the houses and that he was staying with him. Pilon believes now that Danny owns property; he will be a changed man. He can never again be carefree.

Danny goes to town to have the water turned on, but returns unsuccessful-a three-dollar deposit is required. Pilon reminds Danny that that would be three gallons of wine; he suggests that they can borrow water from Mrs. Morales (the neighbor). While Danny was in town, Pilon created some holes in the bottom of Mrs. Moralesís fence, in hopes that her roosters would escape into Dannyís land. Danny tells Pilon that tomorrow they will settle in and that now Pilon must find dinner while he prepares wood. Pilon grows resentful, believing that he will soon become Dannyís slave.

Pilon captures a chicken to eat for dinner. He and Danny decide that it would be a good idea to rent to other house. Danny agrees to rent it to Pilon for fifteen dollars a month (except for when he was in the army, Pilon has never had that sum of money in his life). Pilon goes out (presumably to Torrelliís) and returns with a gallon of wine. The men drink it and fall asleep.

The next day Pilon moves into the smaller house. The narrator tells us that Danny has changed-he has become a great man, because of his renter status. However, this is in name only. Pilon never pays any rent and Danny never asks for any. Danny and Pilon spend much time together-especially when the other has something to share. Although Danny never asks for money, Pilon is still anxious that he hasnít any to pay for rent. One evening Pilon acquires a dollar when a man at the hotel asks him to but some ginger ale. Pilon heads home with the intention of giving it to Danny for rent; however, he ends up buying a gallon of wine instead. With the wine he also acquires two women, whom he brings home as well.

Danny comes over and helps drink the wine and entertain the ladies. He and Pilon being a fist fight which ends with a lady butted in the stomach by Danny and two missing pots. Danny and Pilon commiserate over the awfulness of the women-and fight again because Danny doesnít believe that Pilon knows how bad they are. For a while, Pilon felt better about not paying rent, because he hosted Danny.

Months pass, and Pilon once again felt unsettled. He decides to work for a day cleaning squid, which earns him two dollars. He plans to pay Danny the two dollars, but instead buys two gallons of wine-he decides Danny will like wine better than money. On the way to Dannyís house, Pilon encounters his friend Pablo, whom he believed to be in jail. Pablo was released from the jail because he ate too much. Pilon decides to celebrate the reunion with his friend by offering to share the wine with Pablo. They return to Pilonís house. While sharing the wine at Pilonís house, Pilon contrives a plan to save himself the anxiety of paying Danny monthly rent-he asks Pablo if he would like to rent part of his house for fifteen dollars a month. Pablo agrees. Pilon feels relieved, as he can now tell Danny to ask Pablo for the money if he ever tries to collect his rent.

Pilon and Pablo continue on quite nicely. Their lives are very peaceful and relaxed; they spend much time together and out in nature. They discuss topic both philosophical-what if rain was diamonds, or wine-and ephemeral - Cornelia Ruiz, a good woman who has masses sung for her dead father, has cut a black Mexican whom she was with, but in whom she no longer had any interest. Danny is apparently now with Rosa Martin, a Portagee girl. Pablo and Pilon worry that Danny will marry her and bother them for rent. They decided to talk to Danny about this new relationship he has-to warn him of the perils of women.

The men find Danny on his front porch and begin with the mention of Cornelia Ruiz and the Mexican. They begin a diatribe of how evil women can be. Pilon tells Danny that he has heard bad things about Rosa Martin. Danny simply asks, what can you expect of a Portagee. Pilon and Pablo are relieved and ask how Mrs. Morales chickens are (remember, Pilon rigged the fence so some may escape, and he would catch and eat them). Danny tells them that they all died due to bad string beans that she fed them. He said even though they were cautioned against it, they scraped the insides clean and sold them to the butcher. When asked if Danny bought some wine with the money, Danny slyly says that Mrs. Morales did last night and that she is sometimes pretty, and not so old.

Once again, Pilon and Pablo become nervous. Pilon tells Danny that he has heard Mrs. Morales is fifty years old! Danny says that she is lively, owns her own house, and has two hundred dollars in the bank. He would like to make her a present. Danny insinuates that he would like some rent money to buy her a box of candy. Pilon and Pablo become anger and stalk off-claiming that Danny is always complaining about the rent, that he is a miser and a Jew.

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