John Steinbeck, a 20th century novelist, was the recipient of numerous awards including the Nobel Prize. Steinbeck, a conservative that valued the old America, could produce pages of beauty followed by pages of sheer trash writing using specific characteristics, which his work is characterized by. John Steinbecks work is characterized by symbolism and allegory, which can be seen in his novels The Pearl, The Grapes ofWrath, and his short story Flight.
In his short story, “Flight,” John Steinbeck uses many examples of symbolism, which is one way you can characterize John Steinbecks work. Symbolism can be a person, place, or thing used to portray something beyond itself. The most repeatedly used symbol in Flight is the color black. In literature many authors use the color black to represent death. In his short story, Flight, Steinbeck has numerous examples of color symbolism. A few examples are the black handle on the long blade, Pepes black hair, and the black jerky. Another example may be found when Pep puts on his fathers black coat, which represents death. When Pep puts on the coat he is literally covering himself with death.
Another fine example is the trail in which Pep 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 Pep’s appearance also helps foreshadow the ending. Steinbeck describes him as having a black hat that covers his black thatched hair. Pep is also described as being dark, lean and tall. Another example is Pep’s shack. The shack is described as weathered and very old. It casts a rather large shadow to the Northeast. 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, Pep, is impending death (pg. 225).
Another form of symbolism that Steinbeck utilizes, which is also in Flight, is nature symbolism. Throughout the story he uses nature to symbolize a variety of things. An example of nature symbolism is water, which is used to represent life. Some examples in the short story Flight are Pepes water bag that he hung over his horses shoulder, which began to leak, symbolizing Pepes life leaking away. Another example is
when Pepe was traveling he started out close to the river and got further and further away as he traveled, symbolizing getting further away from life (pg. 225).
Direction is another symbol Steinbeck uses, which is in Flight as well. In Flight direction is used to symbolize positive and pejorative 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. 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 Pepe is returning home. Pepe looks at his “weathered little shack” and notices the shadow. The shadow is heading in the direction Northeast. 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 Pepe turns to he will fall into evil. Another fine example is when Pepe 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 Pepe’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 Pepe 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 (pg. 225).
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 Pep’s inevitable death. Direction is used frequently in the story to symbolize the direction that Pep 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 Pep 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 Pep was destined to die right from the beginning of the story.
Another example of symbolism in which is a very common symbolism in his novels is Christian symbolism. Christian symbolism is used a lot in his novel The Grapes of Wrath. The title itself is a Christian allusion, Suggesting the coming of the Lord, revealing that the story exists in Christian context, and indicating that we should expect to find some Christian meaning. The meaning of the final paragraph, were in the barn they come across a boy and a starving old man, too weak to eat the bread his son stole for him, is also clearly an example of Christian symbolism. It resembles what we receive in memory of him (pg. 89).
Allegory, which is more prevalent in the twentieth century, is another way in which Steinbecks work can be characterized. Allegory is a work of literature in which people, objects, and events stand for or transcend abstract qualities. With varying degrees of deftness, all of Steinbecks major novels juxtapose their biblical sources in an attempt to transcend them. The Pearl and The Grapes of Wrath, which are two of Steinbecks major novels, are both allegories. The Pearl is an allegory on the evil of worldly treasures. The language in The Grapes of Wrath that the characters use is associated with Piedmont culture which is one thing that makes this novel an allegory (pg. 18-19).
As you can see John Steinbeck is a great writer. He is great in his use of symbolism and allegory, which gives you a way to characterize his work. If you believe his work should be characterized in any other way you need to check out his novels The Pearl, The Grapes of Wrath, or his short Flight. So next time you pick up a book, pick up one of these for a great excitement.