All the Pretty Horses
Courage, Meanness and Flattery in All the Pretty Horses
In the novel All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, he presents several symbols one of them being blood. Blood is very crucial and its significance is expressed in the novel. John Grady Cole’s devotion is compensated in blood. The brutal image of blood and violence is morbidly displayed throughout the whole novel. It is an important symbol and a repetitive element, because it symbolizes the cost John Grady pays for everything he loves. It also represents the world around him and helps to define the attractiveness it has, despite the difference in violence and delicacy. Specifically, Grady only cares about three things that really matter to him which he later has to pay in blood: his life, horses, and Alejandra.
The presence of John Grady exists within the use of blood, intertwining his life to the natural beauty and animals. Blood is crucial for the human race, we need it to live, once enduring the pain we learn and if we lose it all, we die. The color red has several meanings and is shown often. Simply, implying the vicious world that John Grady lives in and the bloody landscape that surrounds him. For example, when he’s attending his grandfather’s funeral, the landscape is described as “the sun sat blood red and elliptic under the reefs of bloodred cloud before him”. In this scene, McCarthy depicts a vivid illustration of the history between Americans and Native Americans; the bloody battle in which they fought for control over the land. He uses blood in order to achieve his dreams and make them into a reality, because that is what he believes in. That justice can only be served through blood, which is actually John Grady falling back into the real world and setting out to a different country. Later in the text, McCarthy describes the ghosts of Comanche warriors who once used that same road which John Grady is riding to cross the land, the road is described as “pledged in blood and redeemed in blood only”. Specifically, the battle is defined as a contest between which groups can shed the most blood and can only alter the previous deaths by causing more bloodshed. John Grady soon realizes that America is no home to him, he can no longer stay there because it doesn’t give him the life he’s looking for. Therefore, he leaves Texas with his best friend, Rawlins to Mexico. John Grady hopes that Mexico can satisfy his dream of succeeding and eventually owning his own ranch. He has specific goals which he wants to fulfill, for example like the horses that are trapped, he wants to set them free so they could roam around more naturally and freely. He had always hoped for a dream like this. However in order to live a normal spirited life in Mexico, John Grady had to pay for his life, love, and Blevin’s horse in blood.
The complicated love between Alejandra and John Grady is indicated through blood during their romantic scene. “Drawing blood with her teeth where he held the heel of his hand against her mouth that she not cry out”. In this text, John Grady uses his hand to make sure Alejandra keeps quiet about everything they are doing. He doesn’t want anyone to know about their secret reunion, because it’s too risky. Alejandra bites down on his hand to silence his passion, which causes him to bleed. Similarly another incident occurred too, in which John Grady was in prison. He got into a terrible fight in which knives were being used, he was forced to protect himself by slaying the other man. The quote “from the red boutonniere blossoming on the left pocket of his blue workshirt there spurted a thin fan of bright arterial blood”, describes John Grady struggling to save himself and in doing so murdered the other prisoner, thus resulting in blood again. Furthermore, John Grady pays for Blevin’s horse in blood as well, when he tries to escape with it “he looked down at his leg. His trousers were dark with blood and there was blood on the ground. He felt numb and strange but he felt no pain”. This occurs right after John Grady has been shot while getting back Blevin’s horse at the end of the book. He had been shot in the leg and bleeding nonstop. The term “blood” is used once again, he’s paying for his love with blood. John Grady has mentally and physically become used to this idea of getting hurt, and in turn, he no longer feels the pain. The importance of horses often appears in the novel as an evasion from the world for John Grady, sometimes viewing the horses as more skillful and advanced to humans. “The horse had a good natural gait and as he rode he talked to it and told it things about the world that were true in his experience to see how they would sound if they were said. He told the horse why he liked it and why he’d chosen it to be his horse and he said that he would allow no harm to come to it”.
In this quote, John Grady expresses his love and desire to protect the horse no matter what the cost is. He speaks directly to it, making a promise in which he will allow no physical harm to come near it. In conclusion, tragic events are what makes the world admirable and makes people appreciate the little things they have in life. If it wasn’t for John Grady paying for his actions/wants, he wouldn’t be able to see the elegance in the world. All the bloodshed in the novel is used to create John Grady’s identity and make him realize what things in life are worth fighting for and what aren’t. McCarthy is simply trying to say that blood is what ties everyone together in the old west. Everyone has the same pure/free blood, but not many people take advantage of it. John Grady learns to embrace human nature after being released from prison, he corrects the violence that was inflicted onto him and seeks vengeance as the last step in his rite of passage. McCarthy reveals that violence and bloodshed are an unavoidable part of the human condition. It simply proves that by committing violent acts, one can be seen with loyalty and courage, defining who they really are at the end.
Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses: Dreams & Hero’s Journey
Dreams and the Hero’s Journey
The book All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy follows the boy, John Grady, throughout his travels in Mexico. The story is a bildungsroman, or a story about a hero who matures with the experiences gained during the adventure to ultimately become a fully developed individual. The methods McCarthy uses to effectively create this bildungsroman story can be found in his uses of diction, imagery and language in the motif of dreams found in multiple parts of the novel.
The diction used by McCarthy in several of Grady’s dreams build on the emphasis of the heroes journey. When Grady has the dream about horses on the peaceful field, he feels at peace:
THAT NIGHT he dreamt of horses in a field on a high plain where the spring rains had brought up the grass and the wild-flowers out of the ground and the flowers ran all blue and yellow far as the eye could see and in the dream he was among the horses running and in the dream he himself could run with the horses and they coursed the young mares and fillies over the plain where their rich bay and their rich chestnut colors shone in the sun and the young colts ran with their dams and trampled down the flowers in a haze of pollen that hung in the sun like powdered gold and they ran he and the horses out along the high mesas where the ground resounded under their running hooves and they flowed and changed and ran and their manes and tails blew off of them like spume and there was nothing else at all in that high world and they moved all of them in a resonance that was like a music among them and they were none of them afraid horse nor colt nor mare and they ran in that resonance which is the world itself and which cannot be spoken but only praised.(135)
The words chosen by McCarthy are distant from the words used during Grady’s journey. There is no mention of vaqueros, pursuers nor troubles. The dream’s diction is completely detached from the heroes journey, and indicate the Grady’s desire to return home. The home being his family’s ranch, or somewhere he will not be bothered by society. Positive words such as “rich” and “praised” show his yearning for a calmer environment.
