Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Steinbeck explores the story’s themes using a third-person point of view that focuses on the consciousness of Pepe during his ordeal in the mountains. The author achieves a poetic grace with plain language that is appropriate to the thought processes of his protagonist. Contained in that language is the sharp detail of the physical landscape, which has a beauty of its own. Steinbeck also uses the detail of the physical landscape to suggest Pepe’s inner emotions. For example, in the scene before his death, Pepe sees that “strewn over the hill there were giant outcroppings, and on the top the granite teeth stood out against the sky.” The stark image of the “granite teeth” works to reflect the emotion that Pepe feels; trapped in his fate, he senses powers that will overwhelm and “devour” him. The images of the landscape provide a backdrop for his final act of defiance, of standing up to be shot down.
The dialogue early in the story between Pepe and members of his family is filled with short, declarative statements and the use of “thy” and “thou,” which gives it a stilted quality. By such devices, Steinbeck—rather like Ernest Hemingway in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)—was attempting, unsuccessfully, to convey the archaic dignity of his characters’ speech.
Steinbeck’s technique and style are appropriate to his subject: Pepe’s direct, uncomplicated emotions are presented without authorial comment, being...
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Steinbeck's "Flight'' is set on the mid-California coast about fifteen miles south of Monterey and in the coastal mountains to the east This was familiar terrain to Steinbeck, who was born and raised in Salinas. The Salinas Valley is the valley to which the title The Long Valley refers. As an adult, Steinbeck lived in Pacific Grove, a short distance from Monterey. He was very familiar with the terrain, from the rocky cliffs above the Pacific south of Monterey to the redwood forest inland to the dry, saw-tooth mountains to the east, then to the fertile Salinas Valley further east. This is the country through which Pepe passes on his flight from his pursuers.
In the 1930s, when Steinbeck was writing many of his works, the valley was a fertile farming region. During the Great Depression however, many of the area's inhabitants were forced to sell their land to wealthy industrialists, who compelled those who worked the land to work hard for little in return. The people in the area who had farmed for generations were often Mexicans or descendants of the pioneers who had settled the land in the mid-nineteenth century. Pepe's Indian features could be attributed to earlier intermarriage between Mexican settlers and Native Americans from the area.
The dialogue in the story highlights the area's Spanish influences. Not only do specific phrases...
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Narrator and Point of View
"Flight" is told from a third-person point of view. The narrator, the person telling the story, is outside the story and relates events as an observer would see them For most of the story, the narrator is not omniscient, or "all-knowing," about the characters in the story. When a narrator's point of view is limited, the reader is not told a character's thoughts or feelings during the course of the story. Instead, the reader must determine what a character is thinking or feeling from what the character does or says. One exception to this limited point of view appears near the beginning of the story, when the narrator says, "Mama thought [Pepe] fine and brave, but she never told him so." The narrator is stepping into Mrs. Torres' mind and telling readers what she thinks. For most of the story, however, the reader can tell what a character is thinking or feeling only from the external clues which the narrator provides. For example, when Pepe is dressed up in his father's hat and green silk handkerchief, readers know he is feeling proud and happy because the narrator says that "Pepe grinned with pride and gladness" as he rode off to Monterey. As Pepe crawls up the mountain, thirsty and without his hat or horse, the narrator does not say that Pepe is feeling uneasy. Instead, the narrator says, "[h]is eyes were uneasy and suspicious," and this description of Pepe provides a clue to readers about how he is feeling.
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Compare and Contrast
1930s: Many street gangs that arose during the 1920s in order to take advantage of Prohibition move on to other illegal ventures. The romanticized "Dead End Kids'' (also known as the East Side Kids and the Bowery Boys) star in a number of movies during this time.
1990s: Gang members range from grade-school children to adults. Drug dealing and related crimes are a major activity and means of profit for gangs In Los Angeles alone, there are an estimated 70,000 gang members. In 1997, a new California program attempts to curtail gang violence by bringing criminal charges against parents of gang members. The program makes use of a 90-year-old law requiring the reasonable care and supervision of children.
1930s: During the Great Depression murder rates are considered high. They peak in 1933 at 9.7 murders per 100,000 people annually.
