Tortilla Flat: Novel Summary: Chapter IV-V
Pilon and Pablo are happy as they idle their days away together, drinking wine when they can get hold of some, and discussing local happenings, such as when a woman named Cornelia Ruiz attacked her former boyfriend, a black Mexican, when she found a new man and wanted to keep the old one out of her house. Pablo says he has heard that Danny has a girlfriend called Rosa Martin. Pilon is concerned that Danny will marry and will need money to keep his wife happy and will therefore start bothering them for rent. They go and see Danny and talk about how women cannot be trusted. They are relieved when Danny makes it clear that he has little serious interest in Rosa.
Danny tells them that the chickens belonging to Mrs. Morales, his neighbor, are dead, and they sold the carcasses to the butcher. With the money they got, Mrs. Morales bought some wine, and she and Danny spent the evening together. He likes her, even though she is fifty years old, and says he wants to buy her a present of candy, which he could do if he had a dollar or two, which he doesn't. He mentions the unpaid rent, but Pilon and Pablo walk off angrily. They sit down in a ditch beside the road, where they discover Jesus Maria Corcoran, a friend of theirs, who is drunk under a bush. Jesus Maria has some wine with him, and he offers it to the others. He tells them that he got seven dollars for selling a rowboat that had washed ashore, and he bought some wine as well as a gift for his friend Arabella Gross. But she went off with a group of soldiers they met, leaving him on his own to drink and sleep under the bush. He has three dollars left and says he is planning to buy Arabella a bra.
Jesus Maria, coughs, and Pilon suddenly becomes concerned about his health. He and Pablo take Jesus Maria home with them, saying it is not good for him to sleep out under the stars. They convince him that living in a house is much better than his current situation, and they offer to rent him their house for fifteen dollars a month. Jesus Maria readily agrees. They ask him for three dollars on account. Jesus Maria protests, and after an argument, he agrees to hand over two dollars, saving a dollar to spend on Arabella. They then talk about taking the two dollars to Danny, but agree that it would not be good for them to give him money so he can buy candy for Mrs. Morales, since it will be bad for her teeth. They agree that wine would be a better gift, and they decide to buy it for him. Pablo and Pilon go to Torrelli's to get the wine. Later they have something to eat, with some wine.
Needless to say, Danny never gets his wine. That afternoon, Pablo and Pilon sit in Torrelli's yard and drink it themselves. They agree that this is a good thing, because Danny is a man who knows no restraint in drinking and this is bad for his health.
In the evening, after flirting with Mrs. Torrelli and getting her to give them supper, they return to their house. Jesus Maria is not there and they wonder what has happened to him. But soon Jesus Maria staggers in; he has been beaten up by four soldiers, and even Arabella joined in as well, hitting him on the head with a rock. As they listen to his tale of woe, Pablo and Pilon decide they will take the bra Jesus Maria bought for Arabella and give it to Danny so he can give it to Mrs. Morales. As they drink more wine, their spirits return. They fall asleep, but during the night a burning candle ignites a bundle of newspapers, and the house catches fire. Jesus Maria awakes first, and rouses the others. They rush outside, leaving some wine on the table. Fire engines arrive, and Jesus Maria races toward Danny's house to tell him of the fire. Danny is at Mrs. Morales?house next door. He seems unconcerned at the news, saying that if the fire department cannot stop the fire, what does Pilon expect him do to about it?
The house burns to the ground as half the town, including Pilon, Pablo and Jesus Maria, watch. The three men then go off into the pine forest, thinking that they should steer clear of Danny for a while. The moral of the episode for them is that they should learn not to leave wine in a house overnight.
Marriage is another social entanglement that the paisanos try hard to avoid. Pilon and Pablo are alarmed when they think Danny may be thinking of marrying Rosa Martin, because that means he will need money to keep her happy, and Danny will ask them for rent. They are determined to remain outside the network of obligations involved in conventional social arrangements.
Pilon again reveals his manner of operation. His purpose is to get Jesus Maria to live in the house that Danny is renting to him, so that Jesus Maria can pay the rent that is due to Danny. But Pilon cloaks this purpose in another motive altogether, that he is concerned about Jesus Maria's health, since he is sleeping outside, and that is not good for him. Pilon's intent is to fleece Jesus Maria of what little money he has. He also implies that he, Pilon, is an agent of God, who wants to save Jesus Maria from sleeping on the ground in the cold.
Then Jesus Maria joins in the same strategy when he and Pilon persuade themselves that it is not in Danny's interests to give him cash, since he will only use it to give candy to Mrs. Morales, and that will not be good for her teeth. It would be better to give him wine. Thus they gradually talk themselves round to acting in their own interests while convincing themselves that they are being altruistic. This is the way in which Jesus Maria becomes the "unwilling vehicle of evil?referred to in the chapter epigraph. (This is exaggerated for comic effect.) The same strategy is continued in Chapter V, in which as they drink the wine that they were supposed to give to Danny they decide that this is a good thing because Danny might drink too much of it. "And there are plenty of people who die through abuse of wine,?says Pilon with a straight face.
The fact that the house burns down in Chapter V is a blessing as well as a "gentle punishment,?as the epigraph states, from St. Francis. The issue of paying rent had been causing trouble for Danny and his friends and leading them into all kinds of dubious behaviors, so it is better for their simple friendship if the issue is done away with altogether by eliminating the rented house. Danny's calm reaction to the news that his house is burning suggests that he realizes immediately that losing a house is not such a bad thing.