Boekverslag: Tortilla Flat
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Title: Tortilla Flat (1935)
Author: John Steinbeck (1902-1968) Born in the Salinas in California, a setting for many of his novels. Tortilla Flat was his third novel, but the first one which established his name as a novelist of considerable merit. His best known works are Of Mice and Men and Grapes of Wrath. All three novels touch upon the poverty of those at the very bottom -and usually well out of sight- of American society. Within Tortilla Flat we find Steinbeck?s fascination for the Arthurian Legends, an interest which would lead him to Britain for long years of research for his The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights.
Genre: comic novel
Perspective: 3rd person
Language: simple use of language, handled well to create a very graphic picture
Structure: The chapters are not numbered, but introduced by short headings which give a brief plot summary. I.e. How Danny?s mourning friends challenged all conventions. This is typical of Medieval Arthurian romances. i.e. How such and such a knight went on a certain quest, resisted temptation, rescued a lady, recovered a treasure and returned to Arthur?s court. Ironically the headings, though referring to the good deeds of Danny & company, are intially based on selfishness. The story itself consists of a number of ?adventures? which are experienced by the men living in Danny?s house. Some form part of the story as a whole, others are isolated incidents.
Theme: Loneliness and aimlessness that fills the Paisanos? lives. Also the fact that materialism, such as ownership of house and vacuum cleaner, doesn?t really change a person, but friendship can.
Referred to in the introduction, in which Steinbeck compares Danny?s house to the Round Table and his friends to King Arthur?s knights. To paraphrase Steinbeck himself: This is the story of how this group (Danny & company alias King Arthur and knights of the Round Table) came to be, flourished and grew to be an organization which was as noble in the cause as it was wise in its functioning.
The fact that the original inhabitants of Monterey live on a hilltop is compared to the habitats of the Britons in their hill forts (Historically seen, Arthur?s Camelot would have been situated on one of the old hill forts).
Under the right circumstances (and the right amount of wine) there is a certain comradeship between the Paisanos. When there is no money/wine it is each man for himself, and rather than being a reflection of the Round Table, the story is the opposite, with continual quests for dollars and wine which are not always voluntarily shared. Towards the end of the story, starting with the friend?s efforts to feed Teresina?s family (and father her ninth child) there is something resembling real companionship, with selfishness replaced by care.
Setting: The town of Monterey, specifically Tortilla Flat, a poor residential area on the hill above the town proper where town and wood meet. This is the home of the Paisanos, of Spanish, Indian, Mexican en Caucasian blood. The Paisanos are described as outsiders who do not participate in the American system because they have no natural commercial inclinations. The system more or less leaves them alone because they own nothing that can be stolen, exploited or leased. The story is set in the years after the First World War.
Danny ? Born and bred in Tortilla Flat. Alhough the Viejo, his grandfather, owns two houses in Tortilla Flat the young Danny preferred to sleep in the woods, he also worked at ranches every now and then. When he joins the army he is 25.
Pilon- a Paisano of Danny?s company who excells in finding new ways to obtain wine and to twist logical thought into very convenient forms. In the beginning, for example, he says that the 3 dollars needed to switch on the plumbing would be better spent on 3 gallons of wine. Water can always be borrowed from the neighbor. When Danny points out that they don?t have the 3 dollars to begin with, Pilon suggests they borrow the wine from the neighbor as well, till they have the three dollars. He also decides it is better not to weed the garden, in case the chickens in the neighbor?s chickencoop would prefer to roost in the weeds ? and makes an exit hole in the chickencoop so that the chickens can reach the weeds. A bit later he sees a rooster on the street and decides it would be more humane to eat it than to let it suffer a life in which it could get run over or be exposed to the cold air.
Big Joe Portagee ? a Paisano of Danny?s company. Very big and not very smart. Least trustworthy. (Portagee is nickname for Portuguese)
Pablo- a Paisano who moves in with Pilon. One of Danny?s company. Comes up with lots of plans.
Jesus Maria Corcoran ? a Paisano drunk who becomes one of Danny?s company. The most compassionate.
The Pirate ? a large strong man with a big black beard. He is a bit simple in the head (or his brains fell behind the growth of his body). Becomes one of Danny?s company, loves animals and friends. He is accompanied by five dogs.
1. Pajarito 2. Rudolph 3. Fluff 4. Senor Alec Thompson 5. Enrique
Tito Marshal ? a prison guard and a late addition to Danny?s company
Mrs. Morales- Danny?s neighbor
Arabella Gross- the woman who Jesus Maria has an interest in.
