Places Discussed

Tortilla Flat

Tortilla Flat. Impoverished neighborhood outside Monterey, California, in which “paisanos” (people of mixed Spanish, Indian, Mexican, and Anglo heritage) live. It is a barrio neighborhood on a hill where the forest and town “intermingle” above the beauty of nearby Monterey. Its streets are unpaved and its corners are free of street lights.

The subculture of Tortilla Flat provides a striking contrast to the natural beauty of the local region, as well as to the wealth of Monterey. Within this lowest existence, humans live and die, enduring misery and enjoying pleasure. The place demonstrates inequities of life in this region and accentuates human suffering. It also reveals humorous but humble attempts to rectify such inequities through rationalization, insubordination, and above all, fraternization. The intensity seen in the inhabitants of this place generates sympathy and ultimately serves to raise questions about the capitalist assumptions of the privileged class.


*Monterey. Beautiful old Northern California city on the Pacific coast that represents the opposite of life in Tortilla Flat. Monterey reflects a social and economic status to which the paisanos never can aspire, but one whose values occasionally infiltrate the residents of Tortilla Flat causing them the anxiety of living with a liminal mentality of wanting what they cannot have and having what they do not want....

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Benson, Jackson J., ed. The Short Novels of John Steinbeck: Critical Essays with a Checklist to Steinbeck Criticism. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1990. A comprehensive collection of investigations into Steinbeck’s characters, technique, and motivation. Complete bibliography.

Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography, 1929-1941. Vol. 5. Detroit: Gale Research, 1989. Brief discussions of all Steinbeck’s major works, set in the context of his life.

Ferrell, Keith. John Steinbeck: The Voice of the Land. New York: Evans, 1986. An introduction to Steinbeck’s life and work written especially for secondary-school students.

Hayashi, Tetsumaro, ed. A Study Guide to Steinbeck: A Handbook to His Major Works. Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press, 1974. Introduction to Steinbeck’s works.

Hughes, R. S. John Steinbeck: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Macmillan, 1988. A behind-the-scenes look at the creation of Steinbeck’s short fiction, including summaries of published literary criticism.