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English-Special Question - John Steinbeck




 

 

 

English-Special Question

 

"John Steinbeck"




1.     Biography of John Steinbeck

2.     Bookreport: Of Mice and Men

3.     Bookreport: The Grapes of Wrath

4.     Bookreport: Tortilla Flat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Biography of John Steinbeck:

John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California in 1902 and attended Stanford University intermittently between 1920 and 1926. Steinbeck did not graduate from Stanford, but chose to support himself through manual labor instead while writing. His experiences among the working classes in California lent authenticity to his depiction of the lives of the workers who are the central characters of his most important novels. Steinbeck spent much of his life in Monterey County, which later was the setting of some of his fiction.

Steinbeck's first novel, "Cup of Gold" was published in 1929, and was followed three years later by "The Pastures of Heaven" and, in 1933, "To a God Unknown". However, these first three novels were unsuccessful both critically and commercially. Steinbeck had his first success with "Tortilla Flat" in 1935, an affectionately told story of Mexican-Americans told with gentle humor. His subsequent novel, "In Dubious Battle" (1936) was marked by an unrelenting grimness. This novel is a classic account of a strike by agricultural laborers and a pair of Marxist labor organizers who engineer it, and is the first Steinbeck novel to encompass the striking social commentary of his most notable work. Steinbeck received even greater acclaim for the novella "Of Mice and Men" (1937), a tragic story about the strange, complex bond between two migrant laborers. His crowning achievement, "The Grapes of Wrath", won Steinbeck the Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award. It was also adapted into a classic film directed by John Ford that was named one of the American Film Institute's one hundred greatest films. The novel describes the migration of a dispossessed family from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl to California and describes their subsequent exploitation by a ruthless system of agricultural economics.

After the best-selling success of "The Grapes of Wrath", Steinbeck went to Mexico to get marine life with the freelance biologist Edward F. Ricketts, and the two men collaborated in writing "Sea of Cortez" (1941), a study of the fauna of the Gulf of California. During the Second World War, Steinbeck wrote some effective pieces of government propaganda, among them "The Moon Is Down" (1942), a novel about Norwegians under the Nazis. He also served as a war correspondent. With the end of World War II and the move from the Great Depression to economic prosperity Steinbeck's work did soften somewhat. While containing the elements of social criticism that marked his earlier work, the three novels Steinbeck published immediately following the war ­ "Cannery Row" (1945), "The Pearl" and "The Bus" (both 1947) were more sentimental and relaxed in approach. Steinbeck also contributed to several screenplays. He wrote the original stories for several films, including "Lifeboat" (1944), directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and "A Medal for Benny", and wrote the screenplay for Elia Kazan's "Viva Zapata!", a biographical film about Emiliano Zapata, the Mexican peasant who rose to the presidency. Steinbeck's later writings were comparatively slight works of entertainment and journalism, but he did make conscientious attempts to reassert his stature as a major novelist: "Burning Bright" (1950), "East of Eden" (1952), and "The Winter of Our Discontent" (1961). None of these works equaled the critical reputation of his earlier novels. Steinbeck's reputation depends mostly on the naturalistic novels with proletarian themes he wrote during the Depression. It is in these works that Steinbeck is not effective in his building of rich symbolic structures and his attempts at conveying the archetypal qualities of his characters. Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1962, and died in New York City in 1968.  

Next to "The Grapes of Wrath" also "Mice and Men" and "East of Eden" were turned into famous movies.

 

John Steinbeck wass married three times. From 1930 till 1942 to Carol Henning, From 1943 till 1948 to Gwyndolyn Conger and from 1950 on to Elaine Scott. With his second wife he also had two sons. Steinbeck liked writing, but he didn´t liked the fame connected with it. He hardly ever gave interviews and never wanted reporters to know anything about his private life. Among his friends there were famous men like Elia Kazan, Arthur Miller and John Houston.

 

 

Bookreport:

OF MICE AND MEN

Date of publication: 1966, by William Heinemann

Plot synopsis: Lennie and George are two farmhands. They travel through the country, working on farms. They travel together and take care of each other.

George is little but clever whereas Lenny is tall but stupid. They have a dream that keeps them alive. They want to have their own farm, with rabbits and cows. But whenever they seem to be doing fine, Lennie gets into truble. This time it seems as if their dream will become true, they have most of the money they need to buy a farm. But then Lennie gets into trouble and accidentally kills the owner´s son´s wife. George is afraid that the other men will kill Lennie if they find him, so he mercifully shoots him at the river where their journey started from.

