Whole and Its Parts an Analysis of Characters in Tortilla Flat Term Paper

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Tortilla Flat


Tortilla Flat" by John Steinbeck was first published in 1935. It is set in the Monterey coast of California. This book features the adventures of a group of men of Mexican-American descent called the paisanos. As California writer and critic Gerald Haslam has noted, "Steinbeck must be recognized for seeing the diversity of the state's population, for writing about the paisanos of Monterey, for example, at a time when the majority of Californians did not acknowledge the importance or even the existence of mixed-blood Mexicans." (Shillinglaw, Susan. "Steinbeck and Ethnicity, 1995)

Thought they are troublesome people they are good at heart and like to help less fortunate people than them. The members of the gang are Danny, Pablo, Jesus Maria, Pilon and Big Joe Portagee.

They are soon joined by another paisano, the Pirate. All these men like to do is to enjoy a great life of drinking, womanizing and without having any burdens on them. They model themselves on the Knights of the Round Table. The rest of the book focuses on their adventures.

Arthur Pettit's criticizes this book "Alternately tender and tasteless, subtle and simple, comical and crude, the novel is handicapped by a baffling mixture of moods and motifs which collide rather than meet. The mock-heroic elements conflict with the theme of paradise lost, and we are left uncertain as to which is more important" (Shillinglaw, Susan. "Steinbeck and Ethnicity, 1995)

Not everyone critiqued the book, as Robert De Mott tells us. One of his co workers at his university is quoted as saying. "You might like Tortilla Flat," he said. "It's about a bunch of paisanos who raise hell all the time and have trouble fitting in with society. Steinbeck wrote about underdogs, and he got kicked out of college so often he never finished." (www.questia.com/PM.qst?action=openPageViewer&docId=23148594"DeMott, Robert. Steinbeck's Typewriter: Essays on His Art. Troy, NY: Whitston, 1996).

One of the main characters of the book is Danny. He is the main protagonist of Tortilla Flat. The story of tortilla flat revolves around him. Danny is just an ordinary ruffian who likes to hang out with friends. He doesn't have any worries in this world as he has no burden and leads a very carefree life. As long as there is someone to take care of his needs he doesn't have any problem. Responsibility is something he shirks away from. There are a lot of leadership qualities in him which the others in his group respect a lot. There is a deep bond between Danny and his friends. He enlists in serve as a soldier in the First World War, though he never gets to leave the country. When he comes back he discovers that his grandfather has passed away and left him the sole heir of his two houses. It takes a lot of time for Danny to digest the fact that he has been handed a responsibility. Danny's generous personality comes to light when he asks his comrades to share his houses with him. In fact he is the undisputed leader of the group, more like the king Arthur of his time and his groups of paisanos are his merry knights. His concern for the welfare of his friends prompts him to help them unhesitatingly. The paisanos have a lot of regard for him and trust him impeccably. There is never a decision made without consulting Danny. Danny obviously enjoys taking caring of his boys.

Despite his newly inherited wealth Danny does not feel satisfied. He does not care for material things in the world. All he wants is the companionship of his friends and to roam around. He feels that he is tied down to his property and that will ruin his life. How can he have fun when he has a burden on his head? In a way Danny likes is an idealist as he lies to evade everything difficult. Freedom is what he craves and not the confines of his houses. Though he likes to be the gracious host, he does not always want to care for his friends. This house is not letting him enjoy his youth and is nothing but trouble for him. This is signified through one of his quotes: "Pilon," he said sadly, "I wished you owned it and I could come live with you." (John Steinbeck, Tortilla Flat, 1935)

Danny finally escapes from his troubles. He does not care for the luxuries of life and runs away from it all.

Even when he was younger he refused to survive on home cooked food or a comfortable bed. Instead he loved to sleep in the forest and steal food from people. That gave him a lot of pleasure. Looking after a house is depriving him of the pleasures of doing all that. There is no challenge left anymore when he has the comforts of his house and a supply of fresh food, brought by the Pirate.