The imagery found in the dream lacks the color red, which represents blood imagery in the novel. Blood imagery is a signal of violence, or turmoil in a relationship. Blood imagery is a recurring theme and can be identified as a signal at many points. When John and Alejandra meet for the last time, Alejandra “ took his hand and held it in hers and touched the veins” (210). The veins represented the blood imagery, but this reference to Grady’s veins shows that the conflict is not external, but internal. This example of blood imagery is one of many found throughout the novel, but this dream lacks any mention of blood or even the color red. The blue and yellow fields with horses gracefully passing through dominates the image. Because the image has no negative influences, it can be assumed that this dream is Grady’s most peaceful desire.
The language used in Grady’s dream contains some cowboy terms, and the sentences run on longer than they should. The run on sentences and jargon most likely represents the informality, and personality of Grady. This personal touch added to Grady’s dream by McCarthy accentuates the assertion that Grady heavily desires these experiences to be the fruits of his journey. The lack of punctuation makes this dream a very fast pace and exciting moment in Grady’s mind, but makes it seem short lived. This brief glimpse into Grady’s subconscious reflects his hopes of a reward for his journey and sorrows in Mexico.
The dream of horses reflects John Grady’s reasoning to persevere through the journey of a hero. The bildungsroman structure is enhanced by the underlying motive for adventure exhibited in Grady’s dreams of horses and reflect what Grady really is pursuing. For a hero, it is
easy to get sidetracked by love interests and obstacles that allies may be facing. For a reader it also may be hard to discern what the hero really is after, but Grady’s dreams help to clarify that
he is after a peaceful life away from the struggles of his boyhood. The dreams provide the reader, and John Grady a refresher on what the journey really is meant to be; a transition from his boyhood strife to an enlightened, content manhood.
Analysis in ‘All The Pretty Horses’ by Cormac McCarthy
Use of Contemporary Westernism by Cormac McCarthy in All the Pretty Horses
Cormac McCarthy uses Contemporary Westernism in All the pretty horses through the main characters; John Grady Cole, Lacey Rawlins, Jimmy Blevins, and Alejandra in cooperation with colloquialism to develop a theme of loyalty and a loss of innocence. Fed up with the direction that American society is taking, two young men run away to mexico to be cowboys. They run into a younger boy who tags along, and sets up trouble for them later down the road. The two young men, John Grady Cole and Lacey Rawlins, begin working on a ranch as horse breakers. Where John Grady falls in love with the daughter of the boss. Right as things are beginning to look up for the two boys, they are arrested in connection with crimes that jimmy blevins has committed and sent to prison. Alejandra, the ranch boss’s daughter, pleads with her great aunt to buy the freedom of the man she loves. She agrees on the condition that Alejandra must not see John Grady anymore. When he is released from prison he seeks out Alejandra. He pleads with her to run away with him to America, only to have his heart broken by the realization that she will not break her promise to her Aunt. He then returns to America a broken man. The author, Cormac Mccarthy, uses colloquialism in the form of diction and metaphors to immerse the reader in the setting of south Texas and Mexico. As shown by The New York Times critique of All The Pretty Horses “the extraordinary quality of his prose. Powered by long, tumbling many-stranded sentences.” McCarthy uses this as an effective colloquial to immerse you in not only the culture of the southwest but as well as the breathtaking landscapes in which his adventures occur. “His descriptive style is elaborate and elevated, but also used effectively to frame realistic dialogue, for which his ear is deadly accurate. He’s acclaimed for using language that is so old, and almost unrecognizable, that many mistake them for relatively new or isolated terms.” These “archaisms” seem like they are outdated terms but in reality they are still commonly used diction in The southwest, especially in the nineteen fifties. His diction and phrasing come from all different time periods of English and combine into a prose all its own. That seems to invent itself as it unfolds, resembling Elizabethan language in its flux of remarkable and endless possibilities.” His remarkable use of language in highly unusual combinations is what makes his diction so unique, he then puts it through a screen of southern twang to create the prose for which he is so widely acclaimed, and known.
Artistic Techniques to Convey the Characters of the Heroes
One of the he uses of a colloquialism in the form of diction through metaphors that Mccarthy demonstrates is by Lacey Rawlins to show the lack of trust that is afforded to strangers out on the prairie. Lacey Rawlins and John Grady Cole have just crossed into Mexico and are having a conversation with a young boy they have run into named Jimmy Blevins. “youre name aint blivet is it? Its Blevins. You know what a blivet is? What. A blivet is ten pounds of shit in a five pound sack.” Lacey Rawlins lack of trust is warranted due to the environment they are in, and his choice of metaphor is a product of the environment in which he was brought up. His definition of the word blivet while not technically wrong it does point to a southern raising. The real definition of blivet is simply something that is overfull. And so the diction with which he phrases this metaphor is very obviously an attempt by mcCarthy to westernize, and westernize this definition. You can see aspects of Contemporary Westernism in his choice of metaphor, and the style of writing, in the way that he uses improper grammar and misspelled words in an attempt to immerse you in the environment of 1950’s South Texas. The diction of Texas and the southwest as a whole is completely unique and this is showcased by Rawlins, John Grady, and Jimmy Blevins throughout the novel. Jimmy Blevins was asked why he was running away, and he responds for the same reason as Rawlins and Grady Cole. They then ask what reason that is. His response is a perfect example of southern colloquialism through another metaphor. “Cause you knowed they’d play hell sowed in oats findin your ass down here.” This is an extreme case of American regional colloquialism for which the diction is highly unusual to most people. This phrase essentially means that they would react violently like oats burning in hell. This is a good example of the diction that is endemic to the South and specifically Texas and helps to immerse the reader within that setting and the Contemporary Westernism of the novel.