Main characters:

Lennie: He is a big and strong but gentle man with the brain of a four-year-old child. He grew up in the same village as George. After his mother´s death he was living with his aunt. As she died he and George went to work on farms. Lennie´s dream is to look after the rabbits on the farm that he and George will buy some day. Lennie often gets into trouble because he does not know what to do and because he likes to touch soft things like mice. For example: George and Lennie are just walking along the street as Lennie takes something out of his pocket. "What have you just taken out of your pocket." George asked. Lennie held his closed hand away from George. "It is only a mouse, George. It´s dead. I didn´t kill it. I found it dead." "Give it to me," George said again. "Let me keep it. I like stroking it while we are walking along." (p 7)

As he wants to touch Curley´s wife´s dress she starts to cry, so he puts his hand on her mouth and neck and accidently kills her. Lennie is just touching Curley´s wife´s hair. "That´s nice," said Lennie, and he stroked harder. "Oh that ´s nice."  "Be careful, you´ll make it untidy," she repeated, and then she cried angrily, "Stop now.You´ll make my hair all untidy." She moved her head quickly and Lennie  grabbed her hair and held it tightly. "Let go!" she screamed. "Let go!" The girl screamed again, and Lennie put his other hand over her mouth and nose. "Please don ´t yell," he begged. "George will be angry.""I don´t want to hurt you ," he said, "but George will be angry if you yell." When she neither answered nor moved he bent down over her. He lifted her arm and let it drop. For a moment he seemed confused. Then he whispered if fear, "I´ve done a bad thing. I´ve done another bad thing."  (p 72 & 73)

George: He is Lennie´s best and only friend. George is clever and looks after Lennie because he promised it to Lennie´s aunt. He looks for work for them and tries to keep him out of trouble, which hardly ever works. He often keeps saying:"If I didn´t have you with me all the time, I could have an easier life." (p 10) He and Lennie want to buy a farm together. George often has to tell Lennie about the farm, because he enjoys hearing about it. At the end of the story George cannot help Lennie out of trouble anymore. So he has to kill him before the other men come and kill Lennie. George kills Lennie in the happiest moment of his life, telling him about their farm.

"Look across the river and try to imagine you can see the ranch."

Lennie obeyed him. George looked down at the pistol. "Go on, George," Lennie said once more. "When are we going to the ranch?" "We are going there soon." "You and I, together," said Lennie. "Yes together," said George. "Everybody will be kind to you. There won´t be any more trouble. Nobody will hurt anybody and nobody will steal anything from anybody." Lennie said, "I thought you were angry with me, George."

"No," said George, "I´m not angry now. That´s something I want you to understand." Now the men´s voices were very close. George listened to them and raised the pistol. "Let´s go to the ranch now," Lennie said. "Let´s get that ranch now." "Of course," said George. "We´ll do it now." George raised the pistol, held it steadily and pointed it at the back of Lennie´s head. His hand started to shake violently, but he knew that he had to do and his hand became steady again. He pulled the trigger. (p 83 & 84)

Curley:  He is the son of the owner of the ranch George and Lennie work at, but he acts as if he was the owner. He is small but nevertheless very strong and is looking for fights all the time. Some years ago he did some boxing. He can´t stand Lennie because he is so tall. Once Curley wants to beat Lennie up but the result is that Curley´s hand is broken. Lennie moved backwards until he was against the wall, and Curley followed, hitting him in the face again and again. Lennie´s hands remained at his sides; he was too frightened to defend himself. George stood up and yelled, "Get him, Lennie. Don ´t let him hit you!" Lennie took his hand away from his face and looked around for George, and Curley attacked his eyes. Lennie´s big face was covered with blood. "Get him!" George yelled again. Curley was just going to hit Lennie again when Lennie grabbed Curley´s fist. After a few seconds, Curley was struggling helplessly, and his closed fist was trapped in Lennie´s big hand. George ran across to them. "Let go of him, Lennie," he shouted. "Let go!" But Lennie was terrified now. He watched the struggling little man whom he held, and did not let go. Blood ran down Lennie´s face; one of his eyes was cut and closed. George slapped his face again and again, but Lennie still did not let go of Curley´s fist. Curley´s face went white and his struggling became weak. He started to cry, and his fist remained trapped in Lennie´s huge hand. Again George shouted, "Let go of his hand, Lennie. Let go! Slim come and help me." Suddenly Lennie let go of Curley´s fist and sank down against the wall. "You told me to get him, George," he said miserably. (p 50 & 51)  Curley has also problems with his wife, who is a slut. But as he sees that Lennie has killed his wife he gets angry and wants to hang him.



