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.
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.
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.
Wildness and Civilization in All the Pretty Horses
The post-World War II boom that informs today’s world has no place in Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. The post-war optimism and suburban complacency common to other American works of this period does not figure into McCarthy’s novel, peopled as it is by characters like Blevins whose “daddy never come back from the war” (64) and John Grady’s father who looked “over the country with those sunken eyes as if the world out there had been altered or made suspect by what he’d seen of it elsewhere” (23), presumably in the war. Instead of the modern urban environment, these characters seek comfort in a less complicated world that is informed by an older cowboy ethos. This ethos relies upon wildness instead of artifice and the natural landscape instead of civilization. McCarthy’s relentless contrast between the call of wildness and the dangers of civilization merits a closer look at wildness and its associated values. The novel opens immediately after the death of John Grady’s grandfather. Grady’s grandfather’s authenticity and authority stemmed from his management of the wild world of the ranch. The reader’s initial impression of the original 1866 ranch was that the grandfather carved it out of the land, “a oneroom hovel of sticks and wattle” (6). In exercising dominion over the ranch land, the grandfather achieved a unity with the wild world. The grandfather’s death denotes the loss of that wild world and impels the novel forward. Grady’s brief forays into the civilized world prove unsatisfactory. Here, contemporary society is exemplified by the lawyer’s office and his mother’s theater world. The lawyer’s tools prove futile in regaining the ranch. His mother’s world is so artificial that Grady cannot even find her registered in hotels under her own name. Grady’s inability to connect with his mother is brought home when “the clerk turned away and checked the registrations. He shook his head. No, he said. No Cole” (22). Disappointed, Grady is compelled to seek the wild world in Mexico. Immediately after these unsatisfactory encounters the most idyllic portion of the novel begins. Grady, accompanied by Rawlins, becomes immersed in the world of the trail to Mexico. Rawlins and Grady leave the complex world behind them, and “by sunset they could hear trucks on a highway in the distance” (32). After this separation, the dialogue between the two becomes laconic and relies upon humorous understatement. Stunning descriptions of the natural world take the place of complicated dialogue. In one of the few moments not wracked by the sense of imminent doom, McCarthy tells us that Grady and Rawlins “left the river and followed the dry valley to the west. The country was rolling and grassy and the day was cool under the sun” (34). Such momentary optimism is possible only in the natural world, away from civilization. When Blevins enters the story, this dream-like interlude abruptly ends. Blevins has been damaged by the world, emotionally scared by his stepfather. He too seeks release in the wild world. However, despite his numerous talents – horseman, marksman, survivalist – Blevins’ failure and ultimate death are caused by his inability to deal with the natural world. His separation from the natural world is underscored during the storm when Grady asks him “Why cant you be out in it?” and Blevins responds “On account of the lightnin'” (67). One could never imagine Grady’s grandfather allowing such fears to get the better of him. This fear of the natural world has severe short and long terms consequences for Blevins. In addition to the loss of his horse, he loses all ability to take care of himself when the floods wash away his clothes and gun. McCarthy highlights his inability to deal with the natural world as he “sat with his bare legs stretched before him, but they looked so white and exposed lying on the ground that he seemed ashamed and he tried to tuck them up underneath him” (74). Despite his bluster and superficial ease in dealing with the natural world, Blevins’s lack of authenticity immediately catches up with him. Were it not for Grady’s kindness, he could have been sold to the Mexicans or traded for wax. Once relieved of Blevins, Grady and Rawlins enter the world of the Hacienda de Nuestra SeÃ±ora de la PurÃsma ConcepciÃ³n, “a ranch of eleven thousand hectares situated along the edge of the BolsÃ³n de Cuatro CiÃ©nagas in the state of Coahuila” (97). Their arrival at the Hacienda signals a return to both the natural world and the world of artifice. Comparisons between Grady’s grandfather and Don Hector Rocha y Villareal are inevitable. The power of both men stems from their authority over their land. Both are rooted in the history of their land. Grady rapidly wins Don Hector’s respect when he and Rawlins break a small herd of three year old colts in as many days. This exercise of dominion underscores that a man’s worth is derived from his conquest of the wild. The tension of the battle between Grady and the horses is palpable and urgent. McCarthy tells us that,…before the colt could