Another good example of colloquialism through diction within a metaphor that epitomizes southern culture, and diction is when Blevins horse is stolen by some mexicans. Rawlins is talking to John Grady on whether or not they will attempt to get it back. And Lacey Rawlins says that “A goodlookin horse is like a goodlookin woman, he said. They’re always more trouble than what they’re worth. What a man needs is just one that will get the job done.” Rawlins first says goodlookin which is another example of mcCarthy misspelling a word to show the unique diction that is present within the culture of southwestern America. He also compares horses to women, another thing that I would consider a western colloquialism. Most people might consider that an insult, to be compared to horse, but I see it as a compliment. Historically horses have played a very vital role in American culture, especially in the plains of southwest and central United States. As well as the fact he said “just one that will get the job done” which is a staple in southwestern American culture. Just getting the job done, with no need to be excessive or flashy. This was epitomized by the cowboys of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, who simply made due with what they had. Which was never much. These examples support my thesis that McCarthy uses colloquialism through diction and metaphors to immerse the reader in the culture of southwestern America, and continues a trend in the genre of contemporary westernism all the while blazing a trail of his own. Cormac McCarthy epitomizes the genre of contemporary westernism through his use of colloquialism, metaphors and building upon the existing genre of the western, and possibly foreshadows its eventual demise. Also described in the crticism by the New York Times. “The decay of Western civilization throws a long shadow over all his work.” At one point John Grady’s father even remarks ‘We’re like the Comanches was two hundred years ago’. Insenuating that the life, and culture that they love is on the brink of destruction due to the ever evolving world around them. ‘We dont know what’s goin to show up here come daylight. We dont even know what color they’ll be.’ His father uses a little bit of irony here, joking that soon another more advanced culture will show up and drive them out of existence. Just as the white settlers did to the american indians in Texas in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The novel opens and closes with eerie images of American Indians that suggest our civilization may be swallowed up as completely as theirs.” “McCarthy once reflected on the powerful workings of narrative, ‘The ugly fact is that books are made out of books. The novel depends for its life on the novels that have been written’. Just as John Grady and Rawlins depend on a tradition of popular Westerns and Hollywood films to act the part of westerners, so McCarthy is dependent in All the Pretty Horses on previous western novels. In this sense, we can read John Grady as a direct descendant of Wister’s western hero in The Virginian. Figured as the classic cowboy updated for a post-World War II West, John Grady follows all the codes and conventions of the genre except that he doesn’t get the girl or the ranch. Like Wister in The Virginian, McCarthy engages myths of the cowboy. All his fondness and all the leanings of his life were for the ardenthearted and they would always be so and never be otherwise’. In breaking the wild horses on Don Hector’s ranch, John Grady ends up sowing the seeds of his own destruction, bringing an end to the mythic landscape of his dreams.” This proves my thesis of All the pretty horses epitomizing a contemporary western in that he doesn’t get the girl and there is no happy ending for John Grady.
Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses: Literary Analysis
What happens when you venture into the wild west with your greatest pal by your side? Probably nothing you expected! In Cormac McCarthy’s award winning novel, All The Pretty Horses, John Grady Cole, sixteen, sets off on an adventure with his friend Rawlins and comes back a man. This story is full of action, life lessons, and a proper depiction of the midwest in the 1950s. According to the nine yardsticks McCarthy’s All The Pretty Horses is a perfect example of a great read.
The first yardstick is Clarity. Sometimes a book can be too hard to understand and you need a thesaurus to read it, not this tale though. Cormac’s style is fairly easily understood with very little confusion to be seen. The only thing to bark about is his lack of quotation marks for speech, This seems to be a recurring thing in his novel’s through so we’ll let it pass. There is a bit of spanish but what little there is it is very small words that a quick search on your phone can help you figure out. for example a little bit after they meet Blevins, a mysterious character not to be trusted, the following exchange happens,
“Que vale? he said
Es Mucho Trabajo, he said.
That is about as hard as it gets so if you know a little spanish then you should be all set.
Yardstick number two is Escape. This book drops you right into the “cowboys” and “indians” era of Mexico and western America, I could almost feel the dry heart and tumbleweeds rolling around in the dirt against a red and orange sunset sky. In the very beginning of the book, right after his grandfather’s funeral, I saw this passage which reminded me of the classic west,
“At the hour he’d always choose when the shadows were long and the ancient road was shaped before him in the rose and canted light like a dream of the past where the painted ponies and riders of that lost nation came out of the north with their faces chalked and their long hair plaited and each armed for war.”
This passage just paints an image so clear in my head as if I was right there with the main character experiencing it with him. It didn’t matter that i was in a car when I read it I felt like i was trotting along on a spotted horse in Mexico somewhere.
The third yardstick is reflection of real life. Personally I think this book does a phenominal job of capturing what real life is like. It takes a young man and puts him through the not so average coming of age tale. It starts off with a loss or change of way of life that leads him to taking his life into his own hands. As he ventures out into Mexico with his friend he learns lessons of love, loss, and even reality. He goes into the world a boy and comes home a man. An excellent passage I noticed towards the very end of the book was this one here,
“The desert he rode was red and red the dust he raised, the small dust that powdered the legs of the horse he rode, the horse he led.”
This passage wraps up the book in a way that is almost inspiring. It’s realistic in the way that a boy can venture out into the world and come back not riding his horse, but leading it.
Artistry in Details is our fourth yardstick. This was the highlight of the book for me. From the very first page this book pulled me in and despite the opening scene being a funeral it was beautifully written. The small details painted a clear image in my head and made me see exactly what was written, if I closed my eyes I was right there. One of my favorite parts of this book is on the very first page starting with the very first words,
“The candle flame and the image of the candle flame caught in the pier glass twisted and righted when he entered the hall and again when he shut the door. He took of his hat and came slowly forward. The floorboards creaked under his boots in his black suit he stood in the dark glass where the lilies leaned so palely from their waisted cut glass vase,”
It just sets you in this somber scene, something that makes you feel what you are reading and a lot of this book is just like this. Scenes that if you were standing in would make you st back and just think.