Curley´s wife:  She is a pretty young woman who flirts with every man she meets. She wants everybody to fall in love with her. She even tries to attract Lennie but he is too simple. While talking to Candy and Crooks she tells that she isn´t lucky to be married with Curley. "Of course I´ve got a husband," she said. "You´ve all seen him. What a husband! He spends all his time saying he´s going to hit someone. I have to stay in that little house and listen to Curley telling he is going to fight somebody." (p62)   She turned to Lennie. "I´m glad you hurt Curley," she said. "He deserves it. Sometimes I´d like to hit him myself." (p 66)

She says that she could have easily become a film star, a producer has told her so. Most of the men just believe that she is a whore. George looked at Lennie. "My god what a whore! So that ´s the woman Curley married." "She´s pretty," Lennie said. "Yes, and she likes everybody to see that," George replied. "Curley´s going to have a hard time with her. I bet she´d run away with any man who paid her twenty dollars." (p 26)

Slim: He works at the same farm as Lennie and George. He is a quite intelligent fellow, and whatever he says is right and has to be done. Curley believes that his wife and Slim are having an affair. There were footsteps behind her, going past the bunk-house. She turned her head and said, "Hello Slim." "Hello beautiful," Slim´s voice answered. "I´m trying to find Curley Slim," the girl continued. "Well you´re not trying very hard," Slim ´s voice came again. "I saw him going into your house." She suddenly seemed worried. "Goodbye, boys she called into the bunk-house, and hurried away." (p 26)

Candy:  He is the oldest man on the farm. A few years ago he lost his hand working with a machine. Now he is working as a room cleaner. He is an outsider just like Lennie and so they become friends. He wants to buy the farm together with George and Lennie, so that they can live together. He has an old dog that can hardly move. One day the other men go and kill his dog. Later he says:"I should have shot my dog myself. I shouldn´t have let a stranger shoot my dog." (p 49) This scene shows that he is afraid of the other men and also afraid of losing his job.

Charlton: He also works at the farm. He would like to be as important as Slim is, but nobody really respects him. He is the person who kills Candy´s dog.

Crooks: He is the only black man working on the farm. He has his own room, and keeps sitting there alone most of the time. He has got no friends, most of the workers do not know his name, they just call him nigger. He also wants to live together with George, Candy and Lennie, with whom he finally makes friends. He hesitated. ".if you..men.wanted somebody to come and work for nothing, I´d come and help you. I don ´t need money, only a bed and food. I´ve got an injured back, but I can still work very hard if I want to." (p 61)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            He has an injured back and the pain he feels makes him angry and bitter. You notice this as Lennie enters his room. "You have no right to come here," Crooks said sharply. "This is my room. I´m the only one who´s got the right to come in." (p 55)

 

Interpretation: Although this wasn´t the best book I´ve ever read, it was the one with the best message behind it. Not just that one person looks after the other and tries to keep the other one out of trouble, which is real friendship, George´s care of his friend even leads to his killing him, even though he does not want to do that. Who knows what would have happened if the other men had caught Lennie. George tells Lennie the story he likes to listen to so much. It is the best thing that could have happened to Lennie. It could have only become worse. Lennie would have been treated like an animal and finally killed. I would also like to die like this.

But to me the title is more interesting. "Of Mice and Men". What did the author want to say with this expression? Who is a mouse and who is a man? To me Curley is one of those mice. Not just because he is so small. You don ´t know if he would have killed Lennie himself, and if he had done so, he would have just done it because of the other fellows. He ´s also a mouse because he wouldn ´t mind about killing somebody.

George however, is a man. He does something that only real men can do. Not just the fact that he kills his best friend makes him a man, there is something more. He looks after his friend even though he wouldn´t have so much trouble without him. He takes care of Lennie and helps him to survive. All the other characters like Candy and Charlton are more mice than men.

 

Personal comment: I really enjoyed reading this book. There were some strange expressions in it but after a few pages I understood everything. There were many themes in this book like the discrimination of negroes in the U.S.A.( "If I say something, the other men don´t listen because I´m just a nigger.  p 57) , mental illness and the American Dream of being successful and having a place of your own. The main theme, however, is friendship and the fact that also simple farmhands are capable of it.

