Tortilla Flat - Character Summaries

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


Danny: In the scope of Steinbeck's Arthurian parallel, Danny is the King Arthur figure.  He inherits two houses from his late grandfather and graciously extends his hospitality to all of his friends, letting them stay with him in his house without paying any rent.  Of the group, Danny is the most responsible and steady, and does not get into as much trouble as his friends, though he still distresses over having the responsibility of owning property.  Fret over his great responsibility eventually leads to his downfall.

Painting of Danny yelling insults

 

 

Danny screaming insults at the Sicilians. Painting by Peggy Worthington.

 

Pilon: The first friend that Danny runs into after his return from his military service,  Pilon "rents" Danny's second house, though he never ends up giving Danny any money, choosing instead to spend any money he may receive on wine.  Pilon has shady morals when it comes to stealing other people's property, but is also "a lover of beauty and a mystic," so he is not completely morally bankrupt (18).  He also possesses true loyalty to Danny and the rest of the group, and will fiercely defend them. Pilon is usually the one in the group to think up a scheme or find a creative solution to a problem. 

Pablo: Pilon 'rents' a space in Danny's second house to Pablo, and he becomes a part of the circle of friends.   Pablo does not play a significant role in the novel, though he is a loyal friend and always does right by the other members of the "Round Table." 

Jesus Maria Corocan: First introduced laying in a ditch in a drunken stupor, Jesus Maria is "a humanitarian, and kindness [is] always in him" (28).  He is sensitive to other people's problems and is always looking to help in any way he can.  Pilon and Pablo "rent" the use of their house to him, and thus, Jesus is drawn into the circle of friends as another would be rent payer.

The Pirate: The Pirate is drawn into Danny's circle of friends in a non-conventional manner as the friends seek solely to observe him for the purpose of stealing his money.  He is "a huge, broad man, with a tremendous black and bushy beard," and yet has "the secret look of an animal that would like to run away if it dared turn its back long enough" (48).  He is a simple man and possesses a child-like innocence that at first makes the group of friends think they can take advantage of him.  However, The Pirate is such a trusting person and good friend, that they end up taking him in as a part of their group instead.  The Pirate has five dogs that are always with him and are his friends and protectors. 

Big Joe Portagee: Of all the friends, Big Joe is the least loyal to the group and will often do things that lead the others to chastise and/or punish him.  Joe is not a bad person, but he is slow and a bit stupid, and does not always realize the consequences of his actions.  The group keeps him around despite his flaws and he even comes through for them on certain occasions. 

Tito Ralph: Tito Ralph is the jailor. He was "often in jail, and he was a good prisoner.  He knew how a jail should be run.  After awhile he knew more about the jail than any one," so he was made the jailor (149).  Though he is not part of the core group of friends who live at Danny's house, he is still a good friend, and tries to help out whenever he can. 

Johnny Pom-pom: Another friend who occasionally shows up in the novel, though he is not a member of the core group who live in Danny's house.  He helps plan the big party for Danny at the end of the novel.

Mr. Torrelli: The seller of the town's wine, the paisanos are forced to deal with him often for their supply.  There is a lot of tension between him and the group of friends, as they resent him for the control and wealth that he holds.  He will barter with them for wine when they have anything he thinks he can sell.  Torrelli essentially thinks the paisanos are nothing more than "bums." 

Mrs. Torrelli: The wife of Mr. Torrelli, the friends make deals with her when Mr. Torrelli is out.  She will often take other things besides money in exchange for wine, such as when Pilon goes to trade Big Joe's pants for a quart of wine.   The friends often steal these items back after they have been bartered.  They also attempt to get things from Mrs. Torrelli by flattery; "they slapped her on the buttocks and called her a 'Butter Duck' and took little courteous liberties with her person, and finally left her, flattered and slightly tousled" (35).

Flora Woods Adams

 

Flora Woods Adams (nee Flora Silva, 1877 - 1948), the model for Dora Williams in Tortilla Flat.  Photo is part of the Pat Hathaway Collection.

 

Dora Williams: Owner of the bordello.  

Dolores "Sweets" Ramirez: Dolores is a single woman with "her own little house on the upper edge of Tortilla Flat," whose "eyes [can] burn behind a mist with a sleepy passion" which men find "attractive and downright inviting" (82).  Sweets spends her time luring men into her house by calling to them from her porch, though she really wants to be Danny's wife; she waits for months for him to pass by her house.  She and Danny engage in a brief relationship, but Danny and his friends eventually concoct a scheme to end the fling as Danny begins feeling tied down by obligation. 

The Caporál (corporal): A young soldier from Mexico with a sick baby who Jesus Maria brings to Danny's house.  The Caporál came to California looking for work after a superior officer took his wife from him.  He dreams of his child being a great general some day, and tells this to the baby daily.  The friends think that The Caporál wants to get revenge on the capitán that stole his wife, but he really just wants his child to have a good life.  The friends all learn a valuable lesson from this young man and admire him for his selfless love of his child. 

Teresina Cortez: A mother of nine who lives "in a pleasant cottage on the edge of the deep gulch that defines the southern frontier of Tortilla Flat," Teresina has children with alarming regularity and does not always know who the father is (119).  She feeds her children on a steady diet of beans and tortillas and the group of friends must come to her aid and provide her with food when the year's bean crop is ruined by heavy rains. 

Cornelia Ruiz: Cornelia is a popular topic of conversation among the friends at Danny's house.  Her many romantic exploits are the hot gossip of the town.  She is never actually seen as a speaking character in the novel, but her presence in conversations is a constant throughout the story. 

Tia Ignacia : A widow of forty-five who expresses an interest in Big Joe.  She invites him into her house for a drink, but becomes angry when he simply sits there and pays no attention to her.  However, in her anger, "love came to Big Joe Portagee" (105), and this encounter is portrayed as "the history of one of his love affairs" (103). 


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