Tortilla Flat Thesis Statements and Important Quotes

Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for “Tortilla Flat” by John Steinbeck that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in the text and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “Tortilla Flat” in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “Tortilla Flat” at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay. Before you begin, however, please get some useful tips and hints about how to use PaperStarter.com in the brief User's Guide…you'll be glad you did.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: Perceptions of God in “Tortilla Flat”

In Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat, the reader sees all of the motifs that are so familiar to Steinbeck’s work: the downtrodden man, his isolation from society, and the obstacles placed in his path that are seemingly impossible to overcome. Yet one of the features that distinguishes Tortilla Flat from some of Steinbeck’s other work is the frequent references to God and the role that he plays as either a neutral force or a force who chooses not to intervene and rescue people who are so clearly disadvantaged. Considering some of the quotes below, as well as those that you identify in the text, write an essay in which you argue whether God has abandoned the characters of Tortilla Flat. Make a conclusion about what Steinbeck might have wanted to convey to the reader about belief in the power of God.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: Steinbeck as Social Activist

Many of Steinbeck’s novels address facets of social problems that impact the marginalized people of society in profound ways. There are many social problems that are explored in this novel, including the treatment and perception of people who are poor, people who are mentally challenged, and African Americans. Examine Steinbeck’s treatment of these social problems, and consider whether he presents them as equivalent. In other words, are all marginalized people in the same boat? Consider the characteristics of these marginalized groups as they are presented in the novel and compare and contrast their conditions.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Paisanos

In Tortilla Flat Steinbeck introduces his reader to a very specific character type, the paisano. Consider all of the characteristics of the paisano that Steinbeck offers the reader—work habits, relationships, the physical place that they occupy, their speech, their dreams—and explain what the character type of the paisano is. Once you have defined the paisano, explain why introducing this character type to the reader might have been important to Steinbeck. For this essay, you may wish to consider extra-textual evidence that substantiates Steinbeck’s interest in marginal and oppressed groups.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: Object Relations

The paisanos are represented as a group of simple people who are isolated from larger society. When certain objects make their way into the paisano’s community—a vacuum cleaner, a gun—they are at a loss as to what they should do with the object and how it can be used. Consider these and other objects that are foreign to the paisanos and explain how they function in the development of the paisano’s character and circumstances. You may wish to incorporate extra-textual theory about acculturation ; concepts from anthropology may be especially helpful in this regard.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #5: Place as Character

As is the case with much of Steinbeck’s work, the physical setting of Tortilla Flat plays a crucial role in the development of the novel’s action and outcome. In fact, the place in which the paisanos live and work is itself a character. Examine the physical background of the novel and identify the characteristics that make it a character with as much active power as the men themselves. Observe whether the landscape is likely to exert more influence over the men, or vice versa, and what the implications are.


This list of important quotations from “Tortilla Flat” by John Steinbeck will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “Tortilla Flat” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text by John Steinbeck they are referring to.

“The good God is not always so good to little beasts." (9)

“When one is poor, one thinks, ‘If I had money, I would share it with my friends.’ But let that money come, and charity flies away." (10)

“It is a fact verified and recorded in many histories that the soul capable of the greatest good is also capable of the greatest evil." (15)

“Ah, the prayers of the millions, how they must fight and destroy each other on their way to the throne of God." (15)

“Pilon waited patiently, for he knew that there are some things even one’s friends cannot help with." (35)

“‘I have all these friends?’ he said in wonder, ‘And I did not know it. And I am a worry to those friends. I did not know, Pilon. I would not have worried them if I had known." (50)

“[T]hy mode of living keeps all thy friends uneasy." (50)

“The Pirate looked down at the ground and tried to think clearly, but as always, when he attempted to cope with a problem, his brain grew gray and no help came from it, but only a feeling of helplessness." (50)

“Together with his capacity for doing good, Jesus Maria had a gift for coming in contact with situations where good wanted doing." (89)

“To think, all those years I lay in that chicken house, and I did not know any pleasure. But now, oh, now I am very happy." (59)

Reference: Steinbeck. John. Tortilla Flat. New York: Longman, 2001.

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