Tortilla Flat Essay, Research Paper
TORTILLA FLAT by John Steinbeck
Henry James wrote that the novel is to be experienced–therefore the reader must completely understand what happens in it. You should appropriate comparisons, contrasts, draw analogies of what is in the novel and one’s own experience. While the elements of fiction are important in isolated ways, relating the parts is most important. A novel should show, “a direct, personal impression of life.” The form of the novel is so free, so liable to variation, so open to innovation, that an exact definition is not possible. Different things happen in novels; the situation changes. Each connection becomes the province of the plot. The position from where events in the plot are reported is the point of view. What do the viewing characters perceive in Tortilla Flat? Is there omniscience–an all-seeing, all-knowing narrator? The shifts in point-of-view is also common in Steinbeck’s novel. The theme is the personal and direct impression of life which Steinbeck projects.
The setting in Tortilla Flat shows the story took place in a certain time and place. Setting also reveals character. Symbols, ideas beyond the object itself and images, perceptible to the senses–the novelist’s use of concrete objects and events is most important in letting the reader know what is meant and how the writer wants the reader to feel about what is going on. Tone is the result of style [style recommends certain attitudes or conclusions following technical means of diction, syntax and imagery. Serious style employed to recount ridiculous events often helps establish a comic or satiric tone. Sometimes tone is achieved through contradiction. [Some types of tone are: forward, solemn, formal, informal, intimate, pompous, scholarly, angry, contemptuous, humorous, satirical, melancholy, prudish, flippant, cautious, sentimental etc.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE NOVEL?
1. Literature is a mirror reflecting life.
2. Literature can interpret life for us.
3. Literature can sustain and console us.
4. Literature is a source of moral guidance, and spiritual inspiration.
5. Literature is the probable successor of philosophy and religion (Matthew Arnold).
6. According to Aristotle and Horace - literature can foster virtue.
7. Since the creators of fiction are teachers and artists, they can corrupt morals and undermine religion (Plato).
STRENGTHS of the novel: WEAKNESSES of the novel:
How the novel is framed, Steinbeck's self-consciousness,
Uses of names and initials Ultimate terror of death lurks
have meaning, at the edge, 
More profound than ‘knights of Portrayal and treatment of
the roundtable: paisanos women, [96, 98, 175]
are children of Mother Church, Anticultural inuendo:
They recognize distinction “Oh Jew,…” [95, 174],
between temporal (value Italians [42, 181],
money), and eternal (value of Chinese ,
friendship), Blacks [27, 194],
Excellent characterizations: Stereotyping of paisanos and
appear humanly paradoxical, women. Women appear to be
complex and flexible control automatically inferior as
determines their actions. do the paisanos.
Parallels to Malory’s “Morte de Can a non-Latino produce an
Arthur and the Knights of honest depiction of this
the Roundtable. culture?
CLASSIFYING POSSIBLE THEMES IN THIS NOVEL
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7)
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| RELIGION | POLITICAL | ARCHETYPAL |
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| SOCIOLOGICAL ETHNIC MINORITY |
1. [MORALS] Responsibility-subsistence
Stealing From Those Who Have Much
2. [RELIGION] Temptations of This World
Biblical Parallels/Adam and Pilon
Mysticism/The holy vision
Death and Afterlife/Bad Omens
3. [SOCIOLOGICAL] Poverty
Comitatus/The Individual vs. The Community
4. [POLITICAL] Society Robs Paisanos of Liberty
and Self-Indulgence-Dangers of Capitalism [Pirate]
Greed and Possessiveness [Big Joe-nemesis]
Oppression of Latinos
Resistance to Capitalism
5. [ETHNIC] Celebrating Friendship
The Good Life
Economic Slavery and Human Freedom
Stereotypes of Paisanos–’Put-Downs’ Social Injustice
6. [ARCHETYPAL] The unfaithful wife, femme fatale, the
temptress, the witchmother…(negative women)
No Great Mothers, American Princesses, Eves, New Woman
America = The New World Garden of Eden
Talisman, likened to a sword and a shield, a talisman maybe
defined as an object which has been magically endowed with
the power of attracting good fortune, while an amulet is
something which naturally possesses protective properties.
Legend Centered on Mystic Sorrow [Steinbeck and Malory]
RISE–> FLOWER –> FALL [Danny, the Hero or Anti-Hero?]
