Thursday, December 15, 2011

Flight: Innocence To Experience (John Steinbeck)

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Innocence to Experience


Flight, written by John Steinbeck, is a carefully constructed short story of a nineteen-year-old boy’s flight into the wild. Pep�, the young boy, is sent by his mother on an errand to the city, and during his passage, he slays a man, and as a result, he finds refuge in the mountains. Steinbeck’s use of traditional literary elements aids in developing the foremost theme of boy to manhood as he faces new and daunting encounters.


Steinbeck’s description of the events of Pep�’s ‘little quarrel’ and the men seeking their reprisal appears to be lacking; however, Steinbeck uses this to his advantage in supporting his theme of boy to manhood or from innocence to experience. Steinbeck’s account of the quarrel is quite limited; it is incorporated in the few words “He told her in a tired monotone, told her everything just as it happened” (550). The description entails nothing more and nothing less, but as Sarah Hughes explains


…Steinbeck excludes the early scene in Monterey when Pep� kills a man to avoid showing his protagonist acting senselessly, without thought, and fatefully. Pep� merely recalls the murder…so the reader can grasp the events …while not losing interest in or sympathy [innocence] for the youngster. (7)


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Instead of describing the men seeking vengeance, Steinbeck offers a glimpse of tragedy through “a black figure” (55). “It was one of the dark watchers. No one knew who the watchers were, nor where they lived, but it was better to ignore them and never to show interest in them” (55). Dan Vogel expands on this lack of description, by also directing his attention to the “dark watchers” (55). He explains


There is psychological pain…- the sense of Evil, or Tragedy, or Retribution. This realization is symbolized by the… black figures, the ‘dark watchers’ who are seen for a moment on the tops of the ridges and then disappear. These are silent inscrutable watchers from above, the universal Nemesis [the goddess of retributive justice and vengeance], the recognition of which signals a further step into manhood. (75)


Accordingly, Steinbeck records these events in a dispassionate language leaving the reader to elicit his or her own feelings of sympathy and justice or Pep�’s innocence to his disillusioned manhood.


Moreover, Steinbeck uses a significant amount of imagery to further Pep�’s journey from boy to manhood. Steinbeck exploits Pep�’s reduction to the state of a wild animal, yet at the same time proving that Pep� still remains as something more than an animal. As Mama Torres, the mother of the young boy, tells Pep�, “Some lazy cow must have got into thy father’s family, else how could I have a son like thee” (548). Steinbeck uses this to create an image of Pep�’s lack of responsibility and childishness. Furthermore, as John Antico develops the idea of being reduced to an animal, he alleges that the boy “…is finally reduced to a state so close to that of the beasts that he is apparently mistaken by a mountain lion for another four- footed animal” (7). However, Steinbeck describes the transition to manhood as Pep� still remains more disciplined than the animals despite being “increasingly animalistic” (Hicks 167). In addition, Steinbeck uses light imagery when describing his voyage “Against the east the piling mountains were misty with light,” (550) “Eastward the bare rock mountaintops were pale and powder- dry under the dropping sun, ” (55) and “The bright evening light washed the eastern ridge” (554). Likewise, Antico uses these references as they occur in the story “from the morning sun” (86) to the “evening sun,” (86) and from there he formulates that “The direction of Pep�’s flight from civilization is appropriately eastward toward the cradle of westward civilization” (86). Consequently, his journey signifies his move towards sophistication or manhood.


On top, Steinbeck uses symbolism to broaden his idea of Pep� growing to be a man. Steinbeck depicts Pep� continually leaving behind possessions of his father; nevertheless, Steinbeck does this intentionally to symbolize his divest from his father’s protection into a life on his own. In the beginning, Pep� believes he has entered manhood since he is given the responsibilities of his father; he is able to ride “To Monterey…alone…” (548) and wear his father’s “hatband” (548) and “silk green handkerchief” (548). On the other hand, Vogel remains skeptical to this idea when Pep� says, “You may send me often alone. I am a man” (54). Vogel believes “…This is not necessarily so. A man might possibly have been expected to give himself up and pay for his crime” (75). Yet, Pep�’s mother believed a boy is a man “when a man is needed” (54) or when he must stand alone. Whether one considers Vogel or Mama Torres’s view of manhood, it remains insignificant; society’s construct is that a man is one who is able to survive independently. However, as the story progresses, it becomes apparent that Pep� was slowly losing his father’s holdings he “[has] forgotten his rifle” (558). As Vogel reminisces of other partitions, he understands that Pep�


