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FREE Study Guide-Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck-Book Summary
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SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (continued)

Next, Steinbeck begins a discussion of the disregard of organized time. Watches have no value in Danny’s house except for barter-and the men operate on natural time. One day Danny suggests that the windows should be washed. Pilon thinks that is not a good idea because more light could get in, in which case, they would not have to go outside for light, and the poisonous night air could seep in. The obscurity of light by the dirty window made the house a great place to sleep. Every day, they each awoke peacefully and easily. They drank tea and discussed past adventures and present goings-on-particularly that of Cornelia Ruiz, because it was rare that she did not do something worth discussion. This is how they came one day toy’s company and was lonely when converse about how the only two things that ever happen in Cornelia’s life are loving and fighting.

Danny told how the day before Emilio Murietta, as many men did, took Cornelia a present-a little pig. Emilio told her that a pig is a great present because it will eat anything and you can love it-then, when it gets older and mean-tempered, you can kill and eat it. When Emilio went away Cornelia made a bed for the little pig. One day a big sow came and the pig and the sow cause a ruckus and Cornelia got mad at Emilio.


This brought up, among the friends, the subject of Tall Bob Smoke. Bob is a person who people laugh at him. Bob decided that if he pretended he was going to kill himself a friend would argue with him and he would know that he was loved. For two days Bob waited in his house with a pistol waiting for someone to come; no one did. Finally, on the third day, Charlie Meeler came. The situation did not unfold as Bob had hoped: Charlie entered the house and, instead of begging Bob not to kill himself, he pulled the gun out of Bob’s had. The gun went off (it was already cocked to make the suicide attempt look more convincing) and shot off the end of Bob’s nose. The whole town laughed at this; but, from then on, they let Bob carry the flag in the town parades, and bought him a net to catch dogs.

The men conclude that Bob’s story is a hard one to laugh at, and that Bob is a good guy. When Jesus Maria was young, he was friends with Petey Ravanno, who was always into trouble. As he got older he spent most weekends in jail because he was always drunk. His father, Mr. Ravanno, was usually with him-he enjoyed Petey’s company and was lonely when he was not there. Petey began to chase after Gracie Montez, a girl that had had her first child at age twelve, and whom after many man chased. Petey wanted her so badly that he became thin and ill in pursuit of her. Mr. Ravanno tried to explain to her that Petey would die if she did not give in; she took his warning lightly. Petey worked hard to buy her presents. She merely laughed at him and ran away with the presents. Petey asked her to marry him, because he believed if she married him in a church she would no longer run away. She only laughed at him. Petey attempted suicide by hanging, but his father caught him and cut him down. Mr. Ravanno yelled at Gracie, blaming her for his son’s near death. She went to visit the still recovering Petey; they married shortly after. The friends agree this would be an excellent story to tell if it ended there; unfortunately, it does not.

Mr. Ravanno became sad when Petey left and did not know what to do with himself, until one day he saw Tonia-Gracie’s even prettier younger sister-also after whom many men chased. He became similar to Petey in his lust of Tonia-sickly. He bought her things which she accepted then laughed at him. Petey told him to stop because he had had enough women and that Tonia was too young.

Mr. Ravanno got a job so he could afford to buy Tonia presents. As Petey had done with her older sister, Mr. Ravanno asked Tonia to marry him in a church so she would not run away. She only laughed at him. So he decided he would pretend to attempt suicide, like Petey had, so she would marry him (as Gracie had married Petey). He decided to attempt suicide at work, in a tool shed, where he would be sure to be found before he actually died. Unfortunately, just as he stepped from the box (he was pretending to hang himself) the door to the shed blew shut. No one found him until he died. The friends found this story funny, but in a way that squeezes. Pilon complained that it was a bad story because there are too many lessons-one can learn nothing because it can’t be taken into the head. Pablo liked it because it has meaning that is not immediately evident-he knows it means something, but he is not sure what.

Pilon comes up with a plan to get fish. He thinks if they go to the pier and throw rocks at the fishermen they will have to throw something back. All the fisherman can throw is fish. He derived this plan from when he and his brothers would throw rocks at the train as children. The fireman would get angry and throw coal, which they took to their mother.

Every day on Tortilla Flat is exactly the same. Time is predictable. This begins to upset Danny, as he recalls his previous days of freedom. Unlike the beginning of the story, this is because he is feeling the weight of ownership-it is because he misses his freedom. Danny became so sullen that his friends thought he was ill. He brooded for one month and then ran away. The friends believe he has found a girl, but after one week they become concerned because that is too long. They are worried that he may need their help.

The friends seek Danny in the woods to no avail. When they return home they see that his belongings (blanket, pots, food etc) are missing. They believe Danny has gone mad. Soon, they hear reports of Danny frolicking throughout the town. They decide they must find him and that, eventually, he will go to Torrelli’s. They find that Danny has already been to Torrelli’s and caused much upset and destruction. Danny continued to take everything in the house-including the stove and the Pirate’s wheelbarrow-to sell or trade. All of the peace left the house; they friends were all sad.

One day, Danny steals Pilon’s shoes and the friends decide that he has gone too far. He must be stopped because this is a crime against friendship-if Danny will commit a crime against his own friends, then he will do anything.

It seems that Danny was put in jail for throwing an egg at a police officer. The jailer, Tito Ralph (who became the jailer when, from being a prisoner, knew the most about the jail) was fired when they all escaped. Apparently, when Tito Ralph drinks, as he was when Danny was brought in, he forgets he is the jailer, not a prisoner, and escapes.

Torrelli, who never leaves his place to visit anyone, is seen walking to Danny’s house. Furthermore, he is smiling, which is highly unnatural for him. He tells the friends that they can no longer live there, because Danny sold the house to him for twenty-five dollars. He has a paper to prove it. The friends take the paper, burn it, and say that they never saw it.

Danny return with Tito Ralph and some food. He says that he did not sign the paper. Pilon thinks they should do something nice for Torrelli.

After Danny has returned he is very tired and listless. Danny is not entertained, as usual, by the goings on of the town. Danny’s house became quiet. The friends tried everything to cheer him. One day, Pilon noticed that when he gave Danny wine it made him a bit livelier. When he shared this with the other friends, they decided Danny might benefit from a party. The next day the friends went to Chin Kee’s squid yard to cut squid for money. The town buzzed with the news, and soon everyone knew of the party. Everyone prepared things to bring to the party-music, food, etc. The friends made fourteen dollars at the squid yard.

When the friends return home the house is decorated and the food is ready-yet, there is no sign of Danny. After a while, they go to find him. They found him, sad, by the water. He told them he was not sick when the inquired. They told him about the party and he led them, running, back home. The party was such a tremendous success, that no one ever tried to compare another to it ever again. Danny came to be regarded as magnificent. He and the party became the objects of glorious overstatement. During the party, people said that Danny began to change form. He became frightening and challenged everyone to a fight with a table leg. When no one would fight him, he left the house to find the one that would. They could hear him challenge; they heard a terrifying answering challenge. Then, they heard a thump. They waited inside.

Finally, Pilon led them outside and found a broken and twisted Danny-fallen forty-five feet. The paisanos dragged doctors and priest from their beds to come help Danny. Meanwhile, the remaining paisanos pulled Danny from the gulch and laid him in his bed. Danny had died.

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.

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