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FREE Study Guide-Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck-Book Summary
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After his sentence was served, Big Joe headed back to Torrelli’s, where he learned of Danny’s inheritance on Tortilla Flat. On the way to Tortilla Flat, Big Joe runs into Pilon who is going to the forest. Pilon is going to the forest because it is St. Andrew’s Eve, when buried treasures are supposed to be revealed in the forest. Pilon tells Big Joe that he may come with him, but Pilon must be the one to decide what to do with the treasure, for that night he was on a mission of kindness.

On Tortilla Flat lived a woman names Dolores Engracia Ramirez known as Sweets Ramirez to the men for certain amorous, voluptuous qualities that she possessed. As did all of the ladies on Tortilla Flat when learning about Danny’s inheritance, Sweets wanted to be his lady. Each evening she waited for Danny to pass by and fall into her trap, but he never did. Because she was up the hill from Danny, he did not have the occasion often to pass her house. She, of course, was a lady and could not go to see him.

Eventually, Danny did pass the house. Danny had managed to sell some nails for three dollars and was on his way to Torrelli’s to buy some wine, when Sweets asked him where he was going. She invited him in for wine, and Danny accepted. Danny realizes that he has become lustful for Sweets, and becomes angry. She invites him to return that evening. Now, a big bear and not feeling anger, Danny accepts. He decides that it would be nice to bring her some wine.

In town, Danny meets Pablo and shares with him some of the wine he has bought for Sweets. He decides to buy her a present, and ends up with a vacuum cleaner. This present, regardless of the fact that it is a useless due to the absence of electricity on the Flat, heightens Sweets’s position in society.

Soon, Danny’s friends become weary of the time he is spending with Sweets and hatch a plan to save their friend. After acquiring some wine to an unwitting Italian, they tell Danny stories of Cornelia Ruiz and her new man and of Susie Francisco and her new man. Then Pablo asks Danny what he has done to make the whole town laugh at him. Pilon tells Danny that Sweets is telling everyone that Danny will install wires in her house so that she can use the vacuum that he bought her. They tell Danny that to avoid embarrassment, he should take the vacuum back. Pilon tells Danny that he will get it back. Pilon takes the vacuum without Sweets knowing and exchanges it at Torrelli’s for two gallons of wine.

While they are drinking the wine, Johnny Pom-pom stops by and tells them that he has come from Torrelli’s and that Mr. Torrelli is very angry with Pilon. Evidently, the vacuum had no motor. The men all agree that Mr. Torrelli got what he deserved-his wine is getting poorer and poorer. If he doesn’t watch out-they will buy their wine somewhere else.

Jesus Maria is a humanitarian. He is willing to help anyone he meets, and seems to meet many people in need of his help. Because Jesus Maria liked to see people, as well as the legs of girls-he could be found every day at the post office. He observes a Mexican boy with a baby who is apparently in trouble with a police officer who cannot understand him. The officer enlists his services and Jesus Maria finds that the Mexican has come to look for work that he was told he could find in Monterey, and was resting in a gutter with his sick baby because he could not find it.

Jesus Maria explains to the officer that this boy is his friend and then explains his situation. He is let go. Jesus Maria tells the boy that he must come with the baby to Danny’s house. The man, it turns out is a corporal in the Mexican army. He does not want to take his sick baby to the doctor because he does not like them. Jesus Maria and the Pirate go to retrieve milk and food for the baby; but, the baby will have none. The man was married to a woman in Mexico, with whom he had this baby; she left him for a captain. The corporal confronted the captain, and the captain tried to kill him numerous times. He took his baby to a place where it is said you can make a baby what you wish-he now tells the baby that he will be a general. The baby dies. The corporal tells the men that he will return to Mexico, where he hopes to be an officer one day. He seeks no revenge on the man that took his wife. The men are proud to have met him.

Steinbeck introduces many smaller stories into this larger novel. At the point in the plot he tells a love story. It is the story of one of Big Joe’s love affairs. It had been raining in Monterey and Big Joe spent the day hiding under a row boat on the beach. When the rain let up he headed back to Danny’s, but it began to pour again-so he sought the nearest shelter, which happened to be Tia Ignacia, a widow success and standing.