Pilon = Pharoah’s daughter taking baby or Moses in Bulrushes
7. [PSYCHOLOGICAL] Danny’s Self Confrontation after Baby’s
Death; Helping Friends and Strangers in Need
Diminishing Human Values [Crprl's Fantasy-Suicidal Self-
VITAL QUESTIONS ON STEINBECK ON CRITICISM
1. Are there ethical teachings in Tortilla Flat?
2. Does the novel encourage virtue?
3. Does the novel misguide and corrupt?
4. Does the novel help us recognize the reality of evil?
5. Does the novel show us a necessity for humankind to control impulses?
6. Is Tortilla Flat’s value in PRIMITIVISM and ENTHUSIASM above DECORUM and RESTRAINT?
7. Does this novel conform to ’standards?’ The ethical norm sets boundaries on the eagerness of the writer to express himself.
8. Does Steinbeck show self-indulgence?
9. Is Steinbeck depicting a romantic morality where its ideal is altruism?
10. Does Steinbeck discriminate between false and true?
deformed and normal?
11. Where is there harmony and proportion? Divine tenderness and human delicasy?
12. Is there vulgarity in this novel?
13. How are men portrayed, the women?
14. What is the nature and function of women in the novel?
15. Does the book show cruelty to women?
16. What is the validity and the implications of the image you have of the _paisanos_ in how Steinbeck depicts them?
17. How does Steinbeck bring about compassion?
18. Is compassion based on a large and generous view of lifed and a distinct set of values?
19. Are Steinbeck’s standards too narrow? Are there any biases?
20. What moral considerations are we bound by?
21. Is this plot less heroic than Troilus and Criseyde?, than “Beowulf?”, than Tennyson’s “Idylls of a King?”
22. Is Steinbeck showing an obsession with chastity and purity?
23. Is there, in this novel a depiction of the nature and future of the human race, like in _Candide_ or in “J. Alfred Prufrock?”
24. What are the moral problems in this novel?
25. What moral attitudes are reflected?
26. Are there any new moral theories?
27. What about the changing attitudes of:
A) LABOR (earning a living), and
B)LAWS and CUSTOMS (those that regulate work), and
C) The CONTENTION for POWER (genders, ownership of property, and political groups)?
28. Evaluate human action against its immediate social atmosphere.
29. There are tangible and material forces; people and objects in every person’s life. Does Steinbeck show material circumstances and how they impact on the paisanos?
OBSERVATIONS ON AUTHORS RELATED TO STEINBECK:
For example, Babbitt believed that “ideal realism” results in egoism. To Babbitt, Blake contributed to the moral decline of society because he rejected limits and restraints.
Looking back at Walt Whitman’s style of plain writing, based mostly on a Puritannical plain style which disapproved of art that only pleased the senses, on an art that showed homeliness, and a realistic view in its imagery, a startling realism in diction, and imagery of the common place–how different or similar is the style used by Steinbeck?
Looking back to William Shakespeare’s tragedies_ as being fundamentally Christian–how would you assess the Christian values depicted in Steinbeck?
Are there changes in humans today in how their morality has changed from the Greeks? What about human emotions…are the emotions in Steinbeck plausible?
What is progress of humanity toward socialism? Does the book promote or impede that progress? [Marxist Critics are more interested in content than form.]
Literature and society are more inextricably intertwined. “Art is the product of society, like the pearl is of the oyster, and to stand outside art is to stand inside society.” [Spriggs in "Illusion and Reality."]
It has been said that Tennyson’s image of nature_ is brutal and indifferent, and reflects ruthlessness of society in which capitalism is continually hurling down fellow capitalists into the proletarian abyss.” Is this criticism the same for Steinbeck’s image of nature?
Is there an obvious class struggle in _Tortilla Flat_? Does this novel contribute to the present class struggle in California? Whitman demonstated a tradition in American literature and contributed to the class struggle of that time. He was a rebel against the shams and oppressions of his day.
We will next read Henry James Daisy Miller. James ignored Industralism, so he is not part of that same tradition as Whitman and Steinbeck.
Specifically: Is Steinbeck remote, isolated from the world in depicting false values? Does this attitude add to:
1) The essence of realism?
2) His thirst for truth?
3) His fanatic striving for reality?
By realistically describing social conditions, the greatest writers have inevitably “aided the differences in humankind and brought about the triumph of the humanistic principle.”
A good writer has the responsibility of exposing the vices and weaknesses in society in a DETERMINISTIC (acts of the will, natural causes, or social changes are determined by preceding causes) view of literature.