1990s: Murder rates begin to fall in urban areas after skyrocketing in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1996, the murder rate hovers near 10 per 100,000 people.
1930s: During the Great Depression, many farmers lose their farms because they are unable to pay their mortgages. Part of the problem is that farmers produce more than people are able to buy. President Roosevelt creates the Agricultural Adjustment Agency in 1933 to address this problem. The agency is...
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Topics for Further Study
Based on what Mama Torres says to Pepe in the story, what do you think she believes about his level of maturity at the beginning of the story? Does her opinion of him change when he returns from Monterey, or just her expectations of him?
Before going to Monterey, Pepe is eager to wear the black hat with the leather hatband and the green silk handkerchief. How does he look and feel while wearing these? How does he look when he puts on his father's black coat before he rides into the mountains? What is the significance of his losing the hat, the coat, and the tools and supplies his mother sends with him?
Who or what are the "dark watchers"? What does their presence add to the atmosphere and feeling of the story?
Think of some other folk tales you have read or heard. How is this story similar to them? How is it different?
Explain how Steinbeck's biological view of human nature can be applied to the character of Pepe.
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What Do I Read Next?
The Red Pony, also by Steinbeck, was first published in 1937 and revised in 1945. It is the story of a boy's confrontation with death and his resulting maturation.
The Pearl, Steinbeck's last work of short fiction, was published in 1947. It is a parable of a poor fisherman who discovers a pearl of great value which brings evil to his family. Like "Flight," it is told in almost the tone and form of a folktale.
"The Bear,'' by William Faulkner is included in Go Down, Moses, first published in 1940. This story is really a novella in a collection of short stories, all set in a particular place, Faulkner's fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, and featuring characters who appear in more than one story. "The Bear" is the story of a sixteen-year-old boy who is finally allowed to hunt with the men. The main character seeks "to earn for himself the name and state of hunter." The novella displays the complex interrelationships among different races and social classes when a group of men go into the wilderness to hunt.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Antico, John "A Reading of Steinbeck's 'Flight'," in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol 11, Spring, 1965, pp 45-53.
Gordon, Walter K. "Steinbeck's'Flight': Journey to or from Maturity?," in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. III, No. 4, Summer, 1966, pp. 453-55.
Jones, William M. "Steinbeck's 'Flight'," in The Explicator, Vol 18, November, 1959, Item 11.
French, Warren "Adventures in the Long Valley," in John Steinbeck, pp 80-94. New York Twayne Publishers, 1961. Discussion of Steinbeck's short fiction which finds "Flight'' comparable to Theodore Dreiser's novel An American Tragedy, "since Pepe, like Dreiser's Clyde Griffiths, is an impetuous but not too intelligent young man who is destroyed when a social situation places upon him responsibilities he is unequipped to assume."
McCarthy, Paul "The Steinbeck Territory," in John Steinbeck, pp 23-45. New York Frederick Ungar Publishing Co, 1980. Discusses "Flight'' as a story which is enriched by its successful blend of several important elements. McCarthy notes that the story's symbolism, imagery, and setting combine with "such traditional themes as the flight from society into the wild, and passage from innocence to experience" to form an "excellent story" which is richer and more complex than other Steinbeck stories, such as "The Chrysanthemums" and "The White...
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Astro, Richard. John Steinbeck and Edward F. Ricketts: The Shaping of a Novelist. Hemet, Calif.: Western Flyer, 2002.
Benson, Jackson D. The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer. New York: Viking Press, 1984.
French, Warren. John Steinbeck’s Fiction Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1994.
George, Stephen K., ed. John Steinbeck: A Centennial Tribute. New York: Praeger, 2002.
George, Stephen K., ed. The Moral Philosophy of John Steinbeck. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2005.
Hayashi, Tetsumaro, ed. A New Study Guide to Steinbeck’s Major Works, with Critical Explications. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1993.
Hughes, R. S. John Steinbeck: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1989.
Johnson, Claudia Durst, ed. Understanding “Of Mice and Men,” “The Red Pony,” and “The Pearl”: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997.
McElrath, Joseph R., Jr., Jesse S. Crisler, and Susan Shillinglaw, eds. John Steinbeck: The Contemporary Reviews. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Parini, Jay. John Steinbeck: A Biography. New York:...
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