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FREE Study Guide-Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck-Book Summary
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How Danny's friends assisted the pirate to keep a vow, and how as a reward for merit the pirate's dogs saw a holy vision


The Pirate’s bag of quarters has become the symbolic center of friendship for the men of Danny’s house. Each day the Pirate returns home, buries his ax, covers the wheel barrow, and gives Danny his quarter, which everyone watches Danny deposit in the bag.

A fortuitous accident happened one night in Carmel-a Coast Guard Cutter went down. Danny, Jesus Maria, the Pirate, Pablo, and Pilon all went to recover the riches (Big Joe was away on business of his own). They spent the night collecting things off the beach and sold them to a spectator for five dollars in the morning. Because the Pirate had been unable to work that day, Danny paid him a quarter for coming along. As they did every day, they went to deposit the quarter that resided under Danny’s pillow. This night, the bag was missing. The Pirate began to cry. Assuming Big Joe, the only one left behind, was responsible-the men gathered weapons and prepared to attack when he came home.

Big Joe returned with a gallon of wine in each hand. They began to beat him in an out of consciousness, as he swore that he took only four quarters and buried the bag. They counted the money to make sure he was not lying-he had seven quarters over what he needed to buy the candle stick. The Pirate was so overwhelmed with emotion that he lay in the corner with his dogs and cried. They began to make preparations for the candlestick buying, which they decided would have to be done by Fr. Roman, so the police would not think they were thieves. It was also decided that the Pirate should buy a new outfit to wear to Mass. However, the Pirate returned with a ridiculous studded belt and handkerchief. They decided that between all of them they could lend the Pirate some decent clothes and they would stay home with the dogs.

Danny decided with the five dollars from the cutter that he would celebrate by buying hamburger meat, onions, candy, and wine-a party was held in the Pirate’s honor. At the Mass on Sunday, Fr. Roman told the story of the Pirate and his dog and the candlestick. During the sermon, the Pirate’s dogs ran in and disrupted the service. The Pirate was embarrassed, but Fr. Roman was understanding. The priest said that it is good to be loved by animals. The Pirate was touched and, after the Mass, took the dogs into the forest and told them everything he had heard in church by re-enacting the service.


It is appropriate that this story follows the tale of Big Joe’s love affair. In the last story we saw Big Joe as, essentially, a good guy. He is a forgivable character because he is slow witted, and good underneath his weaknesses. Therefore, when we suspected him of taking the money, hopefully the reader gave a moment’s pause, offering Big Joe the benefit of the doubt. Once again, while what he did was wrong-it was not an atrocious crime, and all worked out fine.

Another obviously essential part of this story is the symbolic nature of the money. It has become a center of trust among the men, something for which they would (and do) defend gallantly. This moment is vital for the rest of the novel, in so much as it acts as a furthering force for the theme of friendship and loyalty.

The Pirate’s character is also developed here. He elicits sympathy from the reader when we believe that his money is gone. He is seen as a good, lovable man when he is so exhilarated by the church service. He is seen as gentle when speaking with his dogs in the forest. The mission of the men to help the Pirate attain the candlestick and their holy experience of acquiring this object, which is so far beyond their means to place in the church-, is analogous to the Knights of the Round Table and their quest for the Holy Grail.

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


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