The Internal Consistency of this book is very easily seen throughout the book and the changes the main character goes through happen in a very convincing way. The changes the character goes through make sense because of all that he goes through, he falls in love with a woman only to be rejected in the end, he is beaten and stabbed in prison, his father is gone, his grandfather is gone, his mom is up to god knows what, and even his friend leaves. He realises the real world and what it really is. The beginning of the book even directly parallels the end, they both start and end with funerals and sunsets. Thinking back on the passage from the end of the book here is the sunset scene from the very beginning,
“He rode with the sun coppering his face and the red wind blowing out of the west. He turned south along the old war trail and he rode out to the crest of a low rise and dismounted and dropped the reins and walked out and stood like a man come to the end of something.”
The Tone of this book is almost somber, it’s realism and almost whimsical at the same time. While it realistically portrays what the wild west is like it also has passages that make you think it’s almost something from a movie. The main character leaves his hometown hoping for a classic good prevails over evil adventure but comes back knowing there is a little evil in everyone and the west is not what he thought it would be.
“He said that those who have endures some misfortune will always be set apart but that is just that misfortune which is their gift and which is their strength.”
This passage is a great lesson that the book teaches and I feel like it appropriately catches the feeling I’m trying to express about the book’s tone.
Emotional Impact is the seventh yardstick. The emotional impact that this book left on me was strong and kept me striding through the book. I could not put the book down because I felt myself getting emotionally attached to the main character. When he was forced to be in prison and he was beaten I was so enraged I wished I could have jumped into the book and strangled everyone myself! When Alejandra rejected his love I was so sad, I wanted them to be together and once again I wanted to jump into the book and shake her. “Are you mad??” I would shout at her. Even the lessons in this book I connected with,
“The closest bonds we will ever know are the bonds of grief. The deepest community is one of sorrow.”
For many people this book may not connect with their personal beliefs but for me it connects pretty well. It challenges and stretches the boundaries of what is considered morally right nothing is ever black and white and there will always be a gray area. A quote I really like from this section is this,
“Every dumb thing I ever done in my life there was a decision I made before I got me into it. It was never the dumb thing. It was always some choice I’d made before it.”
This quote makes me chuckle a bit because it is so true! Many bad things that happen are just triggered by earlier mistakes and further proves my point that there is always a gray area.
Finally, and last but not least, we have significant insights. This book focuses a lot on the psychological insight and what humans are like when they are forced into situations which affect their behavior. It works to reveal what life was really like in the 1950’s. At one point our main character actually ends up killing someone after being forced into a situation where he had to. Many passages in this novel tell us that life can be cruel like this one here,
“In the end we all come to be cured of our sentiments. Those whom life does not cure death will. The world is quite ruthless in selecting between the dream and the reality even when we are not.”
This quote further proves the reality vs. romanticized west.
All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy is my idea of a perfect yardsticks classic. McCarthy will be taught to our kids for generations to come and these are exactly the reasons why. I thoroughly enjoyed this book down to it’s very last page.
Huckleberry Finn vs John Grady Cole: Similarities and Differences
The characters of Huckleberry Finn and John Brady Cole had many similarities and many differences throughout the book. The two characters’ motivations for leaving home were very different but had some similarities. Huckleberry Finn and John Brady Coles family situation was similar but there were also differences between them. Another difference between the two main characters is the level of trouble they got into when they ran away.
Both Huckleberry Finn and John Brady Cole ran away from their homes in the night. John Brady Coles motivation for leaving was that he didn’t see any future for himself in Texas since his parents divorced and were planning on selling the family ranch. He ran away to Mexico to be a cowboy because he couldn’t stop his parents from selling the ranch even though he offered to take it over. Huckleberry Finns motivation for running from home was because of his father and the woman taking care of him. The woman he was living with was very strict. She made him go to school and pray. He didn’t understand that he couldn’t for and get whatever he wanted. He felt like the woman was trying to civilize him, which pushed him to leave. Huckleberry Finn’s father also motivated him to leave because his father was very abusive and was an alcoholic. While John Grady Coles motivation was his the ranch closing down, Huckleberry Finns was his terrible family life. The similarity between the two main characters’ motivation for leaving home is that they both had family problems such as their fathers having addictions. This motivated them to leave because they felt like they didn’t have a close relationship with their fathers.
Huckleberry Finn and John Grady Cole had very similar family situations. Huckleberry Finn’s father had an addiction to alcohol. He was drunk all the time and beat Huckleberry Finn. John Grady Cole’s father also had an addiction. He had an addiction to gambling so he wasn’t home very often which led to a detached relationship between John and his father. Both of these characters had bad relationships with their fathers. The difference between the family life of Huckleberry Finn and John Grady Cole was their mothers. Huckleberry Finn didn’t have a mother and lived with a widow who tried to be a parent to him. John Grady Cole lived with his real mom and had a close relationship with her in the beginning of the book. For the most part, Huckleberry Finn and John Grady Coles family lives were very similar.
There was also a difference between the kind of trouble that Huckleberry Finn and John Grady Cole got in. Huckleberry got into a lot of trouble that he could easily talk his way out of. He never actually did anything to get him into too much trouble, he was mostly just caught up in all the lies he told. John Grady Cole on the other hand got into some major trouble. He was in a foreign country where he wasn’t always welcome. When he got thrown in jail without anyone to get him out. He was tortured and nearly killed until a woman he hardly knew helped him out. Overall, John Grady Cole got in more serious trouble during his time away from home than Huckleberry Finn did.
Overall, Huckleberry Finn and John Grady Cole had many similarities and differences throughout the two books. The similarities being their fathers and their overall family life. The differences were the seriousness of the trouble the two characters got in, their motivations for leaving home, and their mothers.
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy. a Literary Review
All The Pretty Horses
Chronologically speaking, All The Pretty Horses is quite an interesting book. It was published in 1992, is set in 1949, and often seems like it is set in the 1800s. Despite being set in the relatively modern timeframe of the late 40s, McCarthy nevertheless uses deliberately rustic ideas like horseback travel and cowboys to convey an idea that has lasted throughout the ages: the frontier/settler spirit, briefly filtered through a Mexican lens.
John Cole Grady is young. Very young, for what he went through. 16 years old is more or less a child functionally speaking if you’re talking in terms of horseback rides to Mexico and violent gunfights. He’s young and he has nowhere to go. His grandfather dies, and his ranch is to be sold off. His entire life is in turmoil. So he sets off into a land of opportunity, just as immigrants to America and settlers in the Frontier did all those years ago.
