Plugged In exists to shine a light on the world of popular entertainment while giving you and your family the essential tools you need to understand, navigate and impact the culture in which we live. Through reviews, articles and discussions, we want to spark intellectual thought, spiritual growth and a desire to follow the command of Colossians 2:8: "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ."


Family uses Plugged In as a ‘significant compass’

"I am at a loss for words to adequately express how much it means to my husband and me to know that there is an organization like Focus that is rooting for us. Just today I was reading Psalm 37 and thinking about how your ministry provides ways to 'dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.' We have two teenagers and an 8-year-old in our household...Plugged In has become a significant compass for our family. All three of our kids are dedicated to their walk with Christ but they still encounter challenges. Thanks for all of your research and persistence in helping us navigate through stormy waters."

Plugged In helps college student stand-up for his belief

"Thanks for the great job you do in posting movie and television reviews online. I’m a college freshman and I recently had a confrontational disagreement with my English professor regarding an R-rated film. It is her favorite movie and she wanted to show it in class. I went to your Web site to research the film’s content. Although I had not seen the movie myself, I was able to make an educated argument against it based on the concerns you outlined. The prof said that she was impressed by my stand and decided to poll the whole class and give us a choice. We overwhelmingly voted to watch a G-rated movie instead! I’ve learned that I can trust your site and I will be using it a lot in the future.”

Plugged In brings ‘Sanity and Order’ to Non-believer

“Even though I don’t consider myself a Christian, I find your Plugged In Web site useful and thought-provoking. No one reviews movies like you do. Instead of being judgmental, you put entertainment ‘on trial.’ After presenting the evidence, you allow the jury of your readers to decide for themselves what they should do. In my opinion, you bring sanity and order to the wild world of modern day entertainment. Keep up the good work!”

Mom thinks Plugged In is the ‘BEST Christian media review site’

"Our family doesn't go to the movies until we go online and check out your assessment of a given film. I think this is the BEST Christian media review website that I've found, and I recommend it to my family and friends. Keep up the good work!"


Our hope is that whether you're a parent, youth leader or teen, the information and tools at Plugged In will help you and your family make appropriate media decisions. We are privileged to do the work we do, and are continually thankful for the generosity and support from you, our loyal readers, listeners and friends.

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

Book Review

Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

This collection of vignettes focus on Danny, who lives in the hills of Monterey, Calif. This area is also known as Tortilla Flat. Danny is a paisano, a descendant of the original Spaniards who settled in California. A prologue describes how he and his friends Pilon and Big Joe Portagee enlisted in the Army during WWI but never saw any combat. Upon his return home, Danny discovers he has inherited two houses from his grandfather. He agrees to rent one to Pilon and live in the other house.

Pilon, who never pays Danny rent money, asks Pablo Sanchez, another paisano, to live with him. Danny never asks for the $15 monthly rent, but one day he asks for a few dollars so that he might buy a present for a woman he is dating.

Pilon and Pablo feel betrayed by Danny's request, but find an old friend, Jesus Maria, who has come into some money. They convince Jesus Maria to give them a couple of dollars; but instead of giving the cash to Danny, they decide to buy him wine. They think Danny can give that to the woman instead of candy. The men end up drinking the wine themselves, fall asleep and leave a candle burning.

The candle's flame catches a silk calendar on fire and then a loose piece of wallpaper. Soon, flames consume Danny's rental house. The following day, the friends confess to Danny what they did, and he scolds them. When the men provide him with the provisions from a stolen picnic basket, Danny forgives them. He invites them to live with him in his house, under the condition that none of them try to share his bed.

When Big Joe Portagee comes home from the Army, he is invited to live with Danny as well. The men are always on the prowl for a way to obtain money without having to work. Pilon believes he's discovered a treasure after following the routine of another paisano nicknamed Pirate. Pirate is a fixture in town, begging scraps from restaurants to feed himself and his loyal pack of dogs that follow him everywhere. Each day, Pirate chops a wheelbarrow full of kindling wood and sells it on the streets of Monterey until he has a quarter. Each night, Pilon watches him disappear into the woods with it. Pirate and his dogs live under an old chicken coop and never buy food or wine.

Pilon convinces Pirate to move in with the other paisanos so they can trick him into telling them where he is hiding his quarters. At first Pirate denies he has money hidden, but the others finally persuade him it isn't safe to keep it outside as someone might steal it. Terrified, Pirate brings the money to the house. Pilon and the others are defeated in their hopes of sharing the money when they learn that Pirate is saving to buy a gold candlestick to honor St. Francis because of the miracle the saint blessed him with many years ago. The paisanos cannot take money dedicated to a saint. Pirate and his dogs continue to live with them in Danny's house.

One day, while the others search the remains of a shipwreck for scraps to sell, Big Joe Portagee steals Pirate's money. When the others discover the theft, they lie in wait for him and beat him to a pulp. Big Joe admits to burying the money and promises he only took $1 of it to buy wine. The others bring the treasure back to Pirate and find, after counting it, that he has enough to buy the golden candlestick. The local priest agrees to buy the candlestick, and Pirate is honored to hear the story of his miracle told at church. (St. Francis healed one of his dogs.)

Danny wants to be a responsible landowner, but he longs for the days when he was free to sleep in the woods and carouse all night with others in town. He begins to resent his friends' constant presence in and around his house. In a fit of madness, he runs away. For weeks his friends search for him, but to no avail, always arriving after Danny has left a place. Danny steals, drinks and gets into epic fights in and around Monterey. One day, Torrelli, a local merchant and victim of many of the paisanos' thievery, arrives with a paper signed by Danny that gives the merchant possession of the house. Danny has sold it to him for $25.