struggle up John Grady had squatted on its neck and pulled its head up and to one side and was holding the horse by the muzzle with the long boney head pressed against his chest and the hot sweet breath of it flooding up from the dark wells of its nostrils over his face and neck like news from another world. They did not smell like horses. They smelled like what they were, wild animals. He held the horses face against his chest and he could feel along his inter thighs the blood pumping through the arteries and he could smell the fear and he cupped his hand over the horse’s eyes and stroked them and he did not stop talking to the horse at all, speaking in a low steady voice and telling it all that he intended to do and cupping the animal’s eyes and stroking the terror out (103-104).This exercise of dominion over the wild world wins him an impressive promotion to breeder. Through his ability to master the wildness, Grady momentarily appears to be a master of his world. This moment of mastery is short-lived because it brings Grady closer to the world of artifice in the form of Alejandra and Alfonsa. The foreignness of Alejandra is apparent because she is riding English, wearing “jodhpurs and a blue twill hacking jacket” (94). This stylized convention is foreign to Grady; although his love for her is beyond question, this foreign artifice puts the reader on notice that trouble is sure to follow. The complex machinations of Alfonsa trigger the subsequent incarceration of Rawlins and Grady. Once in jail, the boys are out of their depth. Their cowboy ethos and mastery of the natural world have little use in jail and they are saved only by getting “paid out” (209) by Alfonsa. Released from jail, both Rawlins and Grady eventually return to Texas. McCarthy’s description of the natural world seems disjointed: “the dead moon hung in the west and the long flat shapes of the night clouds passed before it like a phantom fleet” (298). The wild world of the ranch is gone. The death of Abuela severs Grady’s last connection to that world. Rawlins asks, “Where is your country?” and Grady responds “I dont know where it is. I dont know what happens to country” (299). This response calls into question Grady’s purpose in the world and the value of his cowboy ethos. The novel closes with a description of the natural world. McCarthy tells us that Grady …rode with the sun coppering his face and the red wind blowing out of the west across the evening land and the small desert birds flew chittering among the dry bracken and horse and rider and horse passed on and their long shadows passed in tandem like the shadow of a single being passed and paled into the darkening land, the world to come (302).McCarthy’s description is foreboding because this natural world is foreign and Grady’s place in it uncertain. In All the Pretty Horses, McCarthy contrasts the natural world with the civilized world. Whereas the natural world is associated with emotional release and freedom, the civilized world is associated with theatrical artifice at best, and jail at worst. One’s authenticity and authority are derived from mastery of this natural world. As shown supra, both Grady’s grandfather and Don Hector were exemplars of those whose authority was derived from such mastery. Blevins is an example of one who has failed to master the natural world. At the end of the novel, it remains unclear whether McCarthy’s protagonist will ever achieve such mastery or even if his cowboy ethos are still meaningful.
Significance of the Title All the Pretty Horses
The title of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, All the Pretty Horses, reflects the significance and variance of roles that horses play in this coming-of-age story, as they relate to John Grady. The horse, which was the social foundation of Western American culture until the mid-20th century, is described as an economical and practical asset to the boys. However, McCarthy also describes horses’ abstract qualities using idyllic and impassioned diction, depicting them as animals of a highly advanced spiritual nature, similar to humans in some ways. John Grady has an intimate relationship with all horses and understands the world of horses extraordinarily well. On his journey, he learns that the world of men is very different from that of horses and is forced to rethink the relationship between humans and horses. John discovers that his preconceived notions about men and human society are false; he finds that they do not live in a romantic world as he had supposed. Therefore, the title McCarthy has chosen is ironic and epitomizes the change that John experiences. McCarthy uses the title to represent John’s initial perspective on the world, which is refuted through John’s later experiences.John’s life, like all of Western American society during the timeframe of the story, revolved around horses, and until he runs away, he knows more about horses than he does about men. These creatures represent strength, untamed fervor, and most importantly, freedom of spirit. The veneration that the vaqueros have for horses is apparent in the tales Luis tells the boys. “The old man only said that it was pointless to speak of there being no horses in the world for God would not permit such a thing” (111). This