However, here’s a twist: he goes to Mexico, of all places. Why? Well for one, John Grady speaks Spanish (he was raised bilingual), but for another it’s where, he believes, the spirit of ranching survives. He could go into the city, learn a trade, and join the rest of the world in the 40s. But he doesn’t want to. John Grady Cole wants to be a cowboy. Ingrained deep within his psyche is a desire away from modern things.
How can it be the he be following that spirit if he’s leaving America? Well, he’s following the spirit in its 19th century style more than anyone who would stay in that day’s America. He’s running from an orderly world that he knows but does not want into a frightening yet enticing unknown, which to him appears to be free and prosperous.
However, John Grady’s frontier spirit falls apart. It’s more or less ripped to shreds, actually. Grady discovers that Mexico is actually a rather harsh mistress. His love is spurned, he is wrongfully arrested, and he even gets shot. Mexico is revealed to be not at all like the old Frontier Grady seemed to imagine.
John Grady ultimately has to go back to America. He understands this, on some level. He must join modern America and join the 40s. It’s worth noting that the style McCarthy uses in his own writing is often hard to quantify. It’s rather unique, and one of the more distinctive elements is how he uses dialogue. He uses no quotation marks, and often has long stretches with only dialogue; there’s commonly no other text for five to ten lines. I mention this because a lack of details regarding the surroundings leads to necessarily imagining the surroundings. And the events that happened often led me to imagining something akin to a mid-1800s American Frontier.
However, after Grady must return to America, and McCarthy does describe clear as day the pickup trucks and radios that he left behind. He must confront his past. But John Grady wishes not to do this. He watches his dead father be taken away in a hearse. John Grady still does not wish to join the modern day.
He shouldn’t go back. But he can’t stay. Not like this. John Grady Cole said a last goodbye to his best friend, got back on his horse and rode away. To somewhere? To fate, essentially. But mostly away. Away from his dead father and grandfather. Away from that world of modernity that he did not wish to be a part of. Away from the present and into the past.
The Choice Between Love and Duty in The God of Small Things and All the Pretty Horses
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy are two works that give their respective characters a choice between love and duty. Although these works differ drastically in historical setting, how love and duty develop throughout each novel are similar. In The God of Small Things, Roy creates the story of twins Estha and Rahel and alternates between the years of 1969 and 1993 in a southwestern Indian village called Ayemenem. In All the Pretty Horses, McCarthy writes the story of John Grady Cole, a teenage cowboy who leaves his home in Texas to go to Mexico in the late 1940s. The works take place on opposite sides of the world, but the characters are bound by the historical makeup of each area, seemingly affecting how they respond to the choice of love and duty and how other characters are affected by their choice between the two.
The God of Small Things is a work driven by the power of love. A common theme in the novel is the idea of the Love Laws, which are “the laws that lay down who should be loved, and how. And how much” (Roy 33). Still, the main conflict of the work is the clash between love and duty, or in this case social obligation. For example, in the beginning of the novel, Roy mentions regarding a set of her characters that “They all tampered” (Roy 31) with these Love Laws, and how their tampering affected themselves and others are proved throughout the entire work. Overall, Roy’s characters decide to choose love over duty, which is the reason for most of their distress. The most significant case of this choice is between Ammu, Estha, and Rahel’s mother, and Velutha, Ammu’s Untouchable lover. In this case, Ammu’s social obligation is to avoid the Untouchables, since the caste system was still an important part of Indian society. Yet Ammu chooses her love for Velutha in the last chapter during a sexual encounter, as they both ignore the consequences that their affair could have, especially when Velutha contemplates, “What’s the worst thing that can happen? I could lose everything. My job. My family. My livelihood. Everything” (Roy 316). This is mostly true because in Indian society at the time, the Untouchables’ duties were to remain invisible to the more distinguished people. In other words, they had to be extremely cautious of their actions because they were supposed to remain Untouchable to the other citizens.
However, by the time that Velutha and Ammu actually have sex, Roy highlights that “The cost of living climbed to unaffordable heights” (Roy 318) in that moment because, due to Roy’s unique structure of the novel, the consequences of Velutha and Ammu’s encounter are shown to the reader before the encounter itself. The reader becomes aware of the fact that Velutha is brutally beaten by the police, and Roy openly describes that situation as “History walking the dog” (Roy 271). In other words, Roy makes it clear to the reader that despite Velutha’s love for Ammu, his social obligations, or his duty, as an Untouchable are still valid in an Indian society, which eventually is the cause of the beatings he gets from the police. Ammu experiences the idea of social obligation invalidating love too, since at Sophie Mol’s funeral after her family had become aware of her relationship with Velutha, “they [Ammu, Estha, and Rahel] were made to stand separately, not with the rest of the family. Nobody would look at them” (Roy 7). Although Velutha and Ammu deliberately chose love over duty, their social obligations still overpowered their love as a whole, creating everlasting or even fatal consequences for the both of them.
On the other hand, most of the characters in McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses choose duty over love. As mentioned before, a large portion of this novel is set in Mexico and follows the story of John Grady Cole, a teenager who finds work at a ranch and eventually falls in love with the ranch head’s daughter, Alejandra Rocha y Villarreal. Since John Grady Cole is an American, he is unaware of the traditional Mexican society that he immerses himself into, which is first seen when Alfonsa, Alejandra’s great aunt, warns him about his and Alejandra’s relationship by saying that she “wants you [him] to be considerate of a young girl’s reputation” (McCarthy 136); John Grady Cole replies, “I never meant not to be” (McCarthy 136). In this same conversation, Alfonsa claims that “This is another country. Here, a woman’s reputation is all she has” (McCarthy 136), presenting to the reader how severe this relationship could be if it shown in public. Since Alejandra is of a higher class, she has to be more mindful of who she is in a relationship with since her reputation as woman is all that she possesses in Mexican society during that time, in a departure from The God of Small Things, in which people of lower class are supposed to be mindful of their place in society.