 All in all, it was an interesting, sometimes funny, sometimes thrilling, story.

To me the funniest scene is the one at the beginning of the story, when George and Lennie are walking along the street. "George where are we going?" "Have you forgotten? Do I have to tell you again?" "I´m sorry, George." " I´ll tell you again. Now listen. Listen hard so that we don´t get into trouble. Do you remember when we got bus tickets and working cards from the agency in Soledad?" "Of course I do, George." Lennie put his hand into his coat pockets. Then he said, "George, I haven´t got my working card, I think I´ve lost it." "You fool, you never had your card. I´ve got it. Do you think I´ d give it to you and let you carry it.?" "I thought I put it in my pocket." "Do you remember where we are going now?" Lennie was embarrassed. He hid his face against his knees and said, "I´ve forgotten." "For God´s sake! Listen. We ´re going to work on a ranch."  Of course this scene isn ´t funny if Lennie was somebody I knew, but in this case it is.

If I could give this book a mark, it would be a 2-. 

Bookreport:

THE GRAPES OF WRATH

Date of publication: 1939, by Viking Penguin Inc.

Plot synopsis: After four years in prison for commiting homocide Tom Joad comes back to his home to find that his family has left, to go to California. They could no loger stay in Oklahoma, as the dust destroyed all the crops and tractor drivers replaced dozens of workers. Tom finds his family again, and moves on with them to the west. Also a former preacher, Jim Casey, follows the Joad family. On their journey, Granma and Granpa Joad die. In California the Oakies aren´t welcome. They have to live in Hoovervilles and state-camps. It is hard for them to find work, as there are hundreds of workers needed, but thousands of people who want to work. After comitting murder again Tom has to leave his family. As the rain starts people know that there will be no food or work too soon. Roes of Sharon, Tom Joad´s pregnant sister, goes into labor, and so the Joads can not leave the camp, allthough the place might be flooded. In a barn the Joads find a starving man, Rose of Sharon nurses the man, so that he can survive.

Main characters:

Tom Joad: He is the central figure in the Grapes of Wrath. Tom was in prison for four years for commiting homocide: he was at a dance drunk, and got into a fight with a man. The man cut Tom with a knife, so he hit him over the head with a shovel. But prison didn´t change him, he even enjoyed staying there. He was treated relatively well in McAlester. He ate regularly, got clean clothes and bathed. If he would meet Herb Turnbull, the man he killed, again he would kill him again. ´but if Herb or anybody else come for me, I´d do her again. Do her before I could figure her out. Specially if I was drunk. That sort of senselessness kind a worries a man.` (p 46) As his family sees him again, they fear that he broke out of Jail, but he was released out because of good behaviour. He is also the one who takes Jim Casey to the Joad´s farm and wants him to join them on their journey. As he is on parole, he would normally not be allowed to leave the state, but he decides to go with his family, as he would only be in danger if he comitts a crime. But his mother fears that if provoked he will do so, as she knows that he can´t keep his violent tendencies under control. As Casey knocks down a police officer Tom has to hide so that he won´t come into trouble. Casey is taken away with a pruod smile on his face. In Timothy and Wilkie Wallace Tom findes two people of the same kind as he is one. They want to build up an own administration in the camp.  In California it is hard for him to find work. He has been there for one month and has only had five days of work. As ge goes for a walk at night he meets Casy again who is on strike with a group of men. As he get´s confronted with police officers during the strike he kills Casy´s murderer. As he tells Ma that he wants to leave, she makes a last try to keep the family together and decides, that they should go all together. But as Ruthie tells some other children about Tom´s being-on-the-run he has to leave his family, but promises to return, if things become better. 




