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FREE Study Guide-Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck-Book Summary
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Edition Used: Penguin Books, New York, 1986.

1) “No more would Danny break windows, now that he had windows of his own to break” (pg.13) - Pilon

This is an important statement because it suggests the responsibility that comes with ownership. Once someone has something to lose, they are naturally more mindful of their actions. This assertion can be interpreted both literally and metaphorically. Recall that in the Preface Danny was jailed for breaking windows. Literally, now that he has windows to break he should be inclined to respect the windows of others because he understands the cost and worry of replacing them. Metaphorically, now Danny has something to lose. Previously, he was homeless and penniless. Now he stands to lose his property and will probably become a more cautious, law abiding citizen. Pilon notices this as a departure from his carefree world to one of worry.

2) “It is not good to have so many breakable things around...When they are broken you become sad. It is much better to never have had them.”( pg.17) - Pilon

This statement, as are many of Steinbeck’s insights in this novel, is very simple, very candid, and very wise. While Pilon is speaking literally of the breakable items in Danny’s house, this caution carries the same weight as the insight about the windows: now that Danny owns material items he will become attached to them-he then stands the risk of losing them and feeling a sorrow he would never have been able to know before he owned anything. Therefore, Pilon believes that it is much better to never own anything to begin with.

3) “If I had known, I would have asked him long ago, even if he had no treasure.”(pg. 69) - Danny

Danny says this of the Pirate when he sees how appreciative he is to come live with the men. This shows that, although the men often operate with ulterior motives, they are truly kind.

4) “Happiness is better than riches”(pg. 92) - Pilon

This statement is a typical ideology of the men of Tortilla Flat.

5) “A little love is like a little wine. Too much of either will make a man sick”(171) - Pablo

This quotation is in reference to Danny’s disappearance. The men believe that Danny has gone away with a girl. After one week they think it is time for him to come home, because a week is too long. This statement raises some of the questions of Steinbeck’s treatment of women in this novel, which is not wholly positive. This is another reference to women as temporary and troublesome.

6) “Spring to life, Danny, that thy friends may live again!”(187) - This is a statement of the narrator.

There are a few interesting aspects of this quotation that represent some larger ideas in this novel. First is the language: note the high toned, formal speech, “thy.” Occasionally the narrator uses “thee,” or “thou,” or “thy.” The purpose of this word choice is debatable; however, it is possible that Steinbeck is alluding to the Knights if the Round Table. Arthurian language included this type of speech. This language is used many times in association with more philosophical, broad-based insight. In this case, the narrator is commenting on the importance of Danny to his friends. Danny has become sad and his friends are distraught. Like in the Round Table, they each depend upon one another for the survival of the group. There is also slight insinuation of the Christ figure in the sense that Danny must come to life for his friends to live again. Danny saved them by bringing them into his house-their salvation is his ultimate demise, because he has lost his carefree way of life.



Continuously, through out this entire novel, gallons of wine are consumed. It is important to note that when wine is consumed, it is always in large quantities (gallons), the drinkers usually become quite intoxicated. Then they, usually, create a troublesome situation for themselves or someone else. The first time we see this pattern of behavior is in the preface when Big Joe the Portegee, Pilon, and Danny become intoxicated and enlist in the service, a potentially dangerous decision. Another example is when Pilon, Pablo, and Jesus Maria become drunk on wine and accidentally burn down the house they are “renting” from Danny, by carelessly allowing a candle to burn after they had gone to sleep. These aspects of the wine suggest a group trying to escape their problems thereby exacerbating their circumstances. Instead of doing the “right “ thing, diligently pursuing work, concerning themselves with money for food and rent-they squander anything they have on wine, whereby they become destructive to themselves because of their laziness or because of their careless actions.

However, there is another recurrent aspect to the wine drinking: this is the camaraderie that is ever-present. Rarely, do we encounter someone drinking alone. When we do, usually, another character comes along, and the wine is generously shared. This suggests a larger picture, in which Steinbeck is portraying the paisanos as an underclass, fighting against much larger forces than themselves-namely, poverty. Their comradeship is their salvation. This is similar to a Naturalist perspective, such as in Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat,” in which men, subject to an apathetic universe, survive through their dependence on one another.

Vacuum Cleaner

It could be argued that there is significance in the empty vacuum cleaner that Danny gives to Sweets. Throughout this novel, there are consistently empty promises. This present is issued to Sweets less as a promise of real love than is insure that Danny may continually keep her company. Interestingly, this useless contraption elevates her social status, but it is worthless-much as most material objects appear in this story, especially when compared with spiritual objects.

Bag of Quarters

The Pirate’s bag of quarters has become the symbolic center of friendship for the men of Danny’s house. This is such an important symbol because the men spend so much of their time trying to acquire money-in their very home is more money than they could dream of, but they wont touch it because it would violate the trust of their bonds.

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


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