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FREE Study Guide-Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck-Book Summary
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Friendship/ Unity

The entire novel centers around the idea that the men comprise a close circle of friends. Each story seeks to build upon this idea.

Freedom in what is free

In a story built around a class of people who have very little material possessions, it is impossible not to take a position on their lifestyle. In this story Steinbeck shows the value in the nonmaterial aspects of life.

Beauty in Nature

The setting of this novel allows many reference to beauty in nature. It must be considered that this story did not take place in a city, or a demoralized ghetto. Perhaps, Steinbeck is trying to suggest that these men are rich through their environment and friendships.


The mood of this story is lighthearted and simple. This could have easily undermined some of the grave topics encountered in the plot (such as war, poverty, and death). Conversely, it amplifies the sweet nature of the characters. Instead of portraying the paisanos as worthless louses, Steinbeck tells the story of the voiceless. The men elicit our sympathy because they are kind and pathetic.


John Ernst Steinbeck was born on February 27, 1902 in Salinas, California to a middle class family. He spent his early years in Monterey County, CA (the setting of this novel, as well as others). Throughout high school he worked on ranches to help support his family.

Steinbeck was accepted into Stanford University and pursued an English degree. However, his real dream was to write. He left school without a degree and moved to New York City. His time in New York, where he supported himself as a laborer and journalist, was not as successful as he had hoped. He moved back to California.

Steinbeck’s first three novels, Cup of Gold (1929), The Pastures of Heaven (1932), and To a God Unknown (1933), were not well received. In order to support himself, and his first wife Carol Henning (whom he married in 1930), he worked laboring jobs during the day.

John Steinbeck’s first literary success came in 1935 with the novel Tortilla Flat. That year Steinbeck won the California Commonwealth Club's Gold Medal for best novel by a California author. This novel garnered Steinbeck national acclaim and respect.

Some of Steinbeck’s most well known and respected novels (In Dubious Battle,1936; Of Mice and Men 1937; The Grapes of Wrath 1939- the last for which he won the Pulitzer Prize) followed his initial success. In 1941 he tried his hand at filmmaking with the film The Forgotten Village. In these years, Steinbeck divorced his wife Carol and married his second wife, Gwyndolyn Conger. From his second marriage came his sons Thomas and John.

During World War II, Steinbeck acted as a war news correspondent and later his dispatches were collected in Once There Was a War. In 1948 Steinbeck divorced Gwyndolyn. At this point in his life, Steinbeck was depressed and poor. His luck changed when he met his third, and final wife Elaine Scott. They moved back to New York City, where Steinbeck would live for the remainder of his life.

In 1962, Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his career in literature. He passed away on December 20, 1968 in New York City. His ashes were sent to Salinas, California.

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


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