The personality changes that Pepé and his siblings experience during the story are striking because they mark Pepé’s jarring transition from a carefree farm boy to a grown man with blood on his hands—a change that underscores the way hardship and tragedy can force people to quickly come of age. While the shift in Pepé’s demeanor upon returning home is surprising and distressing, it’s explained by the fact that he just killed someone to defend his honor, and possibly the honor of his family. The act of killing a man with his father’s knife is what suddenly pushes Pepé from childhood into adulthood. Less than a day earlier, he was tossing the same knife into a post to entertain his siblings; what was a mere toy has become an instrument of Pepé’s loss of innocence. The sudden nature of this change prompts the reader to wonder if Pepé grew up too quickly—maybe he wouldn’t have lost so much of his initial personality if he had developed more gradually, without the catalyst of the man insulting him.
Pepé’s startling coming of age also affects Emilio and Rosy, pushing them further towards growing up and losing some of their own innocence. Their discussion of their older brother’s newfound manhood at sunrise is somber and surprisingly mature, especially for Rosy, who seems to accept Pepé’s likely death as a tragic inevitability, much like Mama Torres does—a sign that the disaster with Pepé has jettisoned Rosy into a new territory of maturity. This, in turn, suggests that part of becoming an adult is coming face to face with the harsh realities of the world and, as a result, having to give up the untroubled innocence of childhood. As Rosy and Emilio discuss Pepé’s situation, the scene mirrors the family’s more relaxed conversation while eating on the front steps at sunset the previous evening, emphasizing how quickly the situation has changed. Through these moments, Steinbeck explores how one person’s loss of innocence can affect everyone around them, for good or ill. Pepé’s actions lead to tragedy for both him and his family, and while this appears to mature him and his siblings, the story doesn’t frame this change as entirely positive. His fall from innocence not only changes him; it also forces his loved ones to harden their hearts as they prepare for a much more difficult life without him.
Loss of Innocence ThemeTracker
Loss of Innocence Quotes in Flight
And there was Pepé, the tall smiling son of nineteen, a gentle, affectionate boy, but very lazy. Pepé had a tall head, pointed at the top, and from its peak, coarse black hair grew down like a thatch all around. Over his smiling little eyes Mama cut a straight bang so he could see. Pepé had sharp Indian cheek bones and an eagle nose, but his mouth was as sweet and shapely as a girl’s mouth, and his chin was fragile and chiseled. He was loose and gangling, all legs and feet and wrists, and he was very lazy. Mama thought him fine and brave, but she never told him so.
He was changed. The fragile quality seemed to have gone from his chin. His mouth was less full than it had been, the lines of the lips were straighter, but in his eyes the greatest change had taken place. There was no laughter in them any more, nor any bashfulness. They were sharp and bright and purposeful.
When the grey shape of Pepé melted into the hillside and disappeared, Mama relaxed. She began the high, whining keen of the death wail. “Our beautiful —our brave,” she cried. “Our protector, our son is gone.” Emilio and Rosy moaned beside her. “Our beautiful—our brave, he is gone.”
Rosy looked around at him. She drew her knowledge from the quiet air. “He has gone on a journey. He will never come back.”
“Is he dead? Do you think he is dead?”
Rosy looked back at the ocean again. A little steamer, drawing a line of smoke sat on the edge of the horizon. “He is not dead,” Rosy explained. “Not yet.”
He sat down in the crisp dry oak leaves and automatically felt for his big black knife to cut the jerky, but he had no knife. He leaned back on his elbow and gnawed at the tough strong meat. His face was blank, but it was a man’s face.
The coat of his father pressed on his arm. His tongue was swollen until it nearly filled his mouth. He wriggled out of the coat and dropped it in the brush, and then he struggled up the hill, falling over rocks and tearing his way through the brush. The rifle knocked against stones as he went. Little dry avalanches of gravel and shattered stone went whispering down the hill behind him.