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”
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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.
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