Later in the work, when John Grady Cole and Alejandra meet again, the reader becomes aware of her choice of duty over her love for John. Alejandra admits to him that Alfonsa told her that she “must stop seeing you [him] or she would tell my father” (McCarthy 250) and eventually her father became aware of the relationship. However, Alejandra decides not to talk to John Grady Cole again after their final encounter, mostly because “I [Alejandra] broke my father’s heart. I broke his heart” (McCarthy 251). Also, in the end, Alejandra tells John Grady Cole that she, “cannot do what you ask. I love you. But I cannot” (McCarthy 255). Even though Alejandra truly loves John Grady Cole, she cannot run away with him because of the social traditions she has always been accustomed to. Even though her own father “was going to kill” (McCarthy 251) the man she loved, the love from her father, which is seen as the most important in this society, invalidates the love from anyone else. In other words, once again, a character’s social obligations outweigh the romantic love they are allowed to experience. The consequences of Alejandra’s choice are temporarily seen in John Grady Cole’s actions and thoughts after their final interaction. John Grady “felt something cold and soulless enter him like another being and he imagined that it smiled malignly and he had no reason to believe that it would ever leave” (McCarthy 254). John Grady was absolutely heartbroken over her choice, but due to the society they inhabited, Alejandra’s loyalty to her family was what was necessary.
The controversial themes of love and duty persist throughout Roy’s The God of Small Things and McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, but they hold different effects. In both works, what the characters were obligated to do due to the societies in which they lived invalidated romances that went against their social obligations. For example, in The God of Small Things, it was Ammu having a relationship with an Untouchable, and in All the Pretty Horses it was Alejandra having a relationship with an undistinguished American. Both works go into depth about how the social traditions of their respective histories refuse to change despite the strength of individual loves. History was a common theme in Roy’s work, while Alfonsa told John that, “In history there are no control groups” (McCarthy 239). However, the consequences of each set of choices contrast; since Ammu and Velutha chose love over duty, Ammu’s family ended up being ignored by everyone else and Velutha ended up dying. Yet Alejandra’s decision to remain loyal to her family only resulted in John Grady Cole’s heartbreak. Even though in both novels the duties and social obligations of the characters invalidate the romantic loves that they harbor, the consequences of the choice between love and duty differ in severity. Overall, the decision between love and duty depends almost entirely upon the society each work is placed in, thus creating starkly different outcomes.
The Manipulation of Western Tropes in All the Pretty Horses
Without a doubt, Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses stays true to many common tropes within the Western genre. However; what makes this novel so unique is how McCarthy manipulates some of these important tropes. They are still present throughout the book, in fact, some of them are magnified through each part but as a whole, McCarthy openly manipulates some of the most popular ones in an attempt to highlight the development of the protagonist: John Grady Cole. Most importantly, McCarthy works the image of the cowboy, the importance of horses, a sense of lawlessness, and the gunslinger trope into All the Pretty Horses and alters the impact of them throughout the novel. As a whole, McCarthy implements these tropes to ensure that the novel stays true to the western genre but he manipulates them to highlight the psychological and physical journey of John Grady Cole.
In typical Western novels, the image of a cowboy is what drives the entire plot; a lawless, tough, gunslinger protagonist with a penchant for horses is the common archetype and it never changes throughout western novels. The common cowboy archetype is first exhibited by John Grady Cole when Rawlins asks him why he is leaving St. Angelo, Texas as he replied that he was “already gone.” (27) signifying the reason for John’s quest, which is also a common western trope as well. At that moment, the reader then assumes that John Grady’s journey by himself will occur since the idea of a lone traveler is often associated with westerns. However; that is not what occurs, which only makes John Grady’s growth much more significant. Instead of being a lone traveler, John Grady starts off his quest by being accompanied with two other people in the first part of the book: Rawlins and Blevins.
What makes this important is the fact that McCarthy manipulated the image of a cowboy by splitting one’s common traits between the three of them. For example, John’s role in the trio’s collective image of a cowboy is his love for horses since he is claimed to be “the best” (59) riders according to Rawlins. Rawlins’ role in their image of a cowboy is predominantly his lawlessness, or his ability to openly express his beliefs. Through dialogue, especially between John Grady Cole, Blevins, and Rawlins, the reader is aware of the fact that Rawlins is opinionated. For example, whenever Rawlins shares his opinion, it is relatively harsh like when he told Blevins that he’d, “Get shut dead for horse stealing” and that, “It don’t mean a damn thing to him. He expects it.” (80) Finally, Blevins’ role in McCarthy’s collective image of a cowboy is one of the most obvious: the gunslinger trope.
In fact, Blevins’ skills with guns is what helps John Grady Cole and Rawlins make the decision to accept him, especially since he was confident with them by telling John and Rawlins that if they, “wanted to throw something up, I’ll [he’ll] hit it.” (48). In the first part, they all collectively build this image of a cowboy and they all share common traits associated with them, which is very uncommon for western novels. In regards to John Grady’s development, this collective image lets the audience get insight on the fact that due to his upbringing and background, John Grady is unable to fit the image of the cowboy at first. The collective image that McCarthy created in the first part of All the Pretty Horses does not last as long as some readers would assume. In fact, the image between the three of them slowly dissipates throughout the next three parts of the novel. This is first seen in the second quarter, when the three of them are separated for the first time and John Grady is seen as more of a charismatic front man than the others. For example, John Grady built up so much notoriety at La Purísma after he’d broken in sixteen horses that when “John Grady pointed and asked that tortillas be passed there came hands from both sides of the table to take up the dish and hand it down in this manner like a ceremonial bowl.” (110) John Grady’s growth in regards to him separating from the previous collective image of a cowboy can also been seen when he and Rawlins were talking the night of when Don Hector gave John that special task as Rawlins mentioned that, “It’s an opportunity for you. [John Grady] Ain’t no reason for you to turn it down that I can see.” (116) From that point on, John Grady is seen as a separate entity from his companion, which only grows throughout the book.
