Tortilla Flat Review

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Jewelers put diamonds and sapphires on velvet in order to display the jewels and make them look more impressive. In Tortilla Flat, John Steinbeck is the jeweler and his characters are the diamonds. Steinbeck’s embellished tone toward his characters is a pretense to show off his characters and present them as more admirable and chivalric than their outward actions would honestly allow. His admiring tone towards his characters in Tortilla Flat contributes to the emphasis of “simple things” presented throughout the novel. Each chapter in Tortilla Flat is a stand-alone narrative, and the title of each one humorously makes the reader assume that the characters are going to accomplish great feats, but really the characters do not do anything spectacular. For example, the chapter entitled “Of the Sadness of Danny. How Through Sacrifice Danny’s Friends Gave a Party. How Danny Was Translated.” is about the characters throwing Danny a drunken party and how Danny dies by falling off a cliff. There is nothing unusually spiritual or inspiring about Danny’s “translation”. He just dies. Steinbeck’s ploy lures readers into thinking that the characters are going to achieve great, impressive deeds, but really their actions are insignificant. “Mock-heroic ostensibly treats as if they were heroic individuals who, by virtue of their character and their class, everyone knows cannot be heroic. Now pastoral does virtually the same thing but in sentimental fashion… and for different purposes.” (61 Stanley) Steinbeck even compares his characters to Robin Hood – they steal and give to the needy – and to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Steinbeck presents his characters in this chivalric way in order to convince the reader that they are worthwhile characters who enjoy living the simple life. Primitivism, the valuing of uncivilized and backward cultures, is a prevalent motif throughout his novel; the characters and their actions are undoubtedly simple, but...
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