quote demonstrates the sentiments of the vaquerosthey value horses so highly that they think of them as nearly divine. It also reinforces John’s romantic notion that horses are highly spiritual beings. Like the vaqueros, the boys revere horses, and these animals play large roles in their lives. The boys use horses in many ways throughout the novel: as companions, as means of transportation or escape, and as a judge of a stranger’s character, to name a few. John even dreams about horses, as “his thoughts were of horses…still wild on the mesa who’d never seen a man afoot and who knew nothing of him or his life yet in whose souls he would come to reside forever” (118). The diction referring to horses here”wild,” “souls”is idealistic and almost poetic. Furthermore, the fact that John dreams about horses in this way and that he wants to “reside forever” in their souls shows that he thinks of them very highly, almost as mystical mentors.Throughout the novel, McCarthy uses romantic, emotional language to describe horses and their connections to humans. He portrays these animals as noble beings with wild spirits using venerating diction to describe them. With vivid imagery, McCarthy paints a poignant picture of horses. “The painted ponies and the riders of that lost nation came down out of the north with their faces chalked and their long hair plaited and each armed for war which was their life…When the wind was in the north you could hear them, the horses and the breath of the horses and the horses’ hooves that were shod in rawhide” (5). This passage exhibits the passion and fervor that McCarthy attributes to horses. The mood created by words such as “painted ponies” and “the breath of the horses” is passionate and emotionally charged. The author also describes the raw energy and life that flows through the horses: “John Grady…was holding the horse…with the long bony head pressed against his chest and the hot sweet breath of it flooding up from the dark wells of its nostrils over his face and neck like news from another world” (103). These metaphors such as “the dark wells of its nostrils” and “news from another world” create a forceful likeness of mysterious animals with a nature foreign to humans. The horse’s “hot sweet breath…flooding up” displays the life and energy that fill horses. This mysterious energy is also apparent later, when McCarthy writes, “He rode the last five horses…the horses dancing, turning in the light, their red eyes flashing…they moved with an air of great elegance and seemliness” (107). This imagery of “red eyes flashing” and dancing horses is very mysterious yet still striking. The descriptive detail is very cinematic, and any of these scenes could easily be made into a movie. These extremely detailed portrayals are so extravagant they are almost unrealistic, but they create the desired effect in making horses seem mystical and fanciful. These are the romantic creatures that John sees, the “pretty horses” of the title.John Grady’s connection with horses is as mystical as the horses themselves, as he is somehow able to communicate with all horses on a deeper level than any other character in the story. This is apparent on the hacienda in the scene in which John and Rawlins are breaking the new horses. John “cupped his hand over the horse’s eyes and stroked them and he did not stop talking to the horse at all, speaking in a low steady voice and telling it all that he intended to do and cupping the animal’s eyes and stroking the terror out” (103). John’s ability to “stroke the terror out” of the horses is reminiscent of a parent calming a frightened child; obviously, he must have some innate tie with these animals if he is able to do this. Indeed, McCarthy explicitly states that such a bond exists between John Grady and the horses. He writes, “The boy who rode on slightly before him sat a horse not only as if he had been born to it which he was but as if were he begot by malice or mischance into some queer land where horses never were he would have found them anyway” (23). This passage shows that John’s relationship with horses extends into the metaphysical range, a view that is reinforced throughout the novel as more is revealed about John Grady and about horses. As Luis says, “the horse shares a common soul…if a person understood the soul of the horse then he would understand all horses that ever were” (111). It seems like McCarthy is implying that John Grady has this ability to understand the soul of the horse, and that is why his relationship with horses is so unique.John’s reliance on his knowledge of horses as a guide in the world of men eventually reveals to him that the two species are very different. When John starts out on his journey, he knows relatively little about the inner workings of human society, but he has superficially found men and horses to be similar. As McCarthy writes, “What he loved in horses he loved in men, the blood and the heat of the blood that ran them. All his reverence and all his fondness and all the leanings of his life were for the ardenthearted and they would always be so and never be otherwise” (5). John knows that horses are “ardenthearted” and believes that men must be the same. He thinks that his journey will be romantic and passionate, like