Danny goes on a crime spree after regaining his freedom. He has a chance to recapture his youth, so he goes on a crime spree. This turns most of the town against him. Despite being away for a long time, he has not caught the essence of his youth. There's this thought that he shall always remain old and he has lost the time to enjoy his youth properly. Life isn't worth living at all if he can't do what he pleases. There is no joy in turning old and waiting to die. Danny is in denial about aging. His friends organize a party for him where Danny makes his last stand.

Danny plummets to his death after falling 40 feet in a ditch behind his house. He wants an easy way out and prepares to fight the invisible enemy who is responsible for his current situation. In the end, Danny looses his life in a very spectacular way.

I will go out to The One who can fight. I will find The Enemy who is worthy of Danny."(John Steinbeck, Tortilla Flat, 1935).

Steinbeck's characterization is often considered unusual as his protagonists and other leading characters appears to non-progressive in nature as Warren notes: "Steinbeck had... resolutely refused to allow his characters to come to terms with the modern world. Steinbeck had mellowed to the extent that he had allowed Pippin to flaunt authority and survive, whereas Danny in Tortilla Flat, Doc Burton in Dubious Battle, and Jim Casy in The Grapes of Wrath had been destroyed for their defiant gestures." (French, Warren. "Introduction." After the Grapes of Wrath: Essays on John Steinbeck in Honor of Tetsumaro Hayashi, 1995)


Pilon is one of the most complex characters in the book. He has a truly beautiful soul and is one of the sharpest and most up-to-date amongst the paisanos. Like Danny he is also an idealist and he loves communing with nature. That's what brings him closer to his comrades. He is also very generous and likes to share everything with his fellow paisanos. Even though Danny never requests any rent, Pilon tries hard to come up with the money. There is nothing which Pilon does not know about. Pilon's conscience prevents him from doing anything wrong. His conscience is the guiding power towards a proper life. Even though he has a good conscience he can be misled into the wrong path by others. When he goes towards the wrong path he fails to realize it. Pilon has a very close relationship with Danny. There is nothing he won't do for Danny. There is one incident where he shares all his brandy with Danny, despite brandy being one of the scarcest commodities in Tortilla Flat.

There is an incident when Pilon is coming home after working hard all day. He buys some wine for Danny thinking he would appreciate it more than rent money. When he views a flock of seagulls he is mesmerized. His thoughts are lost in the seagulls.

Our Father is in the evening. These birds are flying across the forehead of the father. Dear birds, dear sea gulls, how I love you all." (John Steinbeck, Tortilla Flat, 1935).

When Danny dies, pilon and the other paisanos aren't invited to the funeral. Pilon is very emotional and prompts all of the paisanos to burst into tears.

The pirate is one of a very innocent and caring character. Though he is very huge he is still a very simple human being with a child like nature. He does not like to converse with people because he is shy. There is no one he can reach out to and talk. People think he is mentally challenged and don't speak to him either. Nobody knows him well because he does not speak to anyone. The pirate loves his dogs that go with him everywhere. They are his security blanket and love him unconditionally. They protect him from all sorts of danger. The pirate is afraid of contact with people. His love for the dogs speaks large…

Sources Used in Document:

References (Shillinglaw, Susan. Steinbeck and Ethnicity, 1995) www.questia.com/PM.qst?action=openPageViewer&docId=23148594(DeMott, Robert. Steinbeck's Typewriter: Essays on His Art. Troy, NY: Whitston, 1996). After the Grapes of Wrath: Essays on John Steinbeck in Honor of Tetsumaro Hayashi. Eds. Coers, Donald V., Paul D. Ruffin, and Robert J. Demott. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1995 (DeMott, Robert. Steinbeck's Typewriter: Essays on His Art. Troy, NY: Whitston, 1996). (John Steinbeck, Tortilla Flat, 1935).

Shillinglaw, Susan, Steinbeck and Ethnicity After the Grapes of Wrath: Essays on John Steinbeck in Honor of Tetsumaro Hayashi, OH: Ohio University Press, 40-55, 1995.) (Walter Neary, Students Drawn to Human Themes of Hope, Equality The Californian, 1992)

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