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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
CHAPTER 2: The Great Mountains
This chapter begins with Jody listlessly looking about the ranch during the heat of a midsummer afternoon. He has no one to play with and little to do. He misses the red pony terribly. To entertain himself, Jody throws rocks at the swallow's nest and baits a rat trap with stale cheese, leaving it out to torment his dog, Doubletree Mutt. When the dog gets his nose pinched by the trap, his mother scolds Jody for tormenting Doubletree. Jody then walks up to the brush line to try and hit a bird with his slingshot. He aims at a thrush and kills it. He picks up the dead bird, cuts off its head, disembowels it, takes off its wings, and throws the pieces into the brush.
The hills are dry and hot during the summer. To stay cool, Jody drinks water from the mossy green tub and lies on the grass, looking at the sky and wondering about the great mountains. At dinner, he questions his father about the mysterious mountains. Mr. Tiflin says the mountains are full of cliffs and danger and end abruptly at the ocean; Billy agrees with the realistic description. Jody, however, thinks romantically about the possibility of ancient cities lost in the mountains.
Jody sees a moving figure over the brow of the hill. It is an old man dressed in a blue denim coat that is buttoned up to his throat. When he comes to the gate, the man tells Jody that he is Gitano and that he has come home. Jody is puzzled and runs to his mother in the kitchen and tells her that an old paisano has come. Mrs. Tiflin goes out to Gitano, who explains that the ranch is on the land where he was born, and he wants to spend the last years of his life near his birthplace. Jody's mother sends the boy to bring his father. The stern and practical Carl Tiflin refuses to keep the old paisano at the ranch for long; he will only permit him to stay in the bunkhouse for a single night.
Jody is excited to have company and is curious to know about the old man. When he questions Gitano, the old man tells the boy that he has come from the Salinas Valley. When he asks him questions about the mountains, the old man is hesitant to reveal anything about them. Jody takes Gitano to the barn, where he shows him old Easter, the first horse purchased by his father many years ago. Old Gitano likes Easter; however, he ironically does not see the old horse has a use anymore.
When Billy and Jody's father come into the barn, Mr. Tiflin compares old Easter with old Gitano; he ironically judges them both as worthless because of their age. Billy Buck defends the aged, saying they deserve peace and restfulness after working all their lives.
After supper Mr. Tiflin warns Gitano to leave the ranch on the next morning. He justifies his action to himself by saying he is not financially capable of supporting another man. Before he leaves, Jody wants to talk more to this strange man with the dull, dark eyes. He seeks out Gitano in the bunkhouse. When Jody enters, the old man obviously hides something. It is a lovely rapier; Gitano explains it was a gift from his father. Jody goes back to the house and decides not to tell anyone about the rapier.
The next morning the old man is nowhere to be found even though his sack is still in the bunkhouse. The horse Easter is also missing; Mr. Tiflin merely thinks the old horse has wandered off to die. Later Jess Taylor from the ridge ranch tells the Tiflins that he has seen an old man riding on Easter and heading towards the mountains. Mr. Tiflin does not understand that old man and old horse have gone together to die in peace. He accuses Gitano of "stealing" the horse, but he is happy that he will not have to go to the trouble of burying Easter.
Jody walks up towards the brush line, looking at the high mountains. He lies down in the green grass and covers his eyes. He is full of a "nameless sorrow."
This chapter opens during midsummer, with everything dry and struggling. Jody also struggles, for he is bored and misses Gabilan. In boredom and frustration, he needlessly strikes out at nature. He throws stones at the swallows' nest and kills a thrush with his slingshot. He grotesquely cuts off its head, disembowels it, and severs its wings; he then carelessly tosses the pieces of the dead bird into the brush, as if death had no meaning. Jody also sets the rattrap so his own dog will be caught in it. It is as if he is rebelling against his stern father, who protects the birds and treasures nature.
Steinbeck also portrays a softer side of Jody in this chapter. After he cuts up the thrush, he feels unhappy, almost ashamed; he goes to wash the blood off his hands, and it is like he is trying to cleanse himself of the sin. After washing himself, Jody lies peacefully on the grass and wonders about the great, mysterious mountains to the west, which are very different from the gentle, inhabited Gabilan Mountains to the east. He asks his parents and Billy Buck about the western mountains, and his father simply describes them in a realistic way as a place of danger.
Jody continues to wonder about the great mountains. He realizes that in the morning when the peaks are pink, the mountains are dear to him; but in the evenings when they become dark and cast shadows, they frighten Jody. While he is still thinking about the mountains, Jody sees an old man coming towards the ranch. The mysterious paisano introduces himself as Gitano and tells Jody he has come back to his birthplace to die.
When Mr. Tiflin and Billy come to see Gitano, they find the paisano resting, with his body sagging into "a timeless repose." The old Gitano no longer values time, for he is prepared for death; he no longer works, so he can rest. His image is a sharp contrast to the bustle and hard work of the ranch. Mr. Tiflin refuses to keep Gitano at the ranch, saying he cannot afford to support another man; but he also treats Gitano in a rude and cruel manner. Since he cannot understand why Gitano has "come home" to die, Mr. Tiflin shows he does not grasp the full meaning of the life/death cycle. In fact, when he compares old Gitano with his old horse Easter, he says that the aged have no use and should be done away with. Unfortunately, in modern society too many people feel the same way as Mr. Tiflin. Fortunately, Jody does not.
After supper, Jody goes to the bunkhouse to see Gitano and ask him what he knows about the great mountains. Gitano can only remember that they were quiet and peaceful, a totally different image than the one Mr. Tiflin has given. Jody is satisfied because he wanted to hear the same. When Jody sees the golden rapier that Gitano has tried to hide, Jody insists on knowing about it. Gitano says it is sacred to him, for it was a gift from his father. Jody's decision not to tell anyone about the rapier is another indication that he is maturing. He instinctively knows that his father does not like this paisano and would resent the sword. Jody feels that by talking about the rapier, he could "destroy some fragile structure of truth."
When Gitano leaves the next morning, he takes old Easter with him. Like Gabilan, the two creatures are going off on their own to die peacefully in Nature. Tiflin accuses Gitano of stealing Easter, to whom he claims to be attached; ironically, he is relieved he will not have to bury the old horse. Unlike his insensitive father, Jody understands the life/death cycle and knows why Gitano and Easter have left together to head to the mountains.
At the end of the story, Jody has a feeling of "nameless sorrow." The sorrow is obviously brought on by Gitano's death. The boy is obviously sad at the thought of the old man facing death all alone, with only an old horse as company. It also forces him to think about the loss of his own red pony. Finally, Jody is sad because he knows he cannot share his feelings with his father, who could never understand his sadness and would criticize him for his softness.