the horses he loves, and will reinforce his view of the world, but he soon learns otherwise. Before anything unfortunate happens to him, John hears from Luis that “among men there was no such communion as among horses and the notion that men can be understood at all is probably an illusion” (111). The first doubts have begun to creep into John’s mind, and eventually, he discovers this firsthand. Instead of “pretty horses,” his journey is filled with murder and stealing, prison and broken hearts. His ill-fated journey validates Luis’ point, and totally destroys John’s notion that the world of men is at all an understandable thing. Finally, when it is all over, he returns home disillusioned, only to find that both his father and his abuela have died. John’s fanciful concept of the world of men now has been completely replaced by a “world that…seemed to care nothing for the old or the young or rich or poor or dark or pale or he or she. Nothing for their struggles, nothing for their names. Nothing for the living or the dead” (301). The world of “all the pretty horses” is nothing to him now but a distant memory. This reveals the title’s irony: a story titled All the Pretty Horses would seemingly never involve the death and violence that is encompassed in John’s travels. Indeed, John has come “full circle” and realized that his original assumptions about men were false.The title of McCarthy’s novel All the Pretty Horses is not meant to be taken literally. Before he runs away, John Grady believes in the world of “all the pretty horses,” because he has never known anything else. However his time in Mexico disillusions him and forces him to believe otherwise, that the real world is not so simple, carefree, or innocent. John learns that the romanticism that he ascribes to horses cannot be applied to men. John reveres horses and experiences the praise of these animals in the folklore of the day. His relationship with horses exists on many levelsthey are his transportation, his friends, and his spiritual companions. Furthermore, McCarthy describes horses with emotional diction creating almost a motif of passion whenever horses are described. John’s unusual understanding of the fervent spirit of horses leads him to believe that men are the same. However, on his bleak and disappointing journey he learns that men do not have the same passion of spirit as horses. Instead, they are unpredictable, violent creatures, and their world is certainly not always pretty.
How a New Perspective Can Change a Person: Lost Identity and New Identity in All the Pretty Horses
In All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy reveals what happens when one learns the truths about the world through John Grady Cole’s journey as he leaves home and experiences the realities of the world in a country foreign to him. Unsatisfied with their lives at home, John and Rawlins leave to Mexico, believing that they have the opportunity to create their own new lives by venturing to and exploring the unknown. With idealistic views of the world, they can not imagine the difficulties they will be put through on their journey through Mexico, a world completely foreign to them. Through their difficult experiences and gradual loss of identity on John and Rawlins’ journey, McCarthy suggests that in order to discover the reality of the world, one must lose their naiveté, and, in many ways, become an entirely new person.
At the beginning of their venture into Mexico, Rawlins’ wallet is destroyed and Blevins loses his clothes, both signifying loss of their identities and becoming a new person, distinct from the people they were at home. Throughout the novel, they are continually physically changed in ways that symbolize the changes they must go through in becoming completely new people as they enter a new world and new life to them. At the beginning of their travels, when John and Rawlins meet Blevins, Rawlins pokes fun at Blevins, and out of a competitive, performative behavior, Blevins tells him to “throw your pocketbook up in the air” and says that he’ll “put a hole in it” (48). Rawlins throws his wallet in the air, and Blevins shoots a hole right through it, destroying the wallet and everything in it. Rawlins’ wallet, holding his money and his ID, is a symbol of his identity. The wallet being destroyed right after they cross the border into Mexico shows the first act of the characters losing their identities as they abandon their homes and go to this new land. Also early in their travels, Blevins hides from a thunderstorm and when John and Rawlins find him after, he has lost his clothes and his horse. John asks Blevins “Where’s your clothes at?” and Blevins replies “washed away.” John replies “your horse is gone,” and Blevins says “I know it” (71). This also symbolizes the boys losing their old identities. Blevins is literally stripped of his identity as he loses his clothes, forcing him to start off his new life in a new world symbolically naked like a baby being born, starting its life in the world. These are the first signs of the characters becoming new people. Losing Rawlins’ wallet, his only form of identification, and Blevins’ clothes as he is literally stripped of his identity, they are physically changed and forced to become new people.
