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FREE Study Guide-Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck-Book Summary
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CHAPTER SYNOPSIS AND NOTES - Tortilla Flat

CHAPTER 2

How Pilon was lured by greed of position to forsake Danny's hospitality

Summary

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. Morales’s fence, in hopes that her roosters would escape into Danny’s 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 Danny’s 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 Torrelli’s) and returns with a gallon of wine. The men drink it and fall asleep.

Notes

This chapter is insightful regarding differences between classes. The opening line: “The lawyer...climbed into his Ford”(12), shows the difference between the lawyer and Danny and Pilon. Danny and Pilon can barely scrounge together a dollar for a gallon of wine, while the lawyer owns an automobile, and probably many other things. Also, it shows the reader that not everyone in Monterey is as poor as Danny and Pilon. When they are in the second house, Pilon notices that Danny is a changing man now that he has acquired this property. He says: “No more would Danny break windows, now that he had windows of his own to break”
(13). This is an important statement because it suggests the responsibility that comes with ownership. Once someone has something to lose, they are naturally more mindful of their actions. This assertion can be interpreted both literally and metaphorically. Recall that in the Preface Danny was jailed for breaking windows. Literally, now that he has windows to break he should be inclined to respect the windows of others because he understands the cost and worry of replacing them. Metaphorically, now Danny has something to lose. Previously, he was homeless and penniless. Now he stands to lose his property and will probably become a more cautious, law abiding citizen. Pilon notices this as a departure from his carefree world to one of worry. Pilon worries now that Danny is in a different place than himself. He is fearsome that he will lose the commonality that binds them.

Danny’s and Pilon’s agreement on fifteen dollars for Pilon’s rent is another example of Steinbeck’s dry humor as well as the absurdity of the characters. Pilon has never possessed this sum of money in his entire life. It must also be kept in mind that the time period of this book is the 1920s, when fifteen dollars was a sizable sum. Neither character can truly expect Pilon to be able afford this; yet, they argue earnestly over the rental fee. This adds humor to the plot, but it also offers another example of the best intentions of the main characters. They repeatedly attempt what they cannot achieve. This poses a question of why. Are they victims of their society? Is it their fault?

Pilon makes a final statement of profundity when he points out to Danny that: “It is not good to have so many breakable things around...When they are broken you become sad. It is much better to never have had them” (17). This statement, as are many of Steinbeck’s insights in this novel, is very simple, very candid, and very wise. While Pilon is speaking literally of the breakable items in Danny’s house, this caution carries the same weight as the insight about the windows: now that Danny owns material items he will become attached to them-he then stands the risk of losing them and feeling a sorrow he would never have been able to know before he owned anything. Therefore, Pilon believes that it is much better to never own anything to begin with.

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