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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES - Tortilla Flat
How Danny, home from the wars, found himself an heir, and how he swore to protect the helpless.
This chapter opens with Danny returning from his service in the army. He learns that his Viejo (grandfather) has passed away. Danny has inherited two houses on Tortilla Flat. Initially, this is not welcomed news for Danny, who is apprehensive of the responsibility. Danny drinks a gallon of wine and becomes angry and belligerent. He encounters a group of Italian fishermen, whom he insults. The fishermen are not offended, and invite Danny to share some wine with them later. Danny continues to wander the streets violently. He is arrested when an officer witnesses him breaking a window. He is sentenced to thirty days in the jail.
During his stay in jail, Danny is heavy of heart. He is irritated by bedbugs-which he eventually makes peace with by squashing them into his rendition of the city council, portrayed on his cell wall. One night, Tito Ralph, the jailer, brings two bottles of wine to Danny and they drink together. Once the gallons are finished, they leave the jail and go to Torelli’s ( a restaurant) for more. When they are thrown out of Torelli’s Danny goes into the woods and falls asleep. Tito, who is also intoxicated, heads to the jail to report Danny’s escape.
Danny acquires scraps of food (some of which he trades for wine) and hides out in the woods. He meets up with Pilon in the woods. Each try to avoid the other (they do not want to share what they have), until Danny realizes that Pilon has something to share and pretends that he was looking for him to share his food. Pilon begrudgingly agrees, asking how Danny knew he was carrying brandy. Danny feigns surprise and disinterest, but Pilon tells him he will gladly share.
After drinking, they men become melancholy and Danny inquires about the whereabouts of various friends. When they begin to tell stories it is that Danny remembers he has inherited two houses. He rejoicingly shares this news with Pilon, who does not take it well. Pilon believes that Danny will forget his old friends, but Danny reassures Pilon that while he has a house, Pilon will as well.
This is a humorous chapter that borders on absurdity, but solidifies Steinbeck’s relaxed tone. The narrator informs us that Danny has inherited two houses from his grandfather, which causes him anxiety. Typical of the characters in Tortilla Flat, Danny drowns his fears in alcohol. This is one of the few scenes in which a character drinks alone. Interestingly, we see the opposite of the unity that usually occurs when they drink together. Danny, who has been thus far portrayed as a good-natured, almost pathetic character, becomes quarrelsome. Danny insults a group of Italian fishermen. The fishermen do not take offense and invite Danny to share in their wine that evening. The fishermen are an example of camaraderie among those in a similar situation. They also choose to drink together.
Danny ends up in jail for breaking windows in his rage. From here the story takes a humorous twist because it is somewhat unbelievable. Danny’s jailer, Tito Ralph brings him wine for them to share. Here is yet another example of the wine motif. The jail is a cheerless place, in order to escape his circumstances, Danny becomes inebriated. Also, Tito commiserates by drinking with him. Danny is able to escape by falling asleep in the woods. Tito does not pursue him. This is humorous because it is unlikely that a responsible jailer would leave his jail while on duty, bring a prisoner alcohol, leave with the prisoner and let him escape. This is also an example of irony-the opposite of what you would expect. A jailer is supposed to preserve the law, not break it.
Danny’s encounter with Pilon helps divulge the essence of their relationship. At first, Danny wants to avoid Pilon because he does not want to share his food. Then he realized that Pilon has something of his own to share (presumably alcohol) so he approaches him. Similarly, Pilon has been trying to avoid Danny because he does not want to share his brandy. We can assume that when Danny stops Pilon, and Pilon resigns himself to the “inevitable”(8), he does not know that Danny has anything to share. Pilon agrees to share after he finds out Danny has food to share.
This episode advances the theme of friendship and unity in this story. Both men are facing the harsh nature of their reality-they are lonely, homeless, and poor. Together, they have companionship, food and drink (alone they only had one or the other), and realize they have a home. The men’s hesitation to share with one another illustrates that friendship has negative, as well as positive, repercussions. Without one another, they each had a larger quantity of food or drink. In friendship, there are sacrifices; however, ultimately-they are better off with one another.