As the characters continue moving through Mexico, they have many unsettling experiences that McCarthy includes to display the brutality of the world that John does not see at first. John begins the novel a very idealistic, naive character, little anticipating the harsh realities in the real world. He is optimistic, and sees the good in everything, but neglects the bad. For example, when he and Rawlins first meet Blevins, Rawlins is suspicious of Blevins’ horse and calls him out for stealing it. As Blevins continuously tells people that it is his horse, John defends him and truly believes that he is telling the truth, like when the captain interrogates him asking “Why he [Blevins] come here to steal horses?” and John replies “It was his horse” (168). John experiences and witnesses a lot of pain and brutality during his journey, revealing to him the truth about the world that he did not see before. McCarthy includes many subtle, offsetting details in describing their story. For example, when John speaks to a group of men they cross paths with and they asked him if “they wished to sell the boy,” referring to Blevins, John declines (76). Though a small occurrence, and described with little detail, this encounter reveals some darkness to John. The motive the men had for buying Blevins was unclear, it is likely that it would have been for slavery or some sort of abuse. Events like these gradually reveal to the naive John that the world is not as perfect and safe as he thought it was. And as they discover these darker truths of the world, they are forced to change themselves.
Though the characters may not mean to or even want to change, the things they go through and experience force them to grow, change, and become new people, living in this world so new to them. McCarthy shows the changes in the characters to symbolize them becoming new people as their entire lives are changed when they see the world as a completely new and unfamiliar place. In the beginning of their journey, they are stripped of their identities. As they go through more dark experiences, they change both physically and emotionally. After Rawlins is wounded on their first day in prison, he tells John that the doctors “put Mexican blood in me,” and he is worried it changes him, making him “part Mexican” (210). Now that Rawlins has this foreign blood in him, he is literally physically changed. The blood symbolizes the wound he got, and the violence he endured. McCarthy includes this to remind readers of the new aspects of life they are experiencing like violence and danger, and make clear that these are permanently changing them: physically and emotionally. Similarly, when John is attacked in prison, he took his knife and “sank it into the cuchillero’s heart,” killing him (201). John, naive at the beginning of his adventure, never thought he would have to kill someone, and the fact that he did haunts him throughout the rest of the book. A gentle and kind man, having killed someone completely changes him and symbolizes him being forced to become a new person. He has to be tough in order to survive in this new world.
When John left his home for Mexico, he knew that he was leaving to start fresh and begin a new life, free of his preexisting troubles. However, he looked at the new world before him naively, and never anticipated all of the struggles he would endure and how they would change him or affect the kind of a person the world would build him to be. Throughout his journey in Mexico, he and those traveling with him are stripped of their previous identities, see the dark things that go on in the world, and are permanently changed by it. McCarthy describes this journey and their changes to symbolize and reveal how people are deeply changed when they finally see realities of the world that they never saw before.
The Constant Progression of Society and the Futility of Dreams
Cormac McCarthy’s ‘All the Pretty Horses’ exposes the futility of clinging to “phantom” dreams which are ultimately “falling away” as a result of the inevitable progression of society. McCarthy emphasises that protagonist John Grady Cole is unable to achieve the idealistic life of an American cowboy of the ‘Old West’ and is instead left adrift and disillusioned, wondering “what happens to country” and mourning a bygone era. ‘All the Pretty Horses’ further illustrates his powerlessness in the ‘adult’ world.
