Evaluate the following descriptive paragraph. "About 15 miles below Monterey, on the wild coast, the Torres family had their farm, a few sloping acres above a cliff that dropped to the brown...
Evaluate the following descriptive paragraph.
"About 15 miles below Monterey, on the wild coast, the Torres family had their farm, a few sloping acres above a cliff that dropped to the brown reefs and to the hissing white waters of the ocean. Behind the farm the stone mountains stood up against the sky. The farm buildings huddled like the clinging aphids on the mountain skirts, crouched low to the ground as though the wind might blow them into the sea. 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. Two horses, a red cow and a red calf, half a dozen pigs and a flock of lean, multi-colored chickens stocked the place. A little corn was raised on the sterile slope, and it grew short and thick under the wind, and all the cobs formed on the landward sides of the stalks." — John Steinbeck, “Flight”
The paragraph from John Steinbeck's short story "Flight" greatly reflects the author's emotional and intellectual ties to the land of his birth and to the downtrodden elements of society that he championed in The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, and in many other of his short stories. "Flight" was published in 1938 as part of an anthology titled The Long Valley. Initially, it purports to tell the story of the Torres family, poor Mexican-American farmers who struggle to survive the harshness of their conditions. The family is led by Mama Torres, her husband having been killed when he fell on top of a rattlesnake, which bit him in the chest.
The opening passages to "Flight" not only reflect Steinbeck's origins in the Monterey Bay/Salinas region of northern California--a region that figures prominently in many of his works (e.g., East of Eden, Tortilla Flat, Cannery Row)--but his commitment to the stories of the less-fortunate during an era when that particular category of humanity had expanded exponentially. The Great Depression was well-underway, and Steinbeck's protagonists were rarely among the few who survived that period unscathed. His descriptive writing style is simple but pointed and his sympathy for his characters is unmistakable. Note in the following sentence from the opening paragraph to "Flight" the author's description of the Torres family home: "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." This is a family that has endured much hardship yet which perseveres despite the conditions to which God has subjected it.
All of that is in the opening paragraph of "Flight." And, yet, this paragraph seems to bear little relationship to the story that follows, the story of Pepe, "the tall smiling son of nineteen, a gentle, affectionate boy, but very lazy." Pepe is sent on a mission by his mother to buy medicine and salt, but the seemingly simple errand takes a dramatic turn for the worse and results in Pepe's "flight" from town. "Flight" is a tragic story, ending as it does with Pepe's apparent death. The relevance of the opening paragraph, however, becomes increasingly apparent with the revelation that Pepe has been forced to kill a man and to run for his life. When, in that paragraph, Steinbeck describes the Torres family farm as huddling like "clinging aphids on the mountain skirts," he is emphasizing that this Mexican-American family exists as a small minority among an overwhelming population of Caucasians. It might be a stretch to suggest that "the hissing white waters of the ocean" presages the tragedy that befalls the young Mexican-American dispatched to town on a presumably innocuous errand. One could conclude that Steinbeck intended the reader to draw such a connection.
This kind of passage is why you just have to love John Steinbeck. Look at how he uses description to make a place come alive. It's almost as though the setting itself was a character in the story.
Steinbeck appeals to the sense of sight with words like "brown reefs" and "white waters of the ocean" and "lean and multi-colored chickens." Where an ordinary reader would just say "the reefs" and "the ocean" and "the chickens," Steinbeck gives us something we can see with our mind's eye.
He also appeals to our sense of hearing with "the hissing" and "the rattling . . . barn."
The overall effect is the sense that the people who live hear are struggling to hang on. The line "farm buildings huddled like the clinging aphids" communicates the idea that life isn't easy, and the residents have to compete with nature to survive. Nature itself is imposing and dangerous, as evidenced by the fact that the "stone mountains stood up against the sky" and "The little shack . . . beaten by the damp wind . . ."
Steinbeck's description of the hardscrabble farm owned by the Torres family paints a vivid picture not only of the landscape in which they live, crowded between the mountains and the sea, but also of the way in which fate has conspired and will conspire against them. The farm's buildings cling like aphids to the cliff and struggle to survive while they are whipped by the wind and bitten by the salt air. The author's use of figurative language in which the farm is compared to a tiny, weak bug is effective at conveying the precariousness of the Torres's existence. The author's description of the grey, wind-worn buildings, starved farm animals, and windswept corn also convey the way in which the Torres family must fight for survival in a world that is hostile to them. This paragraph is effective at showing the Torres's physical and emotional hardships.