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FREE Study Guide-Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck-Book Summary
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In the preface we learn that “this is the story of Danny and of Danny’s friends and of Danny’s house”(1). Steinbeck gives a description of the town in which they reside: Monterey, CA. From here he explains the inhabitants of Monterey with whom this work is concerned; they are the paisanos. A paisano is a person that has a mixture of Spanish, Indian, Mexican, and Caucasian blood. These people speak both Spanish and English with a paisano accent, and will claim to be purely Spanish when questioned. They live in a district of Monterey called Tortilla Flat.

Danny, the protagonist, is a paisano (see vocabulary section, at the end). When he was 25, war was declared on Germany (this is presumably when the United States entered the already engaged World War I). Danny, Pilon, and their friend Big Joe Portegee were drinking wine and decided to enlist. Pilon and Big Joe were placed into the infantry. Danny, who had been a mule skinner, was sent to Texas to break mules.


The opening line of the preface sets the lighthearted tone that is felt throughout the remainder of the story.

We are told that “this is the story of Danny and of Danny friends and of Danny’s house”(1). This alerts the reader that Danny is essential to this novel, and the protagonist. The subsequent paragraphs offer clues to the characterization of Danny and his friends. We learn that they have a Romantic (not the sense of love, but in the literary sense), magical existence. Steinbeck compares them with the Romantic tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. This is an allusion (reference to another story) to the stories of Camelot. In comparing Danny and his friends to King Arthur and his court, Steinbeck is suggesting that they are legendary and noble characters. He calls them (Danny and his friends) and “organization beautiful and wise” (1). This is extremely important because it allows them to be heroic characters. A hero is a character that upholds the values and ideals of a society, if he does something to jeopardize these values the audience must sympathize with him because they understand his actions. Above all, he must be liked by the audience. Throughout this novel these characters will continuously mess up, but because of their intrinsic good nature, and their basis as similar to Arthur’s knights, they will redeem themselves in the readers’ favor. This is also an important analogy because we are dealing with a cast of characters who are otherwise unimportant to their society. Steinbeck’s comparison of Danny and his friends with King Arthur’s court is unexpected one-he is commenting on their value.

In the preface we learn that Danny, Big Joe, and Pilon become intoxicated on wine and enlist in the service. This is the beginning of the theme of drinking wine. Throughout the story characters will drink and then do foolish things. In most cases, they are drinking to escape their dismal situation. Unfortunately, and often humorously, they end up creating an even worse situation for themselves.

Symbolism, and perhaps foreshadowing, can be inferred from Danny being placed in a different area of service than his friends. This shows that Danny is different from them; furthermore, he is given a job for a skilled laborer versus Big Joe’s and Pilon’s stock jobs as infantrymen. Danny is less expendable than his friends, which is another way of saying that he is in a more important position. This is similar to his separation from them, later, as a landowner, as their landlord.

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


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