What differences in evaluation would one find of Tortilla Flat from a reading public and from college students?
Politics has always been a concern of all Romantic poets. Wordsworth’s poems showed his democratic idealism.
Arnold showed “a disinterested endeavor to learn and propagate the best that is thought and known in the world.”
CHAPTERS OF BOOKS
*Parallel Malory’s Naming of The Chapters
I. Introduction of Danny – a soldier home from the War.
II. Pilon Lured by Greed
III. Pilon’s Evil Nature
IV. Jesus Maria Corcoran, Vehicle for Evil
V. Jesus Maria’s Accident
VI. Candle for St. Francis of Assisi Starts House on Fire
VII. Pirate Drawn-in–Not Robbed
VIII. Mystic Treasure – The Grail
IX. Vacuum Cleaner Episode
X. Paternal Ethics–Corporal’s Baby Dies [Helen of Troy-Paris/Criseyde-Diomede/Lancelot-Guinevere]
XI. Brutal Solution Turns into Friendly Act
XII. Pirates Dogs See Holy Vision [Grail]
XIII. Gang Robs Food for Helpless Woman and Children
XIV. Various Acts of Love Thwarted-A Turn to Evilness [Camelot]
XV. Devil in the Shape of Torelli [Chronos]; Crime Against Danny’s House; Danny Takes Pilon’s Shoes
XVI. Party at Danny’s [Apocalytic-Black Bird Hovers over Danny]
XVII. Danny’s Friends Depart Alone-Burn 2nd House (Talisman)
OUTLINE OF LECTURE:
1. Students each give one point they know about Steinbeck’s
life. Call on Michael Greene, Dawn Dunaway, Bobbie Seebach,
Kristen Dorman, Don Hammons, John Lam.
2. Reading the Novel
3. Purpose of the Novel
4. Strengths and Weaknesses
5. Themes in Tortilla Flat.
6. Criticism and Steinbeck’s Achievement
7. Other Authors we have read and Steinbeck
8. Chapters of the Novel
9. Favorite Explanations and Quotes:
Read Aloud: 2/Danny – the protagonist
9/Where is Arthur Morales?
10/fought for country/own two houses
83/in the woods looking for treasure
116/Corporal-Danny soldiers and glory
132/Big Joe’s punishment
158/analogy of the pig
200/govt. promise of a military funeral
207/knights view burning house
RED-HERRING: When Steinbeck explains the parallels of Knight of the Roundtable and the Paisanos. He was attacking the HAVES, not the HAVE-NOTS. The Depression ERA advocated urban Americans to return to simple pastoral lives. But we cannot escape responsibility for the complication of the worlds we create:”The Tyger” by Blake. Man must move forward, even if stumbling and painfully. This was a sardonic an ironic Naturalistic period. What can be learned about the paisanos–are they simply bums? Tortilla Flat is a tragedy. An attack on Genteel tradition (like Eliot) Not Frivolous about human misery and degradation. Tall Bob Smoke [petty servant of civilization] botches a suicide and shoots off his nose. It is naturalistic, not realistic. Danny has a flawed character because he sets himself above the crowd. Danny is a kind of legendary wild-man discharged from the Army strolls Alvarado Street breaking windows, is jailed, names dead bed bugs after Monterey officials. He is an epic hero–in an oppressed by civilization. He triumphs over stiffling society, (our own), but it is not an escapist fantasy. It is a fable. However, ONCE MAN CHALLENGES CIVILIZATION–THERE IS NO MORE TURNING BACK. He does not have the resources to adjust or revert he cannot transcend his natural condition.
Pilon can live by his wits–he is stronger than Danny, and he is a traditional picaresque figure.
Pablo “Life is never the way you plan.” (Concept of mutability) He feels he is a petty servant of society.
Ending of the novel: The defeat of the Natural Man. First, Danny wanted to live in a natural, uninhabited manner. “I will go out to the ONe who can fight. I will find The Enemy, who is worthy of Danny!” Reveals Danny’s flawed character. [What does it mean? God? Fate? cycle of nature–what brings him to his demise? Who imposes limits on man obliging him to conform to some system rather than live as a law unto himself?
Pirate changes when he begins to buy food instead of hoarding the quarter he earns for selling wood. “The World is Too Much with Us” by WORDSWORTH. The world is too much with Danny.
“It is easy to dream of freedom, but not to remain a free agent.”
Prophecy: Simple life close to nature, not the answer of society or of the individual.