Also in the second part, John Grady slowly becomes more lawless, which was previously Rawlins’ assigned trait in the collective cowboy image, as he faces criticisms from people within the ranch because of his newfound relationship with Alejandra. Specifically, Alfonsa is the first to advise John Grady that, “it is not proper for you [John] to be seen riding in the campo with Alejandra without supervision.” (136) and that John Grady should be, “considerate of a young girls’ reputation” (136) since that is “all she has.” (136). Although seeing Alejandra may seem harmless to John Grady, this is the first time he receives disapproval from a majority, and that point expands at the end of the part, when John Grady and Rawlins are arrested. From the perspective of John Grady’s development, McCarthy still manipulates the image of a cowboy trope so that it is gradual rather than instantaneous, and the second part in particular highlights that.
The final two portions of All the Pretty Horses can be identified as very significant in regards to the manipulation of western tropes to amplify John Grady’s development as a character. Previously, the image of a cowboy was manipulated by McCarthy by being split between three different characters and when that dissolved, John Grady gradually fit some of the traits associated with a cowboy’s typical image. What occurs in the last two parts is all buildup of John Grady morphing slowly into that image; in the third part, he becomes much more lawless and in the final part, his lawlessness only amplifies as he becomes a lone traveler. For example, in an act of self-defense, John Grady ended up murdering a man in the prison he and Rawlins were in by, “sinking a knife blade into a cuchillero’s heart.” (201). This can also be seen when John is separated from Rawlins in the final part and holds the captain hostage in order to get his horses back by threatening, “When I die you die.” (270). This creates a stark contrast with the John Grady presented to the reader in the first part of the novel, and the contrast is drastically accentuated in the last portion of the novel as John Grady “Passed and paled into the darkening land, the world to come.” (302) as he continued to travel by himself, searching for something because he cannot find anything for him in his old town.
In regards to western tropes throughout the novel, they are still manipulated; John Grady just fills some of the characteristics because it is necessary due to the setting. He is generally a humble character who holds an unwavering honor code, but due to his circumstances, John had to fit the image of a cowboy. For example, the reader is aware that John Grady “Never thought I’d [he’d] do that.” (215) after he had killed the assassin in the prison. But Rawlins comes to his defense by claiming that he “didn’t have no choice” (215) due to the violent atmosphere within the prison. Also, John never intended to travel alone; Rawlins wanted to leave since the emotional toll of witnessing Blevins’ death and being within the prison began to consume him. Therefore, with the idea of western tropes in mind, McCarthy constantly manipulated them because in common westerns, death does not take a negative emotional toll on cowboys nor does the cowboy want to travel with a companion. McCarthy most likely did this to show how John’s personal philosophies persist throughout each part and specifically how they had to waver due to the circumstances he was in, which gives the reader an understanding of his physical journey in comparison to his psychological journey.
A big part of the significance of All the Pretty Horses comes from McCarthy’s ability to manipulate the common tropes within the western genre. In comparison to other westerns, McCarthy’s novel is very uncommon in regards to character development and its relationship with other western tropes, which could be intentional. Overall, the western tropes within McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, are implemented to stay true to the western genre, but are later manipulated in order to show the relationship between the psychological and physical journey of John Grady Cole.
Maturity and Independence in All The Pretty Horses
The journey from childhood to maturity is guided primarily by the search for meaning. In All the Pretty Horses, protagonist John Grady Cole leaves home to find the place where he belongs in the world. Throughout the novel, John Grady chased the ideal vision of the ranch lifestyle instilled in him by his late grandfather, but was forced to reconcile his romantic dreams of the old west with a reality of violence and injustice that was less than kind to him. The sixteen-year-old set off from home in search of the answers he was always looking for but never managed to find at home, in his relationships with his estranged mother and his inadequate father.
After Grady’s grandfather died and his mother sold the ranch, he was forced to re-examine his future. He even goes as far as to visit his mother to see her performing in a play but finds no answers: “He’d the notion that there would be something in the story itself to tell him about the way the world was or was becoming but there was not” (21). He might not get answers, but he knows that the kind of life his mother leads in San Antonio is not for him. He leaves home and finds comfort in the familiar desert, in embracing the rugged cowboy lifestyle that directly contrasts with the modern industrialism he is running from. Eventually, Rawlins runs away from home with Grady for the sake of adventure, and because there is not much of a life for him in San Angelo. It becomes clear early in the trip that instead of leaving out of a longing for the freedom of the cowboy lifestyle, Rawlins views his new lifestyle as a positive consequence of his decision to leave. It is a way of life that he “could get used to this life…It wouldn’t take [him] no time at all” (35). He parts ways with Grady after he finds the answers he wasn’t looking for. Through his time on the road, at the ranch, in prison, he came realize that the path he was on wasn’t leading him to the future he really wanted. He spent a large measure of the journey following Grady’s lead even when they disagreed, but by the end he had matured through his trials and was able to define what he wanted. This shift left Grady alone to search for all the answers to his questions, such as why Alejandra had let him go, how to live with his own guilt for the death of another man, an explanation for the injustice of Blevins’ death, and the true owner of Blevins’ horse. In finding these answers, Grady is faced with an unsheltered view of the world that forces him to grow up.
Consequences are driven by one’s choices and free will rather than by fate guiding the actions of man. Throughout the novel, John Grady, Rawlins and Alfonsa offer their own perspectives on the nature of free will and fate. Doubt and regret for his own choices lead Rawlins to struggle with the idea of whether it is fate or free will that rules his future. He questions his motivations for running away from home with his friend almost immediately: “well suppose you were ill at ease and didn’t know why. Would that mean that you might be someplace you wasn’t supposed to be and didn’t know it?” His words appeal to some higher destiny, one that isn’t being fulfilled, as the source of his discomfort (37). He finds no support in Grady, who solidly believes that people make their own destinies. In contemplation of the afterlife, Rawlins asks Grady if a person can believe in heaven if that person doesn’t believe in hell and Grady replies, “I guess you can believe what you want to” (91). While Rawlins is trying to find the right answer, Grady tells him that there is no right answer.
