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FREE Study Guide-Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck-Book Summary
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How the poison of possessions wrought with Pilon, and how evil temporarily triumphed in him.


Chapter three starts at the next day, when Pilon moves into the smaller house. The narrator tells us that Danny has changed-he has become a great man, because of his renter status. However, this is in name only. Pilon never pays any rent and Danny never asks for any. Danny and Pilon spend much time together-especially when the other has something to share. Although Danny never asks for money, Pilon is still anxious that he hasn’t any to pay for rent. One evening Pilon acquires a dollar when a man at the hotel asks him to but some ginger ale. Pilon heads home with the intention of giving it to Danny for rent; however, he ends up buying a gallon of wine instead. With the wine he also acquires two women, whom he brings home as well.

Danny comes over and helps drink the wine and entertain the ladies. He and Pilon being a fist fight which ends with a lady butted in the stomach by Danny and two missing pots. Danny and Pilon commiserate over the awfulness of the women-and fight again because Danny doesn’t believe that Pilon knows how bad they are. For a while, Pilon felt better about not paying rent, because he hosted Danny.

Months passed, and Pilon once again felt unsettled. He decides to work for a day cleaning squid, which earns him two dollars. He plans to pay Danny the two dollars, but instead buys two gallons of wine-he decides Danny will like wine better than money. On the way to Danny’s house, Pilon encounters his friend Pablo, whom he believed to be in jail. Pablo was released from the jail because he ate too much. Pilon decides to celebrate the reunion with his friend by offering to share the wine with Pablo. They return to Pilon’s house. While sharing the wine at Pilon’s house, Pilon contrives a plan to save himself the anxiety of paying Danny monthly rent-he asks Pablo if he would like to rent part of his house for fifteen dollars a month. Pablo agrees. Pilon feels relieved, as he can now tell Danny to ask Pablo for the money if he ever tries to collect his rent.


This chapter continues in the same fashion as the previous two-illuminating the nature of the friendship among these paisano friends. In the beginning when Danny and Pilon argue it is a simple argument which is easily forgotten-they share and easygoing, comfortable relationship. When Pilon decides to work to earn money for Danny-he is earnestly concerned with paying his friend. His decision to buy wine instead of giving Danny money, because cash “does not express how warmly I feel toward my friend,”(20), is another example of Pilon’s weak will. He knows that if he buys wine for Danny he (Pilon) will benefit from it as well. This does not, however, make Pilon a “bad” character. Danny, remember, is in a different position than Pilon as a homeowner. It can be presumed that Danny, if in Pilon’s position, would make the same decision. This decision to buy wine, instead of pay his rent, is comical. Steinbeck is intending to amuse his reader as well as create a sense of sympathy for Pilon (recall that for a character to be heroic he must elicit our sympathy). The reader cannot help but to feel sorry for Pilon, because, with the best of intentions and a kind heart, he continuously makes the wrong decisions.

Another important aspect of this chapter is the section in which Pilon immerses himself in the perfection of nature. This is important for two reasons: First, Steinbeck describes the two Pilons. There is the bad, lustful, selfish Pilon-the earthy, human Pilon. There is also the pure soul of Pilon, who loves-he loves the seagulls, and the earth, and God, and everything beautiful. This introduces the notion of the double-self-Pilon, is essentially a wonderful soul trapped within a weak body. He is inherently good; however, he is in constant battle with the desires of the flesh. This extends beyond Pilon to all men. The idea of Pilon escaping his body and becoming one perfect union with that which is beyond the flesh is reminiscent of intoxication. A correlation can be suggested between being intoxicated (thought we have no reason to believe Pilon has been drinking during this perfect moment) and the exuberant bliss that he here experiences. This could be a motive for the repetitious drinking that occurs throughout the novel. Are the paisanos trying to escape their humanity? If so, this makes them spiritual, good souls.

The second significant aspect of this scene is the discussion of the beauty of nature. Most of Steinbeck’s novels occur in California, and the natural beauty of the scenery is very important in his writing. He equates nature with spirituality-Pilon feels the presence of God, of Christ; he notices sea gulls, and similarly, his soul is free and flying with them. This furthers the idea of freedom in what is free. There is no spiritual experience associated with the stuff that Danny has acquired-with that only burdens are associated. Instead, in nature, which is free to everyone-Pilon’s soul is perfect.

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FREE Study Guide-Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck-Synopsis/Analysis


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