Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical 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 placed directly before the reader with a simple honesty that gives this story both power and poignancy.