Only now, having being separated from his mother and having cleansed himself of all the accoutrements and artifacts of his father, can the youth stand alone. But to Steinbeck this is far from a joyous or victorious occasion. Innocence is killed and buried the moment that man stands alone. (76)


Lastly, Steinbeck uses nature and colors to foreshadow the death of Pep�. As Hughes interprets it, he concludes, “In becoming a man, the boy dies.” Steinbeck uses colors, such as black, the universal symbol of death, to foreshadow Pep�’s fall. Steinbeck uses many examples of black such as the “black handle” (548) on the long blade, Pep�s “black hair,” (548) and the “black jerky” (548). In addition, Pep� covers himself with his father’s “black coat” (548) or in other words covering himself in death. Moreover, Steinbeck describes the path as a “well worn black path,” (55) and in fact, Pep� is traveling the road to death. John Timmerman, in the same regard, believes


The theme of death is woven on a thread of blackness through the story. It is Pepe’s black knife, which initiates the cycle of death. When Pep� flees he wears his dead father’s black coat and black hat. It is the two “black ones,” Rosy and Emilio, who prophesy Pep�’s death. The line of gangrene running the length of Pep�’s arm is black, foreshadowing his death. From the beginning of the story, Pep� grows increasingly dark, until in the end he will be black like the watchers. (1)


In spite of this, Steinbeck also foreshadows from the point of nature. Steinbeck uses water, a requirement for life, to foreshadow Pep�’s death. From the beginning, Pep�’s water bag leaked onto his horse’s shoulder, a sign of his life dripping away. However, to foster this idea of water, Steinbeck uses his voyage up the mountain as a tendency to turn more and more away from the river. Thus, Pep� moves further away from life and closer to inevitable death.


Clearly, Steinbeck dwells mainly on elaborating his theme of boy to manhood throughout his story. He benefits via many literary techniques such as symbolism, foreshadowing, imagery, and description. From this, the reader is able to understand Pep�’s voyage and how his innocence soon led to his untimely death.


Works Cited


Antico, John. “A Reading of Steinbeck’s ‘Flight’.” Modern Fiction Studies (1865) 5-5. Rpt. in Comprehensive Research and Study Guide Bloom’s Major Short Story Writers John Steinbeck. Ed. Harold Bloom. Broomall, PA Chelsae House Publishers, 17. 88


Gladstein, Mimi. “Female Characters in Steinbeck Major Characters of Major Importance?” Steinbeck’s Women Essays in Criticism (17) -. Rpt. in Comprehensive Research and Study Guide Bloom’s Major Short Story Writers John Steinbeck. Ed. Harold Bloom. Broomall, PA Chelsae House Publishers, 17. 88


Hicks, Kathleen. “ Introduction.” The Long Valley (15). Rpt. in The Facts on File Companion to the American Short Story. Ed. Abby H.P. Werlock. New York Facts on File, 000.167.


Hughes, R.S. “Beyond the Red Pony A Reader’s Companion to Steinbeck’s Complete Short Stories.” (187). 164. Rpt. in Short Story Criticism. Ed. David Segal. Vol. 11. Detroit Gale, 1. 6-7.


Pincentino, Edward. “Patterns of Animal Imagery in Steinbeck’s ‘Flight’.” Studies in Short Fiction (180) 48,441. Rpt. in Comprehensive Research and Study Guide Bloom’s Major Short Story Writers John Steinbeck. Ed. Harold Bloom. Broomall, PA Chelsae House Publishers, 17. 88


Steinbeck, John. “Flight.” Adventures In American Literature. Heritage Edition Revised. Francis Hodgins, et al. Orlando, HBJ, 185. 547-55.


Timmerman, John. “Dramatic Landscape of Steinbeck’s Short Stories.” (10) 15-16. Rpt. in Comprehensive Research and Study Guide Bloom’s Major Short Story Writers John Steinbeck. Ed. Harold Bloom. Broomall, PA Chelsae House Publishers, 17. 88


Vogel, Dan. “John Steinbeck’s Myth of Manhood.” College English (161). Rpt. in Literary Companion to American Authors Readings on John Steinbeck. Ed. Bruno Leone. San Diego Greentown Press, 16. 7-76.


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