Ma Joad: She is the mother of Noah, Tom, Rose of Sharon, Ruthie and Winfield.   The scene of the family meeting where they discuss their going to California shows that she is the real leader of the family and illustrates the family´s dynamic. The numerous relatives across three generations make it difficult to figure the real head. The Joad family has Grampa as the nominal head, yet he exerts no special influence. If any member of the family leads the others, it is Ma, who dominates by moral force. It is she who issues the final verdict allowing Casy to go with them to California. While Tom Joad is the main character in The Grapes of Wrath, it is Ma Joad who is the story's moral center, reminding everyone that they have greater concerns than just their own interests ­ it would be wrong for them to refuse to give food or shelter to anyone. You can also see this in the last scene of the book. (look to Rose of Sharon´s characterisation )  During the whole novel it is her aim to bring the family to California and to keep it together (e.g. she doesn´t want to leave Tom, Casey and Al alone with the Wilson´s car for a day till it´s fixed again) . She also tells nobody that Granma is dead to get her family over the border. On the back of the truck My lay on the matress beside Granma, and she could not see with her eyes, but she could feel the struggling body and the struggling heart; and the sobbing breath was in her ear. And Ma said over and over,´All right. It´s gonna be all right.´ And she said hoarsely:´You knw the family got to get acrost. You know that.´ (p 196) ´I was afraid we wouldn´t get acrost,´she said. ´I tol´ Granma we couldn´t help her.  The fambly had ta get acrost. I tol´ her, tol´ her when she was a-dyin´. We couldn´t stop in the desert. There was the young ones - an´ Rosasharn´s baby. I tol´ her.´ ´The fambly hadda get acrost,´Ma said miserably. (p 199) But not just the death of Granpa and Granma split the family up, also the dissapperance of Noah is a shock for her. ´Family´s fallin` apart,` she said. ´Í don´t know. Seems like I can´t think no more. I jus´can´t think. They´s too much.` (p 187)

Pa Joad: Although Pa is the head of the Joad household, he is not a forceful presence. It is his wife who´s the real leader of the household. But he loves his family and his wife.

Rose of Sharon: She´s Tom Joad´s younger sister. At the beginning of the novel she´s married to Connie Rivers. They dream of buying a house of their own and their coming child, as Rosashan (= Rose of Sharon) is pregnant. Connie plans to work in a factory and take evening courses about the radio, to find a better job later. Rose of Sharon stands as a contrast to the rest of the characters in "The Grapes of Wrath". She is the only adult character who retains some sense of hope for their future; she believes in the possibility of living a decent life with her husband and child. The other characters expect little more from California than meager survival, while Rose of Sharon hopes to live the traditional American dream. She is the one beacon of hope within the Joad family.  Frustraded of how things became Connie leaves his pregnant wife. `If I´d of knowed it would be like this I wouldn´t of came. I´d studied nights ´bout tractors back home an´ got me a three-dollar job. Fella can live awful nice on three dollars a day, an´ go to the pitcher show ever´ night, too.´ (p 219) After Connie leaves her Pa claims that Connie was too big for his overally, but Ma scolds him, telling him to act respectfully as if Connie was dead. Ma said: `Rosasharn gonna have a little fella an´ that baby is half Connie. It ain´t good for a baby to grow up with a folks a-sayin´ his pa ain´t no good.` `Better lyin´ about it,` said Pa. `No, it ain´t,´ Ma interrupted. `Make out like he´s dead.` (p 238) But Rose of Sharons baby is a stillborn baby. It is put into an apple box and floated down the stream. As they see a man starving after the flood in a refugee camp, she breast feeds the dying man. She moved slowly to the corner and stood looking down at the wasted face, into the wide, frightened eyes. Then slowly she lay down beside him. He shook his head slowly from side to side. Rose of Sharon looses one side of the blanket and bared her breast. ´You got to,´ she said. She squirmed closer and pulled his head close. (p 399)

Reverend Jim Casy: He was a preacher, but he has lost his belief in God, because he doesn´t believe in the absolute idea of sin.Throughout the novel, Casy must frequently perform the duties of a preacher. Despite his conviction that he no longer believes in preaching, he is forced into performing the role, whether praying for Grampa as he suffers his stroke or saying a few parting words at his burial. This seems to indicate that Casy is best suited for the role of a preacher, despite his disenchantment with religion. In his parting words for Grampa Joad, Casy does reiterate his belief that people are the source of holiness. In a fight he knocks down a police officer, and has to go to prison. Released from there he joins the strikers, and gets killed in another confrontation. I think that Steinbeck wanted to create a Jesus Christ of his time. Both have the same initials for example. And as Jesus, Jim dies as a martyr, somehow.