Tia allows him to come in; she tries to hide the wine that she is drinking, but Big Joe spots it, and she must offer it. She must drink quickly to keep up with Joe, in order to have any for herself. She begins to feel friendly toward Big Joe, although, he seems to have no interest in him. She offers to take his coat to dry; she offers to blow out the light to save his eyes, and make him more comfortable. When she blows out the light-Big Joe falls asleep. Tia Ignacia becomes very angry and beats him with a stick. She beats him out of the house and into the street where a police officer, Jake Lake, see them. He only tells them to get out so that they aren’t run over.

The Pirate’s bag of quarters has become the symbolic center of friendship for the men of Danny’s house. Each day the Pirate returns home, buries his ax, covers the wheel barrow, and gives Danny his quarter, which everyone watches Danny deposit in the bag.

A fortuitous accident happened one night in Carmel-a Coast Guard Cutter went down. Danny, Jesus Maria, the Pirate, Pablo, and Pilon all went to recover the riches (Big Joe was away on business of his own). They spent the night collecting things off the beach and sold them to a spectator for five dollars in the morning. Because the Pirate had been unable to work that day, Danny paid him a quarter for coming along. As they did every day, they went to deposit the quarter, which resided under Danny’s pillow. This night, the bag was missing. The Pirate began to cry. Assuming Big Joe, the only one left behind, was responsible-the men gathered weapons and prepared to attack when he came home.

Big Joe returned with a gallon of wine in each hand. They began to beat him in an out of consciousness, as he swore that he took only four quarters and buried the bag. They counted the money to make sure he was not lying-he had seven quarters over what he needed to buy the candle stick. The Pirate was so overwhelmed with emotion that he lay in the corner with his dogs and cried. They began to make preparations for the candlestick buying, which they decided would have to be done by Fr. Roman, so the police would not think they were thieves. It was also decided that the Pirate should buy a new outfit to wear to Mass. However, the Pirate returned with a ridiculous studded belt and handkerchief. They decided that between all of them they could lend the Pirate some decent clothes and they would stay home with the dogs.

With the five dollars from the cutter, Danny decided that he would celebrate by buying hamburger meat, onions, candy, and wine-a party was held in the Pirate’s honor. At the Mass on Sunday, Fr. Roman told the story of the Pirate and his dog and the candlestick. During the sermon, the Pirate’s dogs ran in and disrupted the service. The Pirate was embarrassed, but Fr. Roman was understanding. The priest said that it is good to be loved by animals. The Pirate was touched and, after the Mass, took the dogs into the forest and told them everything he had heard in church by re-enacting the service.

The next story introduces Teresina Cortez. She lives with her ancient mother and eight children on the Southern end of Tortilla Flat. Her first pregnancy was at age fourteen, and she thought of herself as a “perfect [retort] for the distillation of children”(145). At sixteen she married Alfred Cortez, gained his name and bore two children. His name was really Guggliemo-both before and after he left Monterey County. They subsist by collecting four hundred pounds of beans each year. The household had a deep devotion to the Virgin and prayed each year to her that the crops would be safe from mildew.

Sadly, this year, there was too much rain and the beans were lost-the Cortez house feared starvation. Fortunately, Jesus Maria had a special and humanitarian gift for helping those in need-particularly, women in need of comforting; and so it went that he stumbled upon her house the very day she cooked the last of her beans. That evening Jesus Maria relayed the predicament to his friends, who were also touched with sympathy. The very next day they set out to collect food for the Cortez family. Interestingly, a minor crime wave surfaced in the area-goats went missing, vegetables were stolen, and items began to pile up at Teresina’s home.

Initially, Teresina was ecstatic. After a week, however, the children were becoming sick, and neighbors began to wonder where all of her food was coming from. She, treading cautiously so as not to hurt their feelings, told Danny and his friends that the food was not good for the children; they required beans. The friends pretended to be disheartened, but their initial enthusiasm for the game had been waning anyhow. They held a conference-a warehouse was mysteriously broken into-at 3am that morning Teresina found four-hundred pounds of beans on her front porch.

Teresina realizes she is going to have another baby, and wonders which one of Danny’s friends is responsible for the generous supply of beans.

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