Tortilla Flat | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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Tortilla Flat | Character Analysis



Danny is a simple, unmaterialistic person who wants a carefree life without responsibility. He and his friends have no ambitions beyond their present enjoyment. They spend what little money they have on wine, food, and gifts for women, and they do not worry about working or saving up for tomorrow. When Danny inherits two houses, he gains wealth and social status, but these have no appeal for him. He offers to share what he has, and as a result, his self-interested friends come together to form an alliance that becomes a force for good in their community.


Pilon is Danny's friend and a leader of many major escapades in the story. A highly intelligent man, Pilon uses his "pitiless logic" to rationalize behaviors like stealing and cheating. Nevertheless, Pilon is a highly moral character because he always convinces himself he is helping someone when he steals or cheats. Under the influence of Danny and Danny's house, Pilon's pretense of helping others sometimes turns real. Pilon likes to read moral lessons into every story he hears. Although he is very intelligent, his efforts sometimes sound simplistic.


Among Danny's friends, Pablo is known for his "artistic ingenuousness." He rarely acts as a leader within the group, but his influence adds artistic and romantic flair to shared schemes. Pablo, who enjoys ambiguity and uncertainty, acts as a counterpoint to Pilon, who prefers every event in life to have a clear, understandable lesson.

Jesus Maria Corcoran

Among Danny's friends, Jesus Maria Corcoran is known for his "gentle humanity." A genuinely empathetic man, Jesus Maria often offers help to people in pain. He offers shelter in Danny's house to a father with a sick baby. Later, Jesus Maria leads the group in an effort to feed a hungry Tortilla Flat family. Unlike Pilon's schemes, Jesus Maria's adventures rarely have obvious selfish benefits for Danny and his friends. However, the friends do personally gain when Jesus Maria leads them into action.

Big Joe Portagee

Unlike Danny's other friends, Big Joe is "not very moral." This description may initially seem odd in a book full of men who constantly lie, steal, and cheat to get what they want, but Danny's other friends follow a strict moral code. For example, they never steal from each other, and they only take things they can claim are lost. Big Joe just takes anything he wants, no matter what. Danny and the others sometimes resort to violence to force Big Joe to follow their code.

The Pirate

When the Pirate is introduced into the story, he has no friends except dogs, and he lives in squalor on scraps, stashing away the little money he earns every day. Danny and his friends invite the Pirate to live with them so they can get this money. When the Pirate explains he is saving the money for a gift to Saint Francis and asks for their help protecting it, the friends cannot refuse without breaking their ethical code. The Pirate probably does benefit from his association with Danny and his friends. They give him companionship and a life of relative comfort. But they benefit from his presence, too. He feeds the household and happily does the kind of physical labor the others always avoid.

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