The others are horrified their friend would do such a thing. After they toss Torrelli's paper into the stove, Torrelli vows to sue them. But without proof of the exchange, he knows he will lose the case. Before the day is out, Danny arrives home with another friend and four jugs of wine.

Although back home, Danny's mood does not improve, and he sinks into depression. His friends decide to work a day cutting squid so they can earn money to throw Danny a big party to help ease his mind. Rumors that the paisanos are actually working fly throughout the streets of Monterey. When they learn it is to throw Danny a party, the whole town makes plans to aid the celebration. While Danny goes out to search for his friends, the townspeople arrive to decorate his house with streamers and prepare the food. Even Torrelli brings more wine after the paisanos buy 14 gallons with their hard earned money.

Dusk falls, but Danny has not returned from town. The friends leave to find him and discover Danny moping by the pier. After a brief exchange, they convince him to come celebrate with the town.

Danny's antics that night become the stuff of legend. As the evening winds down, Danny picks up a table leg and begins to threaten the partygoers. Some say he grew in size and that his eyes burned with fire. When no one battles him, Danny runs into the night, seeking a fight. From the house, the people hear Danny cry out in defiance as if facing a great foe, then a thump and then silence. Pilon and the others rush into the forest and find their friend at the bottom of a steep ravine. There is nothing any doctor can do to save their friend's life.

The entire town attends Danny's funeral, except for his friends. They don't want to disrespect Danny by attending the church service in shabby clothes. They watch from a distance until their grief overwhelms them, and they return home to remember Danny over wine and cigars. When Pilon accidently drops a match, it ignites a newspaper. The friends decide to let the fire consume the house, believing that's what Danny would have wanted.

Christian Beliefs

Danny and his friends have a vague understanding of Christianity, but it is clouded by superstition. When Danny sees that Pilon has brandy, he comments that maybe his friend is saving it until Jesus returns. When Pilon sees a chicken in the road, he says that God is not always good to little beasts. Pilon sings "Ave Maria" and shouts a prayer of gratitude for the beauty of the evening.

The author, as an omniscient narrator, says that no soul was purer than Pilon's at that moment. The author also quotes St. Augustine. Pilon says as a child he knew no sin. The paisanos talk about the holy mass and how when the priest used to go fishing, the bread tasted like mackerel but that taste didn't make it less holy. The men often talk about God moving in their lives, but more as a random puppeteer, creating situations or bestowing blessings and curses on a whim. The author narrates that within every sinful person is a pure soul and how sad it is that even the angels conceal evil inside them. Pirate believes that St. Francis healed one of his dogs and vows to purchase a golden candlestick in its honor.

Pilon whispers a prayer to the Virgin Mary when he is scared. Feeling pity after they beat up Big Joe, Jesus Maria comments that even the Savior's enemies showed Him some mercy. A woman lights a candle to Mary to pray for her blessing on the bean crop. When the bean crop fails, the woman is angry at Mary for ignoring her prayers. Another woman regularly goes to confession for her sexual sins.

Other Belief Systems

In the prologue, Danny is referred to as a god of nature and his friends as symbols of the elements. The paisanos believe that on St. Andrew's eve, ghosts wander the forests and hover over the places where they hid their money when they were alive. If you follow a ghost and perform a certain ritual, you supposedly can take its treasure. Pilon believes that the wind on St. Andrew's eve can tell your fortune and that the whispering breeze is unholy.

Authority Roles

The jailor often drinks with his prisoners, allowing them to escape after he's had a few glasses of wine.


God's name is taken in vain and used with d--n. "Jesus," along with "Christ," is used an exclamation and with the phrase for the love of. H--- and b--ch are also used. Other objectionable words include slut and the n-word. Steinbeck uses many derogatory words to describe people including Wop and Jew (to describe a stingy person).

The paisanos are rough men who enjoy fighting. The fights are described as a kind of natural occurrence with punches thrown by all. When Big Joe steals, however, the paisanos take turns beating him with sticks until he is described as one huge bruise. They rub salt into his open wounds as an extra punishment. A story is told in which a man tries to hang himself because of woman. He is saved, but when his father tries the same trick to gain the love of another woman, he is not found before he dies.


Women are primarily treated as sexual objects. Throughout the book the men have affairs, which are not explicitly described. Danny is said to "dispose" of a woman at a brothel. One woman is said to have had so many men that she can't remember who fathered each of her nine children. She sometimes convinces herself that a man isn't even necessary to conceive.

When she confesses this to a priest, he laments that she seems to be flirting with him even while she's asking for forgiveness. Another woman lets Big Joe come into her house to get out of the rain and then gets angry when he is too stupid to pick up on her suggestive advances. It is hinted that the two end up having sex in the street. The paisanos often talk about the love life of one of their neighbors, a woman who has a new lover each week. The story is told of an older man falling in love with a 15-year-old girl. Legend has it that Danny slept with every girl at the party his friends threw for him.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol: The paisanos drink wine, often in excess, whenever they can.

Smoking: Danny's friends smoke cigars after his funeral.

Drugs: One man is described as having red, unfocused eyes like those of a person who smokes marijuana.

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

18 and up


John Steinbeck






Record Label



First published in 1935 by Covici-Friede Publishers; the version used for this review was published by the Penguin Group.


On Video

Year Published





We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

Get weekly e-news, Culture Clips & more!