Tortilla Flat, John Steinbeck’s first popular success, is a short novel depicting the clash of paisano (combined Spanish, Indian, and Mexican) cultural identity with traditional European, capitalist culture in twentieth century California. The novel shows the seemingly inevitable obliteration of older, communal paisano values by the American capitalistic system.
Initially, a group of paisano young men, led by Danny, live their carefree, nearly possession-free life of drinking wine, engaging in sexual and other escapades, and sleeping off the effects of both in the Monterey jail. Their human closeness and joy in living are unmistakable, but then Danny inherits property. Ownership is the essence of competitive, community-destroying Western capitalism. Danny’s friend Pillon immediately predicts that Danny, having been “lifted above thy friends. . . . wilt forget thy friends who shared everything with thee, even their brandy.” Danny objects that he will continue to share everything, even his houses, with Pillon’s response that “it would be a world wonder if it were so.”
For a time, the “world wonder” exists. Like King Arthur’s knights, an analogy expressly drawn by Steinbeck, Danny and his friends commit themselves to sharing all and helping others, adhering to traditional paisano values. Thus, when Pillon and Jesus Maria unintentionally burn one of Danny’s houses, Danny is secretly happy because the economic...
(The entire section is 459 words.)