While the story opens in a peaceful domestic setting, there are indications from the beginning that “Flight” takes place in wild country. As Pepé travels farther and farther from home, the landscape around him becomes increasingly desolate and deadly, practically making him into a hunted animal himself. Every detail of the situation and the environment suggests that when people venture into the mountains, they’re no longer fully human; they become predators and prey. As Pepé flees and hides from the people hunting him down, he encounters literal predators such as mountain lions and wildcats, narrowly escaping their attention just as he tries to evade his human pursuers. Out in this wild place, there’s little meaningful difference between the kinds of creatures hunting him. As he crawls around in the brush and scrounges for food and water, Pepé becomes prey—a part of the natural landscape around him. This stripping away of his human identity is made even more literal as he slowly loses the clothing and objects that belonged to his father, until there’s hardly anything left but Pepé himself. This is the wild, savage world that he’s stepped into, in his accidental rush to become a man. Steinbeck’s detailed, brutal depiction of Pepé’s journey through the wilderness highlights the harsh realities of any young man’s coming of age and venturing into the outside world alone. There are few opportunities for nobility or heroism in the wasteland; for the most part, there are only the hunters and the hunted.
Predators and Prey ThemeTracker
Predators and Prey Quotes in Flight
As he ascended the trail the country grew more rough and terrible and dry. The way wound about the bases of the great square rocks. Little grey rabbits skittered in the brush. A bird made a monotonous high creaking. Eastward the bare rock mountaintops were pale and powder-dry under the dropping sun.
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.
Pepé bowed his head quickly. He tried to speak rapid words but only a thick hiss came from his lips. He drew a shaky cross on his breast with his left hand. It was a long struggle to get to his feet. He crawled slowly and mechanically to the top of a big rock on the ridge peak.