Steinbeck’s “Flight”: A Critical Analysis John Steinbeck’s “Flight” is one of his best works of short fiction. It is the story of a country side youth living in an isolated farm in the Salinas Valley in California. The story shows how dangerous the valley is for an inexperienced boy like Pepe Torres to undertake his maiden adventure in order to prove his manhood…
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The paper will also highlight the salient features of the valley which the writer uses to quicken the action or to precipitate the tragedy. The story begins with several hints to the readers that the geographical background in which the Torres family live is very hostile to its inhabitants. Through various symbols the author helps the readers to anticipate the tragedy that seems to be inevitable for the people in the story. The shape of the valley is “sloping”, and buildings “huddle” like “clinging aphids”. The words like “crouched”, “rattling”, “beaten”, and the mention of “rattlesnake” are enough to scare the readers and initiate them into the events that follow. “The little shack, the rattling, rotting barn were gray-bitten with sea salt, beaten by the damp wind until they had taken on the color of the granite hills”, says the narrator (Steinbeck). There is the resonance of one being perpetually beaten in this part of the world. However, immediately he introduces his characters with mild and soft words, highlighting the innocence of the local people. Only after mentioning the names of Mama Torres, Emily, and Rosy, the author brings the central figure, Pepe Torres, a “gentle”, “affectionate” boy, onto the scene,: “And there was Pepe, the tall smiling son of nineteen” (Steinbeck). There is a sense of relief in the word “And”. Everything about him is sweet, except that he is “lazy”. The exposure of the very first trait in the family enables the readers to understand the writer’s intention. Torres family lives far away from the town and the necessity of a man in the Red Indian family is revealed through several repetition of the word “man”. Unfortunately, the father in the family died about a decade before the episode in the story. The collective anxiety in the family especially that of the mother falls on the eldest in the family, on Pepe Torres. He too seems to be ready to take the place of his father. This is how Pepe reacts when his mother wants him to go to the town: “A revolution took place in the relaxed figure of Pepe.”To Monterey, me? Alone? Si, Mama" (Steinbeck). Mama’s excessive emphasis given to the word “lazy” springs from her impatience to wait till her son grows fully into manhood. Man and manhood, thus become the focus of attention in the family. In fact, the entire story revolves around the journey from innocence to manhood, if not it serves as the test of one’s manhood. The skill to use a knife becomes the symbol of manhood in Torres family. “It was his inheritance, that knife, his father's knife . . . . The knife was with Pepe always, for it had been his father's knife” (Steinbeck), says the narrator. He is shown playing with this knife at the beginning of the story, implying that this trait and the instrument are closely related to his fate. His mother asking him to go to the town for the first time in his life when he is playing with the knife, practicing how to hit the target, cannot be taken as a mere coincidence in the story: “The blade seemed to fly open in midair, and with a thump the point dug into the redwood post, and the black handle quivered. The three burst into excited laughter” (Steinbeck). Here the anxiety in the family, Pepe’s turning into a man and the Red Indian sense of adventure blend and push the story further into his maiden adventure. But,
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