For his part, John Grady is the embodiment of the American Dream. He believes that anything is possible if you just put your mind to it. This belief is what drives him to leave home in search of a future that is dying out, in the hope that he has the power to shape his future. This belief also causes him to get into trouble in Mexico when his steadfast individualist attitude clashes with the mentality of Alfonsa, a character who believes that people’s lives are controlled by unseen forces, such as a societal structure and tradition, that they must play into. Through her past experiences, her injury that affected her prospects, and losing her love in a rebellion against the greater strength of the Mexican government, she came to believe that people are just puppets at the mercy of fate: “For me the world has always been more of a puppet show. But when one looks behind the curtain and traces the strings upward they terminate in the hands of yet other puppets, themselves with their own strings which trace upward in turn, and so on” (231). Grady’s disagreement only urges him to pursue a romantic relationship that is doomed to fail from the start and leads him right into prison. The time in prison seems to be all the confirmation that Rawlins needs that fate has laid out a course for him: “It was in the hospital that I got to thinking: I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t supposed to be here” (214). Rather than accepting that his decisions led him into this trouble, he attempts to vindicate himself by saying that he was always meant to have these experiences: “All my life I had the feelin’ that trouble was close at hand. Not that I was about to get into it. Just that it was always there” (208). Rawlins interprets his experiences as proof of fate, but Grady holds to his belief, even though it is his strong faith in free will that causes him the most emotional turmoil in the second half of the novel. He is plagued with shame at not doing more to stop Blevins from being executed, regret over losing Alejandra, and guilt over killing an inmate who threatened his life. Rawlins tries to comfort Grady by reassuring him that he didn’t have a choice but to kill, yet this idea goes against one of Grady’s basic beliefs (215).
Although John Grady believes that man has ultimate power over his own destiny, he was faced with so much hardship and loss that was seemingly out of his control. He doesn’t let go of this idea, though. By the end of the novel, rather than accepting the world as it is and surrendering to a life in San Angelo, Grady sets off in search of the life he really wants, confident in the fact that he can shape his life in any way he chooses.
Light in August and All the Pretty Horses Essay
In both novels, All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy and Light in August by William Faulkner, a central theme of heroism and the expectations placed on the two main characters and other’s surrounding them is presented as a pivotal point for the advancement of the plot and embellishment of the meaning of the book. While this theme is reflected unseemlier ways while comparing the two works, it is not presented in the same fashion in regards to the author’s choices and characterizations of the figures that populate their fictional worlds. While McCarthy’s work reflects a more optimistic view toward heroic acts and attempts made at greatness than Faulkner, the latter’s novel is a darker rendition of this concept with heroic acts and charity being repaid with corruption and pain. Both novels address this central concept with plot lines that follow the characters through elaborate journeys and focus on set ups for heroism and, at times, failure in achieving it.
The most powerful and understandable medium through which this idea can be translated in the two novels are the characters. Both main characters are used as examples of heroism through means of non-heroic acts or failure at heroism itself through the eyes of the audience or other characters in the novel. In McCarthy’s novel, the main character presented is John Grady who has a set goal of attaining the rustic lifestyle of a cowboy, a naturally heroic role simply by its associative meaning in the eyes of the sixteen year old boy. As both a parallel and contrast the this, Faulkner’s Joe Christmas is a character who is relentlessly set on failure in his opportunities for any kind of redeeming action and yet ascends to the place of a Christ like figure by the end of the novel simply through the payment he is made to make in the closing of the book. These are the two characters received as heroes in their own respective worlds if not by the other characters that inhabit them. The attainment of this perceived greatness is drastically different for each character, how ever, and this difference calls into question the very basis which the audience uses to classify a hero. john Grady’s continuous struggles through the various trials of his journey, such as the fight with the cuchillero in prison, are what give him the respect of the audience whereas Christmas’ heroism is present only because of a certain sympathy felt for him due to the hand he is dealt being an unfair one both in life through his mixed heritage and the discrimination he receives for it and in his death through its circumstances and the hatred which he must suffer. The holistic comparison of these two characters and their failures in their heroic attempts or lack thereof reveal a similar result from two very different approaches, effectively establishing a blurred line for an audience as the the validity and meaning of a heroic figure.
In an extension of the exemplification of character driven heroism, the supporting characters in each of the novels provides more insight into the view the two authors hold of the attainment of greatness. In All The Pretty Horses, McCarthy presents two other key figures that, in addition to John Grady, create a group whose flaws are characterized in each of its members. As the two’s presumed leader, John Grady’s most revered quality by the audience is hope. This trait, how ever, is a downfall for him as he can be overly ambitious. Rawlings is a representation of cowardice, a trait that removes his chance at a heroic status and eventually confines him to the option of retreat back to Texas. Finally, Blevins is the character who represents youth, the main shortcoming of the group as a whole. This combination is the set back that gives John Grady his heroic feature after he overcomes its confinement. This forthcoming of extreme effort from John Grady contrasts Christmas’ lack of persistence in any charitable endeavor. This is where the characters of Lena Grove and Byron Bunch become key in understanding why we view Christmas the way we do at the end of the novel despite his less than honorable actions.Christmas is the ultimate concentration of sin in the novel but is not its sole ambassador. He is simply a result and manifestation of the sins of others. Lena is a testament to his impurity for which he suffers. Her lack of virginity is a parallel to the lack of belonging Christmas feels because of his racial background. Byron is more a figure of corruption as he is distracted from his routine activities and even God by the sinfulness of lust. This reflects the corruption suffered by Christmas through the abuse of others and the festering of sores created through minor acts of untreated sins eventually snowballing into murder. Between the two works, it can been seen an interesting contrast in that one character become dedicates to a goal of heroic notion and achieves the same effect as someone who simply happened to be the product of misfortune and poor circumstances.
While the realization of heroic stature is something attained by both characters, the means to achieving this goal and the effectiveness of their supposed heroism can be debated. It can be argued that John Grady’s actions such as killing a man or hiding sexual relationship with his employer’s daughter are a testament enough to remove his title of the hero of the novel while Joe Christmas’ entire life is enough to revoke his. The reason that these two are able to be presented as heroes is because they are the best that each novel has to offer. Both works present characters who are searching for a world that cannot exist for either of them whether it be one of acceptance or of an era that has already passed. It is the pursuance of a dream that is the most heroism quality the audience sees in these characters and their failures in such an endeavor only create a sense of sympathy in the reader. The novels exemplify the realism of heroic imperfection and present an idea that disproves the warped notions of certain characters while also correcting the mislead assumptions of the reader.