Tortilla Flat Assignment (Due 2/22)


Reading Steinbeck formally

Your goal in this assignment is to analyze the following excerpt from Tortilla Flat in terms of characterization, setting, and narrator.  (Consult the “Formalist” handout on our coursesite.)  To successfully complete the assignment, you should do the following:

  1. underline, highlight, circle, box, bracket, etc., all the pieces of the excerpt that demonstrate our three categories;
  2. carefully annotate how the marked piece of text demonstrates some formalist category, e.g. “Characterization: indirect definition; description; trait = greedy” or “Narrator: overt: generalization = Narrator reveals what all women in TF desire,” etc.
  3. after you’ve annotated the text, provide three examples of how this excerpt connects to broader, more general formal or thematic patterns in Tortilla Flat.  For this, you will need to compose a separate page to list your three examples.  An example might look something like this:

“the front yard” – – setting; spatial = neither the house nor the street. The fact that Sweets sets her ‘trap’ in the front yard is important because the front yard demarcates a space that is neither private (the interior of the house) nor public (the road).  Traditionally, these two spaces are coded by gender: the interior of the house belongs to women, and the road or public space belongs to men.  Sweets’s yard stands in between these spaces, and this reflects the ambiguity of her character – – she is both sexy (female) and predatory (male).  Women like Tia Ignacia, Terasina Cortez and others are defined by their sexuality in Tortilla Flat; they are also associated with ambition, status and commodities, as with Sweets’ vacuum cleaner.  They are representatives of the more conventional social order.  The paisanos are not . . . “

You should write a couple of paragraphs connecting the particular formal example to these broader structures.  Your goal is to explain how this little bit of text “fits” with the broader meanings and features of the narrative.

On Wed., February 22, you will hand in your assignment, which should consist of 1) the marked up excerpt and 2) a couple of attached, typed pages that explain your three examples.




from Tortilla Flat (Chapter XVII, p. 171-2)


Is it any wonder that the friends could not stand the shame and misery of it? For a little while they slunk along the sidewalk, bolstered with heroism.

Jesus Maria broke down first.  He sobbed with shame, for his father had been a rich and respected prize-fighter.  Jesus Maria put down his head and bolted; and the five other friends followed, and the five dogs bounded behind them.

Before the procession was in sight, Danny’s friends were lying in the tall grass that edged the cemetery.  The service was short and military.  The casket was lowered; the rifles cracked; the bugle sang taps, and at the sound Enrique and Fluff, Pajarito and Rudolph and Senor Alec Thompson laid back their heads and howled.  The Pirate was proud of them then!

But it was over too soon; the friends walked hurriedly away so that the people would not see them.

They had to pass Torrelli’s deserted house anyway, on the way home.  Pilon went in through a window and brought out two gallons of wine.  And then they walked slowly back to Danny’s quiet house.  Ceremoniously they filled the fruit jars and drank.

“Danny liked wine,” they said.  “Danny was happy when he had a little wine.”

The afternoon passed, and the evening came.  Each man, as he sipped his wine, roved through his past.  At seven o’clock a shamed Tito Ralph came in with a box of cigars he had won on a punch board.  The friends lighted the cigars and spat, and opened the second gallon.  Pablo  tried a few notes of the song ‘Tuli Pan,’ to see whether his voice was gone for good.



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