Posts Tagged ‘Salinas’

Tortilla Flat was among Steinbeck’s first published novels. He attempts to mimic the Arthurian legend of the nights of the round table in the spirit of the Paisano population of Monterey Bay, California. After the novel was published Steinbeck was horrified that readers looked down upon the characters who he had meant to be seen as heroic in a simple fashion; Steinbeck stated, “I wrote these stories because they were true stories and I liked them. But literary slummers have taken these people up with the vulgarity of duchesses who are amused and sorry for a peasantry. These stories are out, and I cannot recall them. But I shall never again subject to the vulgar touch of the decent these good people of laughter and kindness, of honest lusts and direct eyes, of courtesy beyond politeness.” Steinbeck was able to see the good in humanity, even when it was disguised behind alcoholism, thievery, violence, and lust.

Steinbeck uses archaic language like “dost thou and hast thou” to emphasize the Arthurian feel. Unfortunately this technique was counter productive for me. Each time I read a comment like this, it pulled me out of the story. I’m not sure if this dialect was still used in the early twentieth century, but it feels out of context, and unnatural coming from these men who steal food and wine, and whose base concerns are keeping gallons of whine in the house. While they do many good deeds for the community, there is always an underlying greed that gets in the way of the reader recognizing their humanitarian efforts. Only Danny, the main character who represents King Arthur, can come close to being considered selfless, because he offers his home to anyone in need and hardly bothers to wake when he’s told his friends have burned down his second home.

Additionally there were several references to the “miserly Jew” and I wonder if Steinbeck was anti-Semitic, or if this was merely a cliche concept that he was portraying. Overall the book was a decent and quick read.