Grampa Joad: He is the one out of the Joad family who doesn´t want to go west.  ´You go right on along. Me - I´m stayin´. I give her a goin´-over all night mostly. This here´s my country. I belong here. An´ I don´t give a goddamn if they´s oranges an´grapes crowdin´a fella outa bed even. I ain´t a-goin´. This country ain´t no good, but it´s my country. No, you all go ahead. I´ll jus´stay right here where I b´long.`

(p 95) After the family forcibily takes him on the journey he soon dies of a stroke. ´No,` said Pa. ´There ain´t a drop a´whisky in the house. An´ John got no whiskey. He never has one when he ain´t dinking.´ Ma said:`Tom, I got a half a bottle soothin´ syrup I got for Winfield when he had them ear-aches. Think that might work? Use ta put Winfiel´ ta sleep when his ear-ache was bad.´ `Might,´ said Tom. ´Get it, Ma. We´ll give her a try anyways.` (p 96)  As the family realize that Granpa suffers from a stroke, Granma tells Casy to pray for Grampa, even if he is no longer a preacher. Suddenly Grampa starts twitching and slumps. He dies. The Joads face a choice: they can pay fifty dollars for a proper burial for him or have him buried a pauper. They decide to bury Grampa themselves and leave a note so that people don't assume he was murdered. They write a verse from scripture on the note on his grave. After burying Grampa, they have Casy say a few words. The reactions to the death are varied. Rose of Sharon comforts Granma, while Uncle John is curiously unmoved by the turn of events. Casy admits that he knew Grampa was dying, but didn't say anything because he couldn't have helped. He blames the separation from the land for Grampa's death. Casy said:´He was foolin´, all the time. I think he knowed it the minute you took him off the place.´ (p125)

Granma Joad: Granma Joad does not survive much longer than her husband. After Granpa´s death the old lady starts to go crazy, yelling and talking to herself,  she also believes that she sees granpa. She dies as the family crosses the border to California. ´Was granma bad?` Ma looked down at her hands, lying together like tired lovers in her lap. ´I wisht I could wait an´ not tell you. I wisht it could be all - nice.` Pa said:´Then Granma´s bad.` Ma raised her eyes and looked over the valley. ´Granma´s dead.` (p 199)

Al Joad: He ist Tom Joad´s younger brother. He is 16 years old. The only things he is interested in are cars and girls. He is the one who has the most knowledge about cars, so he also fears, that if something won´t work he will be blamed for it. Al was one with his engine, every nerve listening for weaknesses, for the thumps or sequals, hums and chattering that indicate a change that may cause a breakdown. He had become the soul of the car. (p 104)  He dreams of becoming a mechanic and wants to start his own life soon. By the end of the novel he becomes engaged to Aggie Wainwright. ´Well, me an´ Aggie Wainwright, we figgers to get married, an´ I´m gona git a job in a garage, an´ we´ll have a rent´ house for a while, an´-´ He looked up fiercely. ´Well, we are, an´ they ain´t nobody can stop us!´ (p 373)

Noah Joad: He is Tom Joad´s older brother. He suffers from mental disabilities that maybe occured during childbirth. But he also cares for his family as much as possible. He leaves the family to remain an outsider. He wants to support himself by catching fish in the nearby river. ´Tom, I ain´t a-goin´ on.´ Tom sat up. ´What you mean?´ ´Tom, I ain´t gonna leave this here water. () Get myself a piece a line. I´ll catch fish. Fella can´t starve beside a nice river. (.) You know how the folks are nice to me. But they don´t really care for me. () It ain´t no use,` Noah said. ´I´m sad, but I can´t he´p it. I got to go.` (p 180) After he is gone people don´t talk about him any more. 

Interpretation: The story of the Joad family is told chronologically and in many details. To me this book is not a novel that wants to amuse and entertain, but a novel, that wants to teach you values for your life. Steinbeck wanted his readers to think about the Joad´s situation and the way how they acted in their greatest misfortune. They helped a complete stranger, even or perhaps because they were close to death themselves.

I also understand how it comes, that Christian fundamentalists put this book on to the index. A preacher who has lost his belief in God and becomes a communist. And the similarities between Jim and Jesus. (explained earlier) Also the scene as Uncle John puts the stillborn baby into an apple box and sends it down the river, reminds of Moses.

Personal comment: It is a book that only Steinbeck can write it. He was writing about the lower class he lived in. Of course he used the typical slang, which you get used to quite soon. Steinbeck used too many words to describe the surroundings, and sometimes he forgot that he should be telling a story. Parts of the should have better become the additional word to a picture book about Oklahoma, Arizona and California. I liked reading Tortillia Flat and Of Mice and Man as both were funny, but as I already said this book´s aim is not the one to entertain, but to turn the world into a better place.

Of course also the American Dream is a major theme of the book. Rose of Sharon and Connie and also Al are a symbol for that.

