Flight by John Steinbeck
In Flight by John Steinbeck we have the theme of innocence, coming of age, resilience, hardship, struggle, escape and loss. Taken from his The Long Valley collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Steinbeck maybe exploring the transition from innocence to manhood. Pepé while he is on Mama Torres’ farm is living a life that many would associate with that of a nineteen year old boy. Pepé has some responsibilities but there is nothing for him to do that is too taxing or difficult. It is only when he leaves the farm to get medicine that life changes dramatically for Pepé and he makes the transition from boyhood to manhood. It might also be important that Pepé likes carrying his father’s knife. As symbolically Steinbeck may be associating the knife with manhood. Though Pepé may consider himself to be just like his father when he is carrying the knife. The reality is for most if not all the story. The knife is a play tool to Pepé. That is until he kills a man apparently in self-defence. It is in this moment that Pepé judges himself to have finally become a man.
Mama Torres reaction to the killing of the man is also interesting because if anything she is being practical. She knows that those in authority will not view what has happened as being an accident or a matter of self-defence. She also knows that she has lost her son forever though she makes sure that he is well prepared for what life might throw at him. In many ways not only is Mama Torres being practical but she is being resilient. She knows that she has a young family to look after and the best that she can do is to help Pepé to flee. If Pepé does not flee it will only be a matter of time before he is either captured or shot. Which may be the point that Steinbeck is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that life at the time was difficult on families who were barely managing to make it by. If it were not for her children Mama Torres would not be able to manage the running of her farm. It becoming clear to the reader that the fact that Mama Torres struggles is because she lost her husband. To lose Pepé is going to make things even harder.
The setting of the story is also interesting as the terrain that Pepé encounters is in many ways another obstacle to Pepé. A person needs to be at their best to travel through the mountains. Something which is not the case when it comes to Pepé. He also has limited supplies and no particular direction to follow. So overwhelming is the setting that everywhere looks the same. With Pepe at times struggling to even move more than a hundred yards at a time. The fact that Pepé also discards his father’s coat might also have some symbolic significant as Steinbeck may be suggesting that through the difficulties that Pepé is incurring he is beginning to become a man in his own right. Similarly each animal that Pepé encounters is a threat to him as too are the men who are chasing Pepé. It is as though there is no comfort for Pepé. Everything is a difficulty. Pepé in a short period of time has left the comforts of his home and life with his family and come of age very quickly.
It might also be significant that Pepé never gives up. Not only does this suggest that like Mama Torre Pepé is resilient but it may also be a case that Pepé is only too aware of what will happen him should he give up his desire to escape. In reality Pepé has no option but to keep on running. Even if he is wounded and his body is beginning to let him down. If anything it is literally a matter of life and death for Pepé. Even if Pepé’s actions were a matter of self-defence the fact that he ran away from the scene of the crime will in the eyes of those in authority be considered to be an admission of guilt. At no stage will it be taken into consideration that Pepé was merely a boy. Unfortunately for Pepé he now lives in a very different type of world. A world in whereby he is finding it difficult to survive. Not only is Pepé alone but he fighting for survival. A far cry of what his life was like with his brothers and sisters. If anything two people have it tough in the story. Mama Torre because she has lost her son and Pepé because he is too lose his life. In reality there are no real winners in the story. Steinbeck possibly suggesting that for some life will always be a struggle.