Tortilla Flat | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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Tortilla Flat | Chapter 12 : How Danny's Friends Assisted the Pirate to Keep a Vow, and How as a Reward for Merit the Pirate's Dogs Saw an Holy Vision. | Summary



The Pirate still cuts wood in an effort to earn a quarter every day, and he is still saving his money under Danny's pillow. His stash of coins is now "the symbolic center of the friendship" between Danny and his friends. They do not steal the money because it is meant for Saint Francis of Assisi, and "it is far worse to defraud a saint than it is to take liberties with the law."

One day a shipwreck sends lost objects washing up on the beach, and Danny and most of his friends go down to pick up what they can find and sell. Only Big Joe is not with them, and when they return home, they find the Pirate's money missing.

The friends lie in wait for Big Joe and beat him mercilessly until he admits he stole the Pirate's money and buried it. When it is recovered and Big Joe is lying unconscious on the floor, the friends count the quarters and discover the Pirate has enough to buy the gold candlestick. The Pirate takes the money to the priest, tells his story, and arranges to have a candlestick purchased.

When this is accomplished, the friends urge the Pirate to go to church and hear the Sunday sermon. They lend him their best clothes so he will look decent, and they tell him he cannot take his dogs to church. The Pirate is sad not to bring the dogs, but he does as his friends suggest.

On Sunday during the service, the dogs run barking into the church. The Pirate is mortified, but the priest says, "It is no sin to be loved by your dogs, and no sin to love them." The Pirate is thrilled, and afterward he goes to the woods to retell the story of his victory to the dogs. While there, the Pirate believes the dogs see a vision of Saint Francis.


Back in Chapter 8, Big Joe was described as "not very moral." He remains the only one of Danny's friends who does not follow—and may not understand—the complex ethical codes of Danny's house. The Pirate's stash of money is "the symbolic center" of the friendship between Danny and his friends. Most of these men would never think of stealing money meant for Saint Francis. For Danny, Pilon, Pablo, and Jesus Maria, who usually cannot keep a dollar for more than an hour or two, it must seem like a minor miracle to be trusted around so much cash—and to find themselves deserving of that trust. The existence of the money has prompted them to help others, especially the Pirate, who would still be friendless and living in an abandoned chicken house if they had not invited him into their home. In short, the money has changed how they see themselves and each other. They are no longer just selfish creatures who share what they have only to get some of what their friends are holding. They are capable of being better.

As such, Danny and his friends do not bother guarding the Pirate's money. They come and go, spending their days chasing opportunities to get a little cash (as long as they do not have to work for it), while the treasure sits untouched in the bedroom of their home. When they hear about a shipwreck, they joyfully go to the beach to pick up objects that wash ashore. They consider this activity fun, so it is work worth doing. When they are done, they sell everything they have found for five dollars—less than it is worth—because it is unthinkable "to carry all those heavy things over six miles of steep hillside to Tortilla Flat." This detail is indicative of how Danny and his friends regard money, which is always worth having but rarely worth exerting much effort to get.

When the friends return home to discover the Pirate's coins missing, there is no discussion of where to lay the blame or how to deal with the problem. Everyone but the Pirate knows Big Joe is the thief, and nobody makes any mention of calling the police or involving due process. Danny, Pablo, and Jesus Maria calmly find weapons, and when Big Joe returns home, they beat him "in a cold and methodical manner." In other words, they are not acting out of uncontrolled rage. They are teaching Big Joe to respect the rules of the house. "I think he will be honest now," Danny says when they are finished.

This chapter helps show how sweet, gentle, and unassuming the Pirate is. The Pirate is not capable of figuring out who took his money, and he is too soft to participate in the beating of Big Joe. When he buys his candlestick and goes to church, he is willing to follow his friends' instructions on every detail. His only regret is leaving his dogs behind. And when he is sure his dogs are seeing a holy vision, he is too humble to try to get a glimpse of it himself.

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