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FREE Study Guide-Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck-Book Summary
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This is not a typical story because it is broken up into numerous smaller plots; therefore, it does not have the same single plot that a normal novel does. However, there is a major reoccurring theme, which serves as the prevailing conflict: society vs. nature. This can be regarded as the major conflict because it revolves around the main character: Danny.


Danny is the protagonist of Tortilla Flat. Because of the unusual nature of the story, there is not one consistent antagonist, but one that weaves in and out of the stories; he is Mr. Torrelli.


The reason that Mr. Torrelli is the antagonist is because he is an imposition in the friends’ fun: while he supplies the wine for the friends--he presents the obstacle of making them acquire money for the wine. Finding ways to come up with money impedes on the friends’ carefree lifestyle. The schemes to find money or steal wine are around what most of the action arises. Although Danny incurs minor skirmishes in the beginning of the novel his true problems do not begin until he inherits property. This is where he moves from the realm of purely natural into that which conforms more closely to social mores. This conflict develops throughout the stories, but it most observable when Danny leaves home. He is torn by his need to be free and the responsibility of ownership. Finally, Danny dies because of his property-his friends throw a party to cheer him (his is sad because of the weight of ownership and dullness of his life). He becomes intoxicated and when no one will fight him (i.e. encourage his free spirit), he seeks it elsewhere and dies.

This does not mean that society wins, however.

The final act of the friends-burning the house and returning to the wilderness-is the reaffirmation of nature. They chose, instead of scheming to keep the house, to return to their former way of life.


The Climax occurs when Danny becomes drunk and belligerent at the party. At this point his character has completely changed from the exposition. He is sullen, withdrawn, and now, quarrelsome among friends.

Falling Action

The falling action is Danny’s death (resulting from the Climax) and the subsequent funeral preparation. Danny’s death exposes the social constructs by which people are possessed. Steinbeck brilliantly portrays a human ritual, a funeral. In doing so, he can show how differently they friends behave, and how they are genuine. This juxtaposition develops the freedom in what is free theme, because they are able to celebrate Danny as true friends, free from the rules laid out by society.


The Outcome of the novel, also called the Resolution or “Denouement,” is the burning of the house. The friends are sitting around and celebrating Danny’s life. They accidentally set newspapers on fire, and then do not put them out-causing the house to burn.

It is appropriate that the house be burned because that was the sight of the Knights of the Round Table, who without Danny, are obsolete. This resolves the plot, because the men each return to their former lives, alone and among nature. This is essential for two reasons: 1. It proves that their motive for living together was love, not to have a free place to live; 2. The freedom in what is free overrides material possessions for this group.

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


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