Download Flight Study Guide

Subscribe Now

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.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

California Geography
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 in Spanish appear in the dialogue, but the family uses the familiar form of the personal pronouns, "thee'' and "thou," instead of the formal "you" when speaking with each other. Spoken English no longer makes these distinctions, unlike other languages. The resulting archaic feeling to the language helps place the characters in another, mythical time, or the indeterminate era in which folktales take place.

The Labor Movement
Steinbeck studied biology at Stanford in the 1920s. He developed a biological view of the human condition based on Darwinian ideas of evolution, natural selection, and adaptation. He liked to set man against nature in his writing, as he does in "Flight," and to examine how well man can survive in the wild. In addition, he was sympathetic to the poor and the exploited, who often became the central characters in his writings. He supported the labor movement, and he despised the exploitation of workers by corporate farms and large ranches. In novels like The Grapes of Wrath and In Dubious Battle , his clear sympathy for dispossessed farmers and...

(The entire section is 2,619 words.)