?Sweets? Ramirez ? a young woman who is not beautiful but does attract men. She becomes very interested in Danny when he becomes a house owner. Real first name = Dolores
Mr. and Mrs. Torelli ? owners of the wine shop
Tia Ignacia - a 45-year old widow who is visited by Big Joe
Father Ramon ? the local priest
Teresina Cortez ? a 30-year old woman who lives in Tortilla Flat with her mother and 8 children
The humor is based on the Paisano?s twisting of logic and naive/ignorant look at life.
Although it is funny, the continual egoism which forms the base of most of the funny situations begins to wear the reader down and reveals the pathetic existance of the Paisano?s. Towards the end of the book, when there was indeed a growing bond between the friends and less selfishness, it becomes easier to smile again, although the story becomes more serious here.
We are introduced to Danny and his friend Pilon who hear about the American declaration of war on Germany (WWI) when buying wine. They are joined by a third friend, Big Joe Portagee, and empty the wine bottles. The drunker they get the more patriotic they become. Eventually they stumble into Monterey to loudly demonstrate their patriotism at the recruiting office by which they wake up the recruiting sergeant who immediately signs them up. Pilon and Big Joe Portagee are sent to the infantry, Danny becomes a mule drover in Texas.
Danny returns from the war, hears he has inherited the two houses from the Viejo, can?t deal with the sudden responsibility, gets drunk, starts smashing windows, is arrested and confined to 30 days in the cell. One day Tito Ralph, his guard, brings in wine, when it is finished they both leave the jail to get more, and because jail is boring Danny doesn?t bother to go back. The next day he hides, because he knows they will look for him for one day, as this is required by the law. When he is safe he steals some food, changes some of the food for wine, and goes back to the woods. He sees Pilon, and first decides to ignore him in order not to have to share his food, but then he sees Pilon has something under his jacket (a bottle of brandy) and stops Pilon to offer to share his food with him, thus obliging Pilon to share his brandy.
Danny tells Pilon about his houses, Pilon voices his fear that Danny, as a house owner, will become too good for his old friends. Danny swears that Pilon will always be welcome.
Danny and Pilon inspect the Viejo?s houses and move into the largest one. Pilon suggests Danny rents the second house to Pilon. They agree on the price of 15 dollars a week and eventually fall asleep, overcome by wine and the ?emotional? day.
Pilon has some trouble raising the rent, every time he has some money, this is exchanged for wine and despite his best intentions he never arrives at Danny?s house in order to offer the wine as rent. In the end he rents part of his house to Pablo for 15 dollars a week. He doubts Pablo will pay him any rent but now he can tell Danny he will pay rent as soon as Pablo pays rent.
Pilon and Pablo have heard a rumour that Danny is seeing a Portugese girl called Rosa. They are afraid that she will want presents for which Danny will need money (and thus rent). They seek him out to tell him bad things about Rosa. Danny, in the meantime, fancies his neighbor, Mrs. Morales, so they tell him bad things about her. Danny says he wants to buy her chocolates and needs some rent money for this. Pilon says he is a heartless landlord. Pilon and Pablo go off, ostensibly to raise some money, and meet a drunken Jesus Maria Corcor?n who is sleeping under a bush. When they find out Jesus Maria has 3 dollars and some change Pilon gets very concerned for his health, tells Jesus Maria he is sick because of the cold air, and takes him to his house. Once there they keep on talking about the benefits living in a house until Jesus Maria agrees to rent part of the house for 15 dollars a week. Pilon wants a 3 dollar advance but Jesus Maria needs this to buy a bra for Arabella. In the end Jesus Maria pays Pilon 2 dollars. They then worry that if Danny buys chocolates for Mrs. Morales he might eat some himself and then they would be responsible for their friend Danny?s teeth, since chocolate is bad for teeth. They decide it is better if they buy some wine. Pilon and Pablo send Jesus Maria off to get some food and go to buy some wine. Then, because Danny doesn?t know when to stop drinking, and this is bad, they decide to spare their friend by drinking this wine themselves. Jesus Maria comes back, he was beaten up by the soldiers Arabella was seeing. He couldn?t give her the bra and they decide to give it to Danny so that he can give it to Mrs. Morales. The men finish the wine and go to sleep. They leave a candle on, the flame sets fire to a calender after which the house burns down. They decide not to try to save the remnants of the wine bottle and conclude that they have learned a lesson: never to leave a wine bottle with wine in it in the house.
Danny is angry at them, but also a bit relieved that ? his responsibility has disappeared. Pilon, Pablo, and Jesus Maria wake up in the woods, feel guilty and decide to confess to Danny, they steal food from a picnic as a gift for Danny. Danny insults them and their parents until he sees the food after which he praises their forefathers. He decides not to give Mrs. Morales the bra because their relation has cooled since he lost status due to his being the owner of one, and not two, houses. It is clear that Danny will share his house with the three others (though they can?t touch his bed). Pilon is relieved, as a guest rather than a renter, he won?t have to worry about rent. But then Jesus Maria swears that they must make sure Danny, as their benefactor, never goes hungry, and that they will always make sure there is food in the house.
