CliffsNotes on Steinbeck's The Red Pony, Chrysanthemums, and Flight

By Gary Carey; John G. Irons | Go to book overview

Flight

Steinbeck begins his narrative much as he did in The Red Pony — that is, he carefully describes the setting first of all. Steinbeck is concerned that his readers can clearly view and understand the settings of his stories and novels. Thus, his characters become more vividly realistic because they reflect the values of their towns or farms or their regions. This, in turn, helps explain their actions and the motivations for the events that occur in the story.

Here, Steinbeck shows us the Torres’ farm. He does not say, in a word, that the family is poor. He parallels their poverty with that of the land. They do not live on level ground, for example; their farm is situated on a few sloping acres above a cliff that drops sharply into the sea. They must eke out a living on a landscape that is threatening and uncivilized. In addition, the land is as dramatic as the story itself will become. Note, particularly, the lean and chiseled sentences into which Steinbeck inserts adjectives that enhance and create suspense within the reader even before the story itself unfolds. The ocean that is below the Torres’ farm “hisses,” and the farm buildings on the hillside “huddle” like “little clinging aphids.” The Torres family, thus, is much like their farm buildings. Yet they are a unit and they “huddle” for protection from the elements and from the large white Anglo settlement that surrounds them in the towns and those who farm the rich fertile fields of the upper lands, far above the Torres. As Mexicans, and in particular as poor Mexicans, the Torres are like aphids to the white community because they are equated with pests, nuisances to the so-called civilized white community.

Furthermore, the Torres’ farm buildings are described as being “crouched” low to the ground, and Steinbeck says that it seems as though they might blow into the sea. But they do not, and this fact is important, for although the Torres’ house is described as a shack and the barn is “rattling” and “rotten,” and although the buildings are “bitten” with sea salt and “beaten” by the winds that lash the stony hills, the Torres family and their farm survive because of their determination and their defiance.

It is partly because of this defiance that Pepé commits murder. He learned many years ago from his family that they must defy the poor soil and the weather and the lack of friends to survive. When Pepé is insulted by a man of the Anglo community, he defies this man who has never known or experienced poverty and the prejudice which has plagued the Torres family.

In Monterey, the Anglo community where Pepé must do an errand for his mother, he is considered merely another Mexican kid, a non-person whose life or death is unimportant. But to Pepé life is extremely important — especially today, for he rides into town alone and, for the first time, he feels like a man. He rides in to buy only medicine and salt, and his mother does not acknowledge that he is a man yet; but, to Pepé this journey is proof that he can be trusted to ride into town alone. This journey, in fact, is one of the few acts that Pepé has done which has been of importance to him.

Heretofore, his mother has taunted him for his laziness, joking that there must have been a lazy cow in his father’s heritage or that a lazy coyote must have looked at her while she was carrying Pepé. Ironically, she calls his knife, one of his most prized possessions, a “toy-baby” and chides him for playing games with it. But to Pepé his knife is no toy; it is a part of himself.

In the Spanish culture, a young girl’s fifteenth birthday is usually celebrated; her coming of age is given the most expensive celebration that the family can either afford to pay for or to borrow for the event; it is not so with the young men in the community. A young man must do something daring or brave in order to be called a man.

One of the key statements that Mama Torres makes is when she answers young Emilio’s questions concerning Pepé. He asks his mother, “Did Pepé come to be a man today?” Her answer is that a boy “gets to be a man when a man is needed.”

Pepé in a sense, is aware of this philosophy although we have not heard his mother discuss it with him. Today, though, a man is needed to ride to Monterey because there is no one else to go and because Pepé’s father has been dead for ten years, and because he is the oldest boy, he assumes that his mission is of great importance. Later, he does, in fact, become a man because of the code of the Torres family. It was necessary for Pepé to kill a man who insulted him; those words were uttered by a man who called him “names … I could not allow.” We assume that a white man taunted him about his race, and that Pepé impulsively killed the man — partly because of his new-found pride in being needed to ride into town and partly because of his pride in himself, his family, and his heritage.

-24-

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CliffsNotes on Steinbeck's The Red Pony, Chrysanthemums, and Flight
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Table of Contents 1
  • John Steinbeck Biography 2
  • Summary and Analysis 4
  • The Red Pony 5
  • The Red Pony 9
  • The Red Pony 13
  • The Red Pony 17
  • The Chrysanthemums 20
  • Flight 24
  • Study Help 29
  • Essay Questions 30
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