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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES - Tortilla Flat
How Danny's friends became a force for good. How they succored the poor pirate
This chapter introduces a new character, the Pirate. He is called as such because of his large, bushy, black beard. He is not grown up in the mind, despite his large size. He sells wood from a wheel barrow and is constantly accompanied by five dogs: Pajarito, Rudolph, Enrique, Fluff, and Senor Alec Thompson. Pilon, who knows everything about everyone, knows everything about the Pirate. The Pirate lives in a chicken house on Tortilla Flat, behind a deserted house, which he is not presumptuous enough to live in. Each morning he collects scraps of food from the back alley in Monterey-he gives the best food to the dogs. Each morning he recovers the ax that he buried the night before and cuts wood in the forest.
Pilon, who knows all, decides that since the Pirate makes twenty-five cents a day selling his wood and never spends this money, must have at least one hundred dollars. Since the Pirate does not have the brain to use this money and Pilon has a brain but no money, Pilon decides he must help the Pirate. Pilon realizes he cannot tell anyone, not even Pablo, about his idea because the idea might become less than virtuous-someone else might use the idea to take the Pirate’s money.
One night Pilon goes to see the Pirate, and wins his confidence with a cookie. The kind Pirate divides the cookie so that he, Pilon, and the five dogs have an equal share. Similar to when Pilon first found Jesus Maria, he convinces the Pirate that it is unhealthy for him to sleep outside as he has been doing. He tells him that he has many friends who are concerned for his health. The Pirate is touched that he has friends. Pilon tells the Pirate that he is aware of his hidden money and he should buy himself some clothes and food. The Pirate tells him that he has no money; he gives the daily earned twenty-five cents to an elderly woman.
Pilon does not believe that the Pirate gives away his money; he diligently tries to discover where it could be. After a while, Pilon becomes frustrated and decides that he must seek the counsel of his friends. The men are swept up in a “philanthropic frenzy”(67) when they hear Pilon’s plan. They examine the situation from every angle and, finally, the humane Jesus Maria devises an ingenious solution: they will ask the Pirate to live with them. This way they can crack him with their kindness, or follow him at night to see where he hides the money.
The committee, comprised of the members of the house, visited the Pirate with the intention of getting him to come live with them. Pilon tells him that, as his friends, they are worried sick about his living conditions and they would feel better if he came to live with them. The Pirate accepts and tells them he will come the next day. When Danny sees how sad, lonely, and thus appreciative the Pirate is he remarks: “If I had known, I would have asked him long ago, even if he had no treasure” (69).
The Pirate and his dogs settle nicely into the house, sleeping within a blue circle that the dogs must stay within when in the house. The Pirate, for whom everyone felt kindliness, brought a great deal of food into the house from the local restaurants and wharves-which required only a little work to make edible. The men began to really live. The Pirated was touched by their acceptance of his gifts. The Pirate continues to cut and sell his wood-but because he does not want to miss a moment with his friends in the evening-he does not go every night to add his twenty-five cents to the hoard, which he apparently is keeping. The men grow tired watching the inactivity of the Pirate and decide they must take action. They tell stories about men who have hidden their money with sad consequences. In response to these stories, the Pirate runs into the forest-with Pilon secretly following him. However, Pilon loses him, and the mystery continues.
The next night, Jesus Maria’s lady gives him a gallon of wine. The men decided to continue the stories and get a little wine into the Pirate, to get him to talk. That night Pilon, who hears all in the night, heard the Pirate and his dogs leave once everyone was asleep. Four of the men followed him. The men lose him once again. When the return home, the Pirate is happy and has brought the money to the house. He tells them that he has realized the money will be safe among his friends, who will guard it. The Pirate has saved almost two hundred dollars, and plans to buy a golden candle stick for Saint Francis of Assisi (the patron saint of animals) who he believes saved his sick dog (that was later killed by a truck).The men take this as a bitter defeat; the Pirate is moved by the love of his friends-to whom, he believes, he has finally proved his love and trust.
This section offers a change in direction from the beginning of the book. Now, all of the men live together under Danny’s roof (they are truly becoming the Knights of the Round Table).
The introduction of the Pirate offers an opportunity for Steinbeck to show the true nature of his knights. So far, he has led us to believe that while they are a bit crafty, they treasure the spiritual above the ephemeral. While they enjoy wine (ultimately spiritual as discussed before) they value one another much more (as seen in the way Danny handled his house burning).
The case of the Pirate immediately offers the chance to gain money. However, there is never this certainty when they invite him to live with them. Also, Danny says that had he known how lonely the Pirate was, he would have invited him regardless of a treasure. This exemplifies their concern for the human condition. When the Pirate has moved in, the men attempt to find his treasure. Eventually, as a symbol of his trust and love, the Pirate brings his treasure to the men. The men see this as bitterly disappointing because they cannot take his money in this way. This chapter concludes with a difficult decision for these men.