Should we see Pilon as a religious figure in Tortilla Flat?
First let me say I can't believe no one has bothered to take up this book. Perhaps because it is so thin and ephemeral. But this was Steinbeck's first commercial success (at the age of 33) and the book that launched his career.
I think there is a certain theme that runs through this and another famous first novel - Catch 22 - and that is a playful treatment of morals as interpreted in this book especially by Pilon. I'm curious to know how others see Pilon as a religious symbol.
Pilon does experience a moment of mysticism in the novel, where he is stripped of his greed and his pettiness. In this moment he is connected to the natural world.
Steinbeck used this notion of mysticism in his earlier work, To a God Unknown, and later in The Grapes of Wrath.
Pilon, however, does not have the qualities of other Steinbeck heroes. He is motivated by self-interest and quickly falls from his mystical stature. This is directly discussed in the text.
Pilon is, in my opinion, too petty and too selfish to be seen as a religious figure. He does not have the "shine" of Casy in The Grapes of Wrath for more than a fleeting moment. It seems that Steinbeck was playing at an idea here and exercising an uncharacteristic degree of restraint in doing so. This restraint is, perhaps, what allows Pilon to be a successful character though it is also what keeps him from being a larger than life symbol.
If he is symbolic, Pilon is symbolic of the ways that logic can be bent to one's values and to one's will. He represents the genius of greed.