Bookreport:

TORTILLA FLAT

Date of publication: Tortilla Flat was first Published in 1935 by MacIntosh and Otis Inc., NewYork

Plot synopsis: Danny comes home from the army and learns that his grandfather died and left him two small houses. The responsibilty weighs him down, so he first gets two gallons of wine before he takes a look at his property. While he is drunk he breaks some windows, so he has got to go to prison for thirty days.



As he is released he goes to live in his house, his friend Pilon move in the other house. Soon also Pablo and Jesus Maria Corcoran move with Pilon. As their house burns down they move in with Danny. They also ask the Pirate and his dogs to live with them as they want to steal his money, which doesn´t work. Also another of Danny´s friends comes to live with them, Big Joe Portagee. Together the friends go through various adventures and funny stories. Everybody except Danny seems to enjoy life. But he has problems as he can´t forget the responsibility he has. So he sells the house and lives like a tramp. But his friends bring him back to his home and they give a party for him. But Danny who isn´t happy at all about the party dies that night. After Danny´s funeral (the friends can´t attend it, as they have no clothes for such an event) they go to Danny´s house again and burn it, so that no stranger would own this symbol of holy friendship. The next morning all friends leave, alone.

Main characters:

Danny: He is the central figure of the story. After coming home from the army Danny finds himself the owner of two houses. When Danny hears about it, he is weighed down by the responsibility of ownership. Before he ever went to look at his property he bought a gallon of red wine and drank most of it himself. The weight of responsibility left him then, and his very worst nature came to surface. (p 11) So he is also put in prison. Danny´s great respect for the law caused him to go quietly. If he had not just been discharged from the army after the victory over Germany, he would have been sentenced to six months. As it was, the judge gave him only thirty days. (p 12) Danny is very hopitable, so he invites a friend, Pilon, to live in the other house. First they decide that Pilon should pay fiftteen dollars to live in the house but he never does. It is impossible to say whether Danny expected any rent, or whether Pilon expected to pay any.If they did, both were disappointed. Danny never asked for it, and Pilon never offered it. (p28) After Pilon and Pablo burn down Danny´s house (the one they "rented") they go to live with Danny in his house. Once Dany said: "Pilon I swear, what I have is thine.While I have a house, thou hast a house." (p 19)  Also as they get to know the Pirate better Danny shows his big heart."Poor little lonely man," Danny added. "If I had known, I would have asked him long ago, even if he had no treasure."(p 86) All his friends are happy about the life they have. The friends had sunk into a routine which might have been monotonous for anyone but a paisano - up in the morning, to sit in the sun and wonder what the Pirate would bring. Occasionally the friends procured some wine, and then there was singing and fighting. (p 202,203) But Danny wasn´t happy about the situation at all. When Danny thought of the old lost time, he could taste again how good the stolen food was, and he longed for that old time again. Since his inheritance had lifted him, he had not fought often. He had been drunk, but not adventurously so. Always the weight of the house was upon him; always the responsibility to his friends. (p 203) To get out of this situation he runs away one night. Soon his friend are worried about what Danny is doing and search for him. Danny also sells the house to Torelli, a local shop owner. But the friends steal the paper that proves that Danny sold the house, so they can go on living there. (p 211-217)

As Danny returns he thinks about his friends again and brings them something to eat. (p 219)  But something is wrong with Danny, he isn´t the way he was before. When Danny came back to his house and to his friends after his amok, he was not conscience-stricken, but he was very tired. The rough fingers of violent experience had harped upon his soul. He began to live listlessly, arising from bed only to sit on the porch, under the rose of Castile; arising from the porch only to eat; arising from the table only to go to bed. (p220)

To honour Danny and to make him feel better again the friends give a party. But Danny isn´t interested in it, he isn´t interested in anything. And Danny? He sat like a half-melted man. He moved only when the sun moved. If he realized that every inhabitant of Tortilla Flat had passed his gate that afternoon, he gave no sighn. Poor Danny! At least two dozen pairs of eyes watched his front gate. ( p 225)

It is a great party. Never had there been so many fights between two men, but roaring battles that raged through whole clots of men,each one for himself. As Danny comes to the party he is completely drunk and wants to fight somebody, as he is unable to find an enemy he leaves the house and goes out in the garden. There he falls or jumps into a gulch. They heard is last shrill cry of defiance, and then a thump. And then silence. (p 233)  He is still alive as Pilon finds him at the bottom of the gulch but a few minutes later he dies. 

