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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES - Tortilla Flat
How Danny's sorrowing friends defied the conventions. How the talismanic bond was burned. How each friend departed alone
Tortilla Flat prepares to bury Danny. Two days after Danny’s death, the preparation becomes not about him, but about the social function of the funeral itself-, which is to be a grand, military event. Horrified, the friends realize they will not be able to attend because they have no funeral clothes. They cannot borrow any, because the whole town is going to see Danny be buried. They could not go wearing their rags because they believed that would be a disgrace to Danny. The best they could come up with was to watch the funeral from the grass outside of the cemetery.
Oddly, the day of the funeral was sunny and beautiful. The friends watch the whole day from afar, and were greatly saddened. That evening they returned to the house, drank some wine, and sang some songs.
During the course of their remembering Danny, a lit match fell onto a newspaper. At first, they tried to stamp it out-then, simultaneously, they stopped. The house burned down. The house, in which they lived together, would not now go to a relative of Danny; it would die as he did. The men watched as the firemen came and then left, as the house was unable to be saved. They returned to the ashes, then left-no two men together.
And so, Steinbeck ends his novel on a bittersweet note. This chapter is, perhaps, the most touching of the whole novel. It offers, conclusively, proof of the motive of the friends: love. This chapter opens with a very insightful discussion of the true nature of funerals: funerals are not, truly, about the person who died but about the people in attendance. It is one of those social occasions that test our skills of doing what is “right.” It is an opportunity to prove to one’s peers that one is a good person, through proper etiquette. One must send the proper flowers, wear the proper attire, and be appropriately sad. The friends do none of this. They cannot afford clothes or flowers for the funeral. They go and watch from afar, but, then, they honor Danny with song and wine. This is essential to the way in which Steinbeck has been developing them. Because they are free from societal constructs, they are unconcerned with how they are viewed by the town. Instead, they are concerned only with Danny. They honor Danny with what made him happy in life, song and wine.
The most poignant moment in this section is when the house burns. Whenever a reader encounters similar events within a novel, those events should be compared and contrasted. In the beginning of the novel, Danny’s second house burned down through carelessness. This was not a happy occasion. A major difference in this burning is that this was the beginning of Danny’s acquisition of material possessions. The event was a forum to display how the loss of material things can make one sad. The second burning was very nearly opposite. This occurred at the end of Danny’s time owning material things. It was a happy event. A message that can be elicited from this comparison is that there is freedom in what is free. The men could have schemed their way into living in the house. However, it is possible that they garnered a lesson from Danny’s death, and decided to return to their previous lives.
There is some difficultly in their departing separately-if they are such a united group, why did they not continue as such? There are many ways of answering this question. One of them is that with Danny gone, and the house destroyed, they Round Table has perished. When the book began, they did not all live together. For them to return to their original ways, they must go their separate ways.