Tortilla Flat

Setting | Character Summaries | Plot Synopsis | Critical Reception
Cultural References | Key Terms and Concepts | Major Themes


Context

Overview

In this Tortilla Flat movie still from 1942, the Pirate (Frank Morgan) sits in the forest with his dogs.

In his first commercially successful novel, Tortilla Flat (1935), John Steinbeck creates his own modern day version of Camelot and King Arthur's roundtable; it is "the story of Danny and Danny's friends and of Danny's house" (1).  As a twist on local color fiction, Tortilla Flat records semi-mythic events from the lives of the paisanos from Monterey County.  Episodic in nature, the tales recount the escapades of Danny and his group of ragged and drunken friends as they drink, fight, engage in random acts of petty theft and, occasionally, do good deeds.  Throughout their many adventures and misdeeds, the one thing that remains as constant as their desire to avoid doing any real work or live respectable lives, is their loyalty to one another.  Steinbeck creates a story about epic friendship, and yet, just like the original round table, "this story deals with how the talisman was lost and how the group disintegrated" (1).  The hilarious, drunken adventures of the kind-hearted yet misguided paisanos makes for a rousing, seemingly frivolous little novel.  Under the comedic surface, however, is a provoking picture of alcoholism and poverty that reminds readers of the substandard social status of Mexican-Americans in California in the 1930s.

Tortilla Flat was first published by Covici-Friede in 1935.  The novel was adapted into a play in 1937 and released as a film in 1942.