Pilon: He likes the easy way of life. If somebody asks him to do something he will find an excuse for not doing it. "It would be nice to clean that window with soap and water," Danny said one time. Pilon´s sharp mind leaped to the problem with energy, but it was too easy for him. It did not require a decent quota of his powers. "More light would get in," he said. "We would not spend so much time out in the air if it were light in here. And at night, when the air is poisonous, we have no need for light."(p 186) But he is also grateful for what he gets and wants to show this also to Danny by searching for a tresure for him. I am digging this tresure for Danny. (p 103) He is also much more focused on money than his friends. (e.g. he is the one who wants to steal the Pirate´s treasure first, the others have seen the Pirate having money but they never cared. P 73 ->) Pilon is also interested in what is going on in Tortilla Flat. Pilon knew everybody and everything about everybody. (p74)    

Pablo: There isn´t much to say about Pablo. He is also a friend of Pilon, so it comes that he lives with them together in the house. He isn´t very intelligent.

Jesus Maria Corcoran: He is described as the most positive character next to Danny. His heart was free for the use of anyone who had a use for it. His resources and wits were at the disposal of anyone who had less of either than had Jesus Maria. (p 136) It has been said that Jesus Maria Corcoran was a greathearted man. He had also that gift some humanitarians possess of being inevitably drawn toward those spheres where his instinct was needed. How many times had he not come upon young ladies when they needed comforting. (p 179)

The Pirate: He is quite lonely before he comes to live with the others. Before he goes there he has no friends at all. People think of him as just another one who is mad. Also the fact that he lives with his dogs in a chicken house doesn´t make him very poular. He has got something like a regular job: he cuts pinewood and sells it later. The friends think that he has a treasure, but once he swore that he would buy a candlestick if one of his dogs became well again and so he does, and the friends don´t get his money. (p 73 ->)

Big Joe Portagee: He is also one of Danny´s friends who comes to live with them. He was also in the army like Pilon and Danny. He isn´t very intelligent either and never stays awake very long when he is not moving. His role isn´t so important for the novel. There are only two episodes, where he takes a mayor part. Chapter 11 and as he is threeatened for stealing the Pirates money.

Interpretation: Just like in "Of Mice and Men" Steinbeck described a friendhip between men. "It is good to have friends," said Danny. "How lonely it is in the world if there are no friends to sit with one and to share one´s grappa." (p 70) And just like in "Of Mice and Men" there is no happy ending for the friendship of the men. Steinbeck used some chapters to write about ethic principles. (e.g. the episode with der corporal, or the episode as they hepl Teresina Cortez and her eight litte children by stealing food for them) Steinbeck invented "Tortilla Flat" and its citizens to describe the Mexican-Americans and their way of life.

Many people liked the vision Stenbeck had. Thousands of people, among them also Charlie Chaplin, came to Monterey to see this ideal place. It was a real fascination for the people of that time to read that there should be a place like Tortilla Flat in their country. A place where friendship is really existing and people aren´t always thinking of profit and business but from one bottle of wine to the next.

The book is not structured like a normal novel. There isn´t a story that goes through the book. First the situation is built up, and then the various episodes follow. I thought that in the end  all the episodes might come together but even as they do not, the reader isn´t disapointed or confused, as Steinbeck knew what he wanted to tell his readers.

The book isn´t full of social criticism like "The Grapes of Wrath". Bt just like in the "Grapes of Wrath" he describes the country in a fascinating way. (e.g. the beginnig of chapter 5)

What confused me was when Steinbeck somehow seemed to enter the story. Oh, beware, Torelli, when Pilon moves smiling on you! ( p 215) 

Personal comment: I liked reading "Tortilla Flat". The book was written in a lively and humorous way. Some of the adventures the friends went through were funny, others like the one with the caporal (p 136 ->) made you think of the situation. (Jesus Maria meets a corporal and his baby and brings them to their home. The corporal tells the friends that his wife, the one he has the baby with, is now in love with a capitan, and that this capitan made the corporal leave Mexico. While the baby is dying the corporal tells the friends that he want´s his son to become a general, so he tell´s this the baby twenty times a day. The friends think that he wants his son to become a general to take revenge. But the corporal tells the friends that he wants his son to become a general because he wants him to have more good things than he had. In the end the baby dies.)

What I also found very funny were the Spanish expressions Steinbeck used to catch the mentality of the paisanos.

 










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