We are introduced to the Pirate and his dogs. The Pirate cuts and sells firewood, he lives in a chicken coop on the grounds of a deserted house. He gets food at the backdoor of restaurants and never spends any money, although he does earn 25 cents a day. Pilon thinks that he keeps it hidden somewhere (Pirate does indeed bury his quarters) and reckons there must be at least 100 dollars. Pilon decides that Pirate deserves his sympathy, as the simple man can?t take care of himself. But alas, Pilon has no money, so he can do little for Pirate, then Pilon ?remembers? that Pirate has money, but is not wise enough to spend it in order to take care of himself. Pilon decides that he can help the Pirate by lending the Pirate his wisdom, in other words Pilon will spend the money for the Pirate. Pilon goes to see Pirate, with a large cookie as a gift (which Pirate splits into 7 pieces for the humans and dogs). Pilon tells Pirate that his ?friends? are worried about him, and can help Pirate if Pirate gives them his money. Pirate denies having any money (he gives it to a poor woman, he claims). Pilon then tells Danny, Pablo and Jesus Maria about the money. They decide to invite Pirate and his dogs to come live in the house. Pirate is so grateful that he gets more food from the restaurants and so feeds them all. The four others keep on trying to find out where Pirate?s treasure is. In the end they trick Pirate into believing that his money is safest in their keeping. But then they are faced with the moral dilemma that Pirate is saving the money for a golden candlestick for Saint Francis, because the saint answered his prayer for a sick dog (which was later run over by a car). How can they possibly touch money that belongs to a saint?
We turn back to Big Joe Portagee and find out that he spent most of his army years in jail, even more than in normal life where he was locked up for about six months a year. When he returns he gets drunk, breaks things, spends some time in jail, and then gets out. He meets Pilon who informs him that it is St.Andrew?s eve, a night when all hidden treasures spread a fluorescent light and the Paisanos all go to the woods looking for this treasure. Big Joe joins Pilon in the search for treasure. They find a weak source of light and cover it. Pilon tells Big Joe that he agreed with Pablo, Jesus Maria and Pirate that any treasure found by any of them is meant for Danny, on account of Danny?s generosity. Pilon takes Big Joe to Danny?s house and it is immediately clear that Big Joe will join the family. When they return to the woods they find no treasure, but a sign from the United States Geodetic Survey which indicates the height of the location.
We are introduced to Sweets Ramirez who wants to capture Danny?s heart, on account of him being a house owner. When he finally does come by for a glass of wine she invites him to return in the evening for further entertainment. Danny goes off to buy a bottle of wine for her (meets Pablo and drinks half the wine with him) and also a vacuum cleaner. Although she doesn?t have any electricity and can?t use it the ownership of it gives her a very high social status in Tortilla Flat. After sweeping she rolls the vacuum cleaner around and makes the noise of a vacuum cleaner. Danny?s friends start to worry that he is spending too much time with Sweets and sabotage the relationship by telling Danny that she expects electric wiring from him. Pilon then steals the vacuum cleaner and trades it at Torelli?s for two gallons of wine.
Jesus Maria sees a policeman in town trying to remove a young Mexican corporal (16) with a baby. Jesus Maria takes him to the house. The baby is ill. The corporal explains how he was a corporal in the army, married to a beautiful girl who was then claimed by a captain. After that there were attempts on the corporal?s life so he fled with the baby. He wants the baby to become a general. After he tells his story the baby dies. It then turns out that the baby was the captain he referred to, and if his wife was so taken by the baby as a captain, then he couldn?t bear to think how much she would care for the child when he would become a general. Although the corporal is clearly mad, the Paisanos are very impressed by his story.
Big Joe is caught in the rain and seeks shelter at Tia Ignacia?s house, a 45-year old widow. They share some wine but Big Joe doesn?t react to her advances and falls asleep. Tia Ignacia is upset and chases him out of the house.
In the house Pirate?s moneybag, which is kept under Danny?s pillow, has in the meantime taken on a very symbolic importance, unifying the six men, and the cause of pride because they don?t touch the money. But on return from an outing they discover that the money has disappeared. They suspect Big Joe and beat him until he confesses that he took a dollar out and buried the rest. On counting the money to make sure that Big Joe did not take more they find out that Pirate has more than a thousand quarters. They decide to ask Father Ramon, the local priest, to buy the gold candlestick, because if they go to a bank they might think that the Paisanos stole the money. Father Ramon accepts the money and says he will buy the candlestick. They all go to the church on Sunday to see the candlestick and there is a scene when the dogs try to enter to be with Pirate. He is embarrassed but Father Ramon laughs and says it?s ok. Pirate later goes to the woods and tells the dogs about the candlestick and Saint Francis. There is a short magical moment in which he feels the Saint visited them.