McCarthy’s depiction of John Grady’s reflections in his grandfather’s office demonstrates the unrelenting modernisation of society and the hopelessness of longing for a past American era, embodied to John Grady Cole in the life of his grandfather. The use of polysyndeton in McCarthy’s description of how John Grady “entered his grandfather’s office and went to the desk and turned on the lamp and sat down” builds momentum in the beginning of the passage. “September 13th”, the date of his grandfather’s death, forms an abrupt end to this momentum, underscoring its significance for John Grady as the demise of his chance of running the family ranch like the quintessential American cowboy. John Grady Cole’s yearning for the past is revealed through McCarthy’s pithy descriptions of his present surroundings, such as “a glass paperweight” and “an ashtray”, which are ultimately of no consequence to him in comparison to his dream of the ‘Old West’. The repetition of “old” demonstrates the office’s appeal for John Grady, as it is in itself a vestige of the past and allows him to imagine himself living out his dream and literally “[cross] his boots on the desktop” in imitation of his grandfather. Using lyrical sentences only in the depiction of the natural landscape, McCarthy underscores John Grady’s almost spiritual connection to the “starlit prairie” which he sees “falling away to the north”, as inevitably out of reach as the attainment of his dream. The impossibility of John Grady achieving the life he longs for is further conveyed through the “telegraph poles” that “yoked across the constellations passing east to west”, illustrating the cruel intrusion of civilisation upon the landscape. Now marked by these “black crosses” of modern society, the landscape is unable to form the uncharted western frontier of John Grady’s dream. McCarthy’s use of symbolism in “crosses” further suggests that the dream itself has died. The “clock [striking] eleven” and the “small brass calendar”, representing the passage of time, serve to emphasise the pointless nature of John Grady’s dream of the ‘Old West’. Interrupting John Grady’s contemplations in the dark room, his mother “turned on the wall switch light”, a simple action exemplifying the inevitability of modernity impinging upon his dream of the past. Illustrating his desire not to confront this harsh reality, John Grady “looked at her and looked out the window again” and then symbolically “turned off the light” as soon as she departed, an action parallel to his previous futile requests that his mother allow him to “run the ranch”, despite the reality that it had “barely paid expenses for twenty years”. When asked by his mother what he is doing, John Grady merely replies “settin”, the brevity and stillness of the word emphasising his physical immobility and desire to remain transfixed by the past rather than move forward.
While McCarthy emphasises the constant progression of society, Johyn Grady’s experiences in Mexico exemplify his ultimate vulnerability in the harsh adult world, which renders him further incapable of achieving his dream. Conversing with Don Hector, whose dominance over John Grady is emphasised by the boy’s position “downtable”, John Grady is told they “can speak English”, as Don Hector further asserts his power by determining the language of their conversation. The hacendado’s superiority to the penniless John Grady is underscored by McCarthy’s description of the “silver tray” and “cups and creampitcher” and “sugar bowl” carried out by the servant, as well as the hacendado’s “chocolatecoloured veal” boots, drawing attention to his incredible wealth. Attempting to embody the idealised American cowboy, John Grady declares he “just [takes his coffee] black”, a trait characteristic of those from “Texas.” However McCarthy illustrates that while John Grady can endeavour to emulate this persona on a superficial level, until he endures a loss of innocence through the killing of the cuchillero in the Saltillo prison, he is unable to assume the identity of the American cowboy entirely. Underscoring John Grady’s naivety, Don Hector is surprised at the boy’s candid revelation he is only “sixteen”, claiming “when [he] was sixteen [he] told people [he] was eighteen.” Through this admission, McCarthy illustrates that John Grady fundamentally lacks the survivalist mentality that ensures the success of individuals such as Don Hector.
Through John Grady’s disillusionment following his return from Mexico, McCarthy illustrates the negative consequences of resolutely following one’s dreams without consideration of reality. The desolation felt by John Grady as he tells Rawlins “all that had happened” is underscored by the “phantom fleet” of nightclouds that pass overhead and Rawlins’ revelation that “your daddy died” and Abuela is “real sick.” Through such explicit references to death, McCarthy suggests John Grady’s experiences of the actual brutality of society in Mexico have left him utterly disenchanted with his dream of the ‘Old West’, as is further insinuated by the “dead moon” that “hung in the west”. When questioned by Rawlins what he is “goin to do”, John Grady replies “I don’t know” four separate times, exemplifying the loss of purpose and direction that has resulted from his efforts to live in the past. The uncertainty of John Grady’s future in a rapidly modernising America is also conveyed through his bewilderment and failure to understand “what happens to country”. Although Rawlins is unable to answer this question, through the symbolism of the “lights of the city” which “hung over the desert”, McCarthy insinuates that the constant progression of society has resulted in the demise of the ‘Old West’. Just as Rawlins “[squats] on his heels so as to watch [John Grady] a little while longer”, John Grady attempts to keep hold of the “rare” and disappearing era he represents. However like John Grady’s figure passing “down the skyline”, “after a while” the ‘Old West’ is “gone”, exemplifying the ultimate futility of his idealistic dream.
