Use of Symbols and Symbolism in Steinbeck's Flight


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Use of Symbolism in Steinbeck's Flight

 

In his classic short story, "Flight," John Steinbeck uses many examples of symbolism to foreshadow the conclusion.  Symbolism can be anything, a person, place or thing, used to portray something beyond itself.  It is used to represent or foreshadow the ending of the story.  Steinbeck uses colors, direction, and nature symbolism to help presage Pepé's tragic death.  Let us now more closely examine the ways that Steinbeck uses colors to foreshadow the ending of his short story.

               Perhaps the most repeatedly used symbol in "Flight," is the color black.  In literature many authors use black to represent death.  There are numerous examples in this short story.  Some of these include the black handle on the long blade, Pepé's black hair and the black jerky.  Another example may be found when Pepé puts on his fathers black coat, which represents death.  When Pepé puts on the coat he is literally covering himself with death.  Another fine example is the trail in which Pepé travels.  Steinbeck describes the path as a well-worn black path.  By traveling on this path he is in fact taking the road of death.  Furthermore Pepé's appearance also helps foreshadow the ending.  Steinbeck describes him as having a black hat that covers his black thatched hair.  Pepé is also described as being dark, lean and tall.  Another example is Pepé's shack.  The shack is described as weathered and very old.  It casts a rather large shadow to the North east.  The darkness of the shadow symbolizes death in the home.  As we can readily see, the authors use of black symbolism in the story tells us that the main character, Pepé, is impending death.

               Another commonly used symbol in the story "Flight," is direction.  Direction is used to represent positive or negative effects.  North and East are generally "good" directions.  Many people feel this came about when the early man saw the sun rise in the East.  On the contrary, the directions South and West are generally "bad" directions.  Basically this is because the sun sets in the West.  Besides compass directions, height is also a very popular way of foreshadowing the conclusion of the story.  The direction up, which is also the way to heaven is generally "good," while down, the direction of hell, is considered to be "bad."  An example of this form of symbolism can be found when Pepé is returning home.

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  Pepé looks at his "weathered little shack" and notices the shadow.  The shadow is heading in the direction North East.  Even though the directions North and East are "good," the fact that the shadow is there turns them "bad."  This means that evil is winning over goodness.  So, whichever direction Pepé turns to he will fall into evil.  Another fine example is when Pepé watches the sun set in the West.  The sun, which is the bringer of all life is moving towards evil.  That means it will be dark out and Pepé's death is soon to come.  Steinbeck further uses this symbolism while describing the tops of the trees on the mountain.  The tops of the trees were wind-bitten and dead.  This symbolizes that the further Pepé travels up the mountain the closer he is to his inevitable death.  As shown above, direction is another very important aspect of symbolism.  Direction is just another of the many ways John Steinbeck accomplishes his foreshadowing of the ending of his story.  Let us now look further into symbolism by discovering yet another form of symbolism.

               Throughout the story Steinbeck emphasizes nature symbolism.  Nature symbolism includes a variety of things.  One very popular symbol is water.  Because of the fact that we, as humans, require water in order to live, water represents life.  An example of this in the story "Flight," would be Pepé's water bag that he hung over his horse's shoulder.  The water leaked onto the horse's shoulder.  This meant Pepé's life was actually leaking away.  It just so happened that when the horse was shot it was in the same shoulder.  The most obvious example of nature symbolism would be when Pepé is traveling up the mountain.  When he first starts out he is traveling very close to the river.  As he continues with his journey, the path in which he travels has the tendency to turn more and more away from the river.  In reality this means Pepé is moving further away from life and closer to his inevitable death.  These are just a couple of situations in the story "Flight" that help the reader catch a glimpse of the ending of the story.

               As we can clearly see, John Steinbeck has used many techniques and examples of symbolism to help portray the ending of the short story, "Flight."  Some of these examples include colors, direction, and nature.  The color black, which is the universal symbol of death, is used to help foreshadow Pepé's inevitable death.  Direction is used frequently in the story to symbolize the direction that Pepé is heading; if he is heading towards good or evil.  Nature, especially water, is another form of symbolism that Steinbeck utilizes.  Water equals life.  Therefore when Pepé moves further and further away from the river, he is actually moving closer to his death.  Thus, it is intuitively obvious to the most casual observer that Pepé was destined to die right from the beginning of the story.

 

 


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