Friendship as a True Value

June 11, 2021

A novella “Tortilla Flat”, which was written in 1935 by John Steinbeck, portrays adventures of a group of friends, who live in Monterey, California. In times of Great Depression people were struggling to cope with poverty, unemployment, and homelessness. As the main characters of this book have no home, no money, and no job, they can easily sleep in the forest, get drunk, or even steal from other people. Because of that, readers usually treat them negatively as weird, ignorant, and dispossessed persons, or even as bums (Fensch 32). However, the author did not want his characters to be judged; as he stated in 1937, “They are people whom I know and like, people who merge successfully with their habitat” (Steinbeck). Thus, Steinbeck wanted to show that they were free from materialistic world, and had spiritual values, like friendship. In such tough times, these people managed to demonstrate generosity, equality, respect, ability to care, ability to justify a trust, as well as readiness to help and share, which proves that friendship is a true value for them.

Generosity and equality

The main character of this book and the one who united the group of friends is Danny. Having returned from the World War, he inherits two houses. With this property, Danny also gains responsibility and an opportunity to get a new status – a higher position in the society. However, he feels unhappy about being over. The main character gets into jail for almost a month and forgets about his ownership. It is only after meeting his friend Pilon, who shares a bottle of brandy with him, that Danny remembers that they have no need to sleep in the forest. With no doubts, Danny invites Pilon to his house, treating him as equal, without selfishness, greediness or cockiness.

Danny and Pilon agree that the last will rent the second house for fifteen dollars. However, it is obvious for both of them that Pilon will not pay any rent. Probably, Danny does not even expect any rent, which shows his generosity. The relationship between the friends does not depend on money. They are always ready to share what they have with each other.

Later, two more friends, Pablo and Jesus Maria Concoran, move in that house with Pilon. When one day the house gets burnt down accidentally, surprisingly, Danny is not angry about that. On the contrary, he feels a relief and thinks: “If it were still there, I would be covetous of the rent. My friends have been cool toward me because they owed me money. Now we can be free and happy again” (Steinbeck ch. 6). This means that friendship is much more important for him than money and property. Danny accepts the idea that they all move into his house with just one restriction: his friends must keep out of his bed. He feels no sorrow that out of two houses, this is just one bed that is left for him.

Ability to care and to justify a trust

The friends live together sharing food and wine. They usually steal picnic baskets from rich people, exchange things from the house for wine or just steal it from the local miser Torelli; they get drunk together; they can even argue or fight. Thus, it may seem that they are just lazy alcoholics and thieves. However, the character of the Pirate, a man with a big body and a child’s mind, reveals that they can be caring, supportive, and reliable. The Pirate is honest, sincere, and gullible. As Pilon guesses that he has some savings, he is planning to take his money. He does not consider it as a robbery and justifies himself with the fact that if he uses the Pirate’s money, the Pirate can use his mind. The group invites Pirate to their house and treats him as a friend. In gratitude for such a good attitude, Pirate brings his savings to Danny’s house, hoping that his friends will save them for him. When Pirate explains his intention to spend this money on a gold candlestick for San Francisco, who, as he believes, saved his dog from death, the friends support his aim and never touch his money. Moreover, they help him to raise a required amount of money. Thus, even if they had bad intentions at first, they were able to change their mind, which proves that moral values and friendship matter for them more than money.

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As the author stated, “The bag of money had became the symbolic center of the friendship, the point of trust about which the fraternity revolved” (Steinbeck ch. 12). The friends were proud of being a kind of personalities, one can trust. One day they discovered that the bag with money was not there. It was another friend of theirs, Big Joe, who took it. As it was already the second time Big Joe stole from his friends, they punished him and he had nothing to do but to confess and give money back. It means that each member of the group had to follow some rules. At that moment they discovered that Pirate has enough money to buy a candlestick. However, he had no clothes to wear to church. Thus, the friends decided to lend him their clothes: Jesus Maria gave him a coat and a vest, Pilon gave him a hat, Danny gave him a shirt, and Big Joe gave him blue pants. This is how the friends show their generosity, ability to care, and support.

That was a holiday not just for the Pirate, but for the whole company; they felt excited and proud. They bought food and wine for the rest of money to make a party for the Pirate. The Pirate probably was the one who valued this friendship most of all; he was happy and pleased that someone worried about him, and he could take care of someone. That is a true and the most obvious expression of friendship described in this novella.

Respect and feeling of gratefulness

Pilon, being quite an ambiguous character, was able to distinguish between wrong and right actions. Thus, when Big Joe just joined the group, he stole a blanket from Danny’s house and changed it for some wine. Pilon got furious about that situation. As for him, it was wrong and unfair to steal from a friend who sheltered them.

Pilon and other friends respect Danny and feel that they owe him for his hospitality. Thus, when looking for treasures, Pilon and Big Joe dream how they could bring them for Danny and make him glad. When Pablo had two sticks of gum, he gave one of them to Danny. The Pirate gathered packages of food from restaurants and brought them to Danny’s house. They shared all they had with each other and enjoyed that.

Readiness to help and share

The friends express their readiness to help when Jesus Maria brings a young caporal from Mexico with his baby to Danny’s house. They shelter him and share a dinner with him. They listen to his story, support him, and feel sorry about the baby’s death. The situation with a caporal is the one in which the support of friends is mostly needed and they manage to provide it.

When the friends find out that Senora Cortez, who has eight children, needs food to save the children from starvation, they decide to help her. They rob a Warehouse and bring four hundred pounds of beans to Senora Cortez’s house. It is a miracle for her. Considering the fact that they broke the law, George stated, “From the perspective of utilitarian ethics, their thievery can be morally justified because taking wealth from a few rich people to redistribute among the poor produces a greater balance of pleasure over pain” (42). Thus, the friends were sure they did a right thing – they helped children, they did what they had to do.

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The ending

At the end of the story, when Danny brooded and became mad, his friends still tried to support and help him. They decided to organize the party for him, which ended tragically with Danny’s death. His house burnt down and the group of friends separated. According to Schults and Li: “since Danny, their leader, has died, they find it impossible to honor their original commitment” (228). Thus, Danny and his house were the main reasons for integration of this group; so, when they disappeared, the group members separated.

To conclude, one can judge many aspects of the friendship between the main characters of the novella “Tortilla Flat”. However, the fact that they raise friendship above materialism is obvious and hard to deny. Being wine-addicted thieves, with no job and no prospects, these men managed to help others, to support and take care of each other. They demonstrated reliability, respect, and equality by being trusted and grateful, sharing food, or feeling sorry. Their lifestyle was definitely formed through their previous experiences, that is war, poverty, and homelessness. Thus, they were acting according to their moral system without an intention to hurt someone or do some harm. Friendship was one of the true values for them; although, it may be not the friendship we are used to. Nevertheless, everyone can find something edifying in this story.