‘All the Pretty Horses’ provides a personal exploration of the consequences of pursuing dreams which conflict with the continuous progression of society. Emphasising the naivety of John Grady Cole in his encounters of the harshness of reality, McCarthy suggests his innocence and inability to accept the modernisation of society renders him unable to achieve his dream. McCarthy further acknowledges the futility of clinging to “[one’s] country”, suggesting that such idealism ultimately leaves individuals suffering an acute sense of loss.
Exile In All The Pretty Horses
Edward Said creates a paradox in his statement that exile is both an “unhealable rift” and a “potent, even enriching experience”. While paradoxical, these statements hold undeniable truths about the human experience. In the novel All The Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy demonstrates this concept in the telling of the life of the main protagonist, John Grady Cole. John, an impressionable 16 year old, experiences exile in numerous ways, both mentally and physically, and each experience molds him as a person. Through his exiles, John learns the importance of loyalty and the role of fate.
The novel begins with an immediate example of exile. John is being pushed from his homeland, a small ranch in Texas. He has seemingly been left behind by all those that he cares about, as his grandfather has just died and his parents are divorced. This exile forces him to run from his home, in search of another ranch, to the mysterious Mexican countryside. Being exiled from his family creates a huge rift between them and John, something that cannot and is not fixed even in the resolution of the novel. Exile from one’s family is something that one wouldn’t wish on another, yet it occurred to John for no reason other than that’s just how his life was meant to pan out. While it may not seem like it, this exile is the start of a long chain of events that ultimately end up enriching John’s life in ways he cannot imagine.
On his journey towards a new ranch, John experiences a sort of exile from the world around him. John values the classic western lifestyle, the cowboy way of life, that was once prevalent across the country. Yet, his world is changing. The novel is set right on the edge of transitioning into industrialism and big business. This scares John, pressuring him even more to chase the idea of a ranch to call his own. As he and his friend Rawlins make their way into Mexico, the duo pick up a third traveler named Blevins. They all experience hardships, with Blevins losing both his horse and his pistol. These are later found in a small town, where Rawlins and John are chased from after attempting to steal the horse back. Another small exile. John and Rawlins eventually ride up to a ranch, one that is ideal to John. They find work here and are praised for their wonderful skills with horse. John is in love with Alejandra, the daughter of the ranch owner. Everything is seemingly going very well for the two young men, until they get arrested for associating with Blevins. They are brought to a holding cell, where they discover the extent of what Blevins has done (he’s murdered those responsible for stealing his horse).
Convinced that John and Rawlins are guilty by association their captor, The Captain, sends them to a prison. This exiles both John and Rawlins from the outside world, yet being in the prison teaches them a lot of lessons about trust and that in some cases, extreme measures must be taken. John is attacked while in prison and to protect himself, he must murder the attacker. John is able to do such a task because of the mental exile he has experienced from the rest of the world. He doesn’t have any family, he’s abandoned them, and he’s already in prison, so what more can happen to him. He has emotionally exiled himself to harden himself. This type of exile is more relevant to an unhealable rift, as emotionless connections cannot be fixed once broken. John and Rawlins are eventually bought out of the prison system by Alejandra’s grandma, on the condition that John never see Alejandra again. Rawlins immediately takes a bus back to America, but John chooses to stay in Mexico in hopes of continuing to see Alejandra. He moves from one type of exile to another, from physical exile in the prison to emotional exile from Alejandra. Although John tries, Alejandra refuses to go against the wishes of her father and grandmother, giving him the final sign of exile from her. Defeated, John decides to return to America. When he arrives, he realizes that there is nothing in America for him. The novel ends with John essentially being exiled from the country, as he feels that he doesn’t belong here at all. This is the ultimate exile, the feeling of not belonging anywhere and not having any kind of purpose. This type of exile creates an unhealable rift in oneself, as it can cause extreme self-hate and depression. It can also be quite enriching, offering endless possibilities for the future.
Exile in All The Pretty Horses is an excellent storytelling technique, and Said’s interpretations of exile are very easily applied to this novel. The growth of John Grady depends entirely on his experiences of being exiled, and he definitely would not have been the man he was at the end of the novel had he not experienced both the unhealable and the enriching aspects of exile.