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FREE Study Guide-Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck-Book Summary
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Title - Tortilla Flat, by John Steinbeck, first published in 1935.

Meaning of Title - Tortilla Flat in the place where Danny and his friends reside; it is where the story takes place.

Type of Novel - This novel is comprised of a series of smaller stories, with mock-adventure tales--there is a suggested parallel between the adventures of Danny and his friends and the Knights of the Round Table.

Point of View - This story is told in the third person, omniscient. This means that it is told by an unrelated narrator, who has access to the thoughts of everyone.

Setting - An impoverished area above Monterey, California--on the coast.

Protagonist - Danny

Antagonist - Mr. Torelli, and anything acting in opposition to carefree living--e.g. money, forces of material goods.

Conflict - 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. 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.

Climax - 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 He is sullen, withdrawn, and now, quarrelsome among friends.

Major Themes - Friendship/ Unity

Minor Themes - Freedom in what is free, Beauty in Nature

Mood - Upbeat, Carefree, Playful. Although the novel has sad points, they are always counteracted by some adventure or mishap of the friends.

Key Points

  • " The book opens with Danny, Pilon, and Big Joe going off to war. " Danny inherits two houses from his deceased grandfather.
  • " The second house burns down; all of Danny’s friends eventually move in to his house and live with him. " The men are compared to the Knights of the Round Table; they like to drink wine.
  • " The Pirate has five dogs and collected quarters to buy a candle for Saint Francis. " Danny buys Sweets Ramirez a vacuum cleaner.
  • " Jesus Maria befriends the Corporal, whose baby dies. " Big Joe has a romance with Tia Ignacia.
  • " The friends help Teresina Cortez and her family, who have a poor bean crop. " Danny becomes saddened and leaves home.
  • " The friends throw Danny a party to cheer him up. " Danny dies by falling while he is intoxicated at the party. " The friends have no clothes to attend his funeral.
  • " The friends let Danny’s house burn down, then, each do their separate ways.


Paisano - a person with a mixture of Spanish, Indian, Mexican, and assorted Caucasian bloods. This is the “ethnicity” that Steinbeck assigns to the characters in his book.

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


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