Pepe Torres is a “gentle, affectionate boy” whose only fault is his laziness. Reared by his protective and loving widowed mother, Mama Torres, who struggles to provide her children with a stable emotional environment and a meager material existence on the family farm, Pepe would rather not work. Hour after hour, he plays with his dead father’s switchblade, throwing the knife at a post until his aim is extremely accurate.
One day, Mama Torres sends Pepe to town for some salt and medicine. Pepe has never been trusted with such a mission, and he feels proud when his mother gives him his father’s round black hat with the tooled leather band and his green silk handkerchief to wear on the journey. After he has left, Pepe’s younger brother asks if Pepe has become a man today; his mother answers, “A boy gets to be a man when a man is needed. Remember this thing. I have known boys forty years old because there was no need for a man.” Mama Torres’s wisdom is sound, but she does not foresee the tragic events that are about to unfold.
Pepe returns home in the middle of the night, stopping only briefly in his flight to the mountains. He tells his mother that in town he was called names he “could not allow” as a man, and that in the subsequent fight, he killed with his knife the person who called him such names. The definition of manhood in his society required such action. The mother understands, declaring, “Yes, thou art a man, my poor little Pepe. Thou art a man.” She gives Pepe the father’s rifle and his black coat, and when the other children ask where Pepe is going, she states that “Pepe is a man now. He has a man’s thing to do.” As soon as he leaves, she begins “the high, whining keen of the death wail,” for she intuits that he will not be able to survive in the mountains.
The second, longer part of the story follows Pepe into the high mountains, where he attempts to elude the posse. He has no real choice in...
(The entire section is 805 words.)