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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 10

How the friends solaced a corporal and in return received a lesson in paternal ethics

Summary

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.


Notes

Like Arthurian Legends, this story is constructed as a series of smaller tales. Often in the legends the knights encountered characters that tested their valor, or wisely taught them a lesson. In this story, we meet the corporal,, a man who has stood the test of great emotional turmoil, yet is still is righteous.

The interaction between the corporal and the men of Tortilla Flat, once again, shows the moral fiber of the “knights.” Danny reminds them, that they were soldiers too. The men respond with the utmost kindness-from which they stand to gain nothing. This man also shows them an example of heroism because he does not seek revenge, only to be honest. The men recognize this and appreciate the Mexican as a good man. It is important to recognize that, while they initially encourage him to seek revenge, when they realize he is not going to-they see him as a good man. They applaud his decision, and are uplifted by his righteousness.

CHAPTER 11

How, under the most adverse circumstances, love came to Big Joe Portagee

Summary

This chapter is a love story; or, at least, the history of a love story. This 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 rowboat 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.

Notes

This story is an opportunity to show that Big Joe Portagee is also a good guy. Until this point, most of our readerly interaction with Big Joe has not been pleasant. His biggest moment was when he reappeared and sold Danny’s blanket. But here, we see that he too is a good-hearted soul. The idea is that Big Joe could easily taken advantage of Tia-it would not have even been taking advantage of her after she began advances on him. However, his crimes, as are the crimes of the men of Danny’s house, are harmless. He is guilty of drinking her wine, but nothing of great harm. It appears at the end, when he wishes to have a moment to speak to her, and by the beginning, which tells us that this is the beginning of one of his love affairs, that he simply did not realize what was going on. The narrator tells us that when Big Joe felt love, he did something about it. This is not the heart of a criminal; it is the heart of an innocuous, lovable character.

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