We are introduced to Teresina Cortez, who lives in Tortilla Flat with her eight children and her mother. We find out that Teresina had her first child when she was 14 and has been having them regularly since then, from different men. When the school nurse finds out that one of the children, Alfredo, eats tortilla and beans every day and nothing else the school doctor visits the Cortez house. The doctor sees Teresina?s mother throwing beans on the floor and the children eating them. He examines the children and to his surprise finds out that they are very healthy. We are told that the mother, the vieja, gathers the leftover beans from the bean plants that are left by the harvesters and so collects about 400 pounds of beans a year so that the family doesn?t go hungry. This year however the bean crop failed and the family is threatened by starvation. Jesus Maria comes to visit the house and hears the sorry tale. Danny & company become involved and steal all types of food all over the town. The children get ill from all the different foods and Teresina tells the men that they really need to eat beans. The men steal four pounds of beans from a warehouse. Everyone is happy and Teresina contemplates her new pregnancy and wonders which one of Danny?s friends was the father!
Danny starts to notice how everything is always the same. The friends wake up, sit in the sun and wonder what Pirate will bring home for dinner. He is tired of the responsibility he feels over his friends and misses the days before he became an ?important? house owner, when he had good fights, slept in the woods, seduced other men?s wives, and ate whatever he could steal. One day Danny disappears and the others go looking for him in the woods but can?t find him. He is still around because they hear stories of fighting, drunkenness and theft. Clearly he has picked up his old life again. Sometimes he comes in the house to steal things and in the end even steals the wheelbarrow Pirate needs to transport his wood in. One night Danny even steals Pilon?s shoes and the atmosphere in the house becomes bad. One day a man called Johnny Pom-pom tells the men that Tito Ralph was fired from the jail where he was guard after a heavy drinking bout with Danny who had lots of money for wine. Then Mr. Torelli comes to visit and tells the men that they have to leave because Danny sold the House to Torelli for 25 dollars. He shows them the sales contract. The men trip Torelli, grab the sales act and throw it in the burning wood stove. Torelli leaves and Danny and Tito Ralph show up with lots of food. They celebrate.
Although Danny is back, he is not the same, he is very apathetic and not interested in anything. After a sip of the last wine in the house the friends think that they briefly saw old Danny. The friends decide to work for one day so that they can earn money for more wine. All of Tortilla Flat talks about it, it is very big news that these men are actually working and the rumor is that they want to throw Danny a party to which everyone is invited. Soon many more people are making contributions, arranging music, food, drinks and decorations. Even Torelli plans to go. As the whole of Tortilla Flat celebrates at Danny?s house Danny himself is wandering through Monterey feeling down and lonely. The friends fetch him and Danny comes out of his depression to participate in the party of all parties. Then Danny somehow changes. Eyewitnesses later tell that he seemed bigger and that his eyes beamed out bright lights. He held a broken off table leg and challenged people to fight him. No one wants to fight and Danny announces that he will fight The One, The Enemy. He charges out of the house. Pilon goes after Danny and they find Danny?s broken body at the bottom of the ravine. Danny had fallen into the ravine. He is brought back to the house but dies (in his bed) in the early hours of the morning.
All of Tortilla Flat is in mourning and the friends are struck by the realization that they can?t go to the funeral because they don?t have suitable clothes. They follow the funeral procession at a distance and hide themselves in the long grass along the graveyard for the funeral. In the evening they drown their sorrow in wine. Pilon throws a match away after lighting a cigar and it lands on an old newspaper that catches fire. All the friends stand up in order to put out the fire, but then sit down again to watch it spread. This is how it should be, the house, symbolic of their friendship and adventures, should end its life like Danny did, in a glorious blaze. They walk out, Pilon doesn?t forget the wine bottle this time, and watch the house burn down. Then they look at each other like they were all strangers, and leave, each man going his own way.
Steinbeck schreef in een naturalistische/sociaal realistische stijl, vaak over arme mensen uit de arbeidersklasse. Zijn werk The Grapes of Wrath (De druiven der gramschap) vertelt het verhaal van de Joads, een arme familie uit de Amerikaanse staat Oklahoma tijdens de "Dust Bowl", en hun reis naar en hun problemen in de staat CaliforniŽ. De roman stelt op indringende manier het immigratievraagstuk aan de orde en wordt gezien als een verdediging van de armen tegen de rijken.
- Tortilla Flat
- John Steinbeck
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