Turned down by nine publishers before it was accepted, Tortilla Flat earned the California Literature Gold Medal in 1936 and became one of John Steinbeck’s most popular and highly acclaimed works, despite the fact that it was denounced by the Monterey Chamber of Commerce. It was the first of Steinbeck’s novels to look at life through the eyes of those without homes, possessions, or security, and Danny and his friends foreshadow others of their kind who appear powerfully and poignantly in such distinguished later works as In Dubious Battle (1936), Of Mice and Men (1937), and The Grapes of Wrath (1939).
Steinbeck wrote Tortilla Flat as a series of episodes with long subtitles in the style of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (1485). In his preface, the author compares the escapades of Danny and his friends with the events of King Arthur’s Round Table: the formation of the association, the heroic deeds of its members, the passing of the almost deified king, and the subsequent dissolution of the brotherhood. The imitation is further enhanced by the use of “thee” and “thy” in the speech of the friends. Steinbeck was never a regional writer, but he was a writer of his locale, his inspiration a unique product of California, especially during the years of the Great Depression. As he was a man of place, so too are his characters. Danny and his friends exist in a deep and fundamental relationship with Tortilla Flat. It is so saturated with their spirit and melded with their consciousness that the...
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