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Tortilla Flat

John Steinbeck

Study Questions

Further study Study Questions

Do you think that Steinbeck intends for the paisanos to be viewed as model citizens or heroes? Why or why not?

Although there is no definite answer to this question, it seems like Steinbeck is aware of the faults of the paisano lifestyle. He never tries to hide the fact that they are committing crimes. Rather than portraying the paisanos as model citizens, he seems to be trying to show that they possess certain values that he sees lacking in his contemporary society. The paisanos have a degree of freedom that no one with a job, responsibility, or commitment can experience. They can spend their days any way that they want to. Instead of wasting their days trying to earn money or seduce women, or make names for themselves, they lay around relishing in the joys of companionship and nature. Steinbeck seems to be trying to point out that in the complexity of modern life, simple pleasures like freedom and friendship are often overlooked in favor of luxury and comfort.

Instead of modeling our lives after the paisanos, a good idea would be to apply the things that make their lives so endearing to our own. Like Pilon, we should pause occasionally to appreciate the wonders of nature and spirituality. Like the Pirate, we should occasionally trust our friends instead of always suspecting them of plots. Like Jesus Maria, we should care less about acquiring luxury for ourselves when there are people so much less fortunate than ourselves. Like Big Joe, sometimes we should just sleep. And finally, like Danny, we should do all that we can to enjoy our lives and not dwell on the fact that death is coming for us all, but rage against it instead.

Do you think that Pilon and the rest of the conspirators would really have helped the Pirate, or would they have taken advantage of him and spent his money greedily?

Right up until the moment in which the Pirate hands over the money, the paisanos were willing to at least divert part of it. The narrator comments, "So it was over, all hope of diverting the money…. [T]heir defeat was bitter. There was nothing in the world they could do about it. Their chance had come, and it had gone." When the Pirate gives them the money and then tells them the story about the sick dog, he appeals to their morals with his simplicity, innocence, and sincerity. There is no way that any of the paisanos would have been able to justify the theft to their consciences after they knew the purpose of the money.

If the paisanos had somehow acquired the money before the Pirate could hand it over, however, it is reasonable to assume that they would have scammed him out of some part of it. Pilon thought that the Pirate was only hiding the money because he was not intelligent enough to know what to do with it. He would have made sure that the pirate was taken care of, but then he would have appropriated the rest of the money for his services.