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

CHAPTER 8

How Danny's friends sought mystic treasure on Saint Andrew's Even. How Pilon found it and later how a pair of serge pants changed ownership twice

Summary

This chapter begins with the re-introduction of Big Joe Portagee, who in the beginning of the story enlisted in the military along with Danny and Pilon. Big Joe has spent most of his time during the war in military prison and is now released.

Upon returning home he headed to Torrelli’s, traded his coat for a gallon of wine, and headed out to find his friends. While he was unable to find his true friends, he did find harpies and pimps that led him to “the pit.” When his wine was all gone they tried to get him to leave, but he was comfortable. Big Joe got very angry, destroyed the place sending women screaming, and set the whole thing on fire. He was sentenced to thirty days. He did not mind his time in jail and slept for one-tenth of it. He is sad to hear that Danny and Pilon have not been booked recently-they usually passed through the jail.


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.

Big Joe agrees to the stipulations and goes with Pilon. While wandering thorough the woods, the two encounter other men - whom they believe may be spirits. They come across many supernatural things, but believe they are protected because Pilon is wearing a St. Andrew medal and Big Joe is making the sign of the cross. Eventually, they find a treasure and mark it. They decide to come back the next day when it is safer because there are no spirits wandering free. Pilon wants to give the treasure to Danny because he believes that they owe him something for being allowed to stay in his house. The Pirate, Pablo, and Jesus Maria have all agreed to search for treasure that night to find for Danny to show their appreciation.

None of the others have found anything. They return home. Danny, sensing the feeling of permanence in Big Joe, tells him that he can stay-provided that he does not sleep in Danny’s bed. That evening they tell the others (from whom they have been keeping the secret of the treasure) that they are going to see friends of Big Joe. When going to borrow Mrs. Morales tools, Big Joe uncovers a gallon of wine that he has acquired. At first Pilon believes that he has sold the treasure. But, Big Joe tells him that he got the wine on the promise of a dollar, which he believes he will have after they uncover the treasure. To prove that he would pay a dollar, he has given the Torrellis a blanket of Danny’s. Pilon becomes very angry and yells at Big Joe and tells him that he will beat him with a rock if he does not get Danny’s blanket back. Furthermore, he must do all of the digging that night. Big Joe agrees like a puppy.

Big Joe digs all night long-finally, he hits the treasure, which reads: “UNITED STATES GEODETIC SURVEY +1915+ ELEVATION 600 FEET.” Pilon dejectedly tells Big Joe that last year Johnny Pom-pom found the same thing and tried to sell the metal. The penalty for doing so was a year in jail and a two thousand dollar fine.

When Big Joe fell asleep, Pilon decided to take his jeans (from his body) and go to Torrelli’s-to avenge Danny. Pilon is barely able to barter the pants for a quart of wine. He heads out of Torrelli’s believing that Mrs. Torrelli is a Jewess-when he sees, in an alcove, Big Joe’s pants and Danny’s blanket-both of which he takes. He goes back to find Big Joe and they both return to Danny’s.

Notes

Once again, by introducing a character into the circle of friends, Steinbeck is able to illuminate their intricate relationship. Big Joe enters the scene much as Pilon had. He is wandering about and aimless. Pilon takes him in, as Danny had. This chapter illustrates how protective Pilon has grown over Danny: he is spending a night in the woods searching for a treasure to make Danny happy; he is extremely angry and threatening when he discovers that Big Joe has betrayed Danny. The circle has been violated.

Another important aspect of this chapter is the further development of the spiritual wisdom of Pilon. We find that he is affected by religious superstition: the St. Andrew medal, the belief in spirits. Most important is the way in which he handles the disappointment of the treasure. He tells Big Joe that “Happiness is better than riches”(92). He believes that the true way to repay Danny for his kindness is to keep him happy. This is yet another example of the two-sided Pilon. Only a few pages later, he will steal Big Joe’s pants for wine. But, he often has a clear, pure-hearted wisdom, which seems to develop with, and feed off of, the kindness of the circle.

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