The Red Pony
John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony: Literary Review
A Boy and his Horse
Steinbeck, John. The Red Pony. 1965: NewYork, NewYork, Penguin Books USA, Inc. 100p.
“C’mon mom…. Can I keep it?? PLEEEAAASEE…. I promise I’ll take good care of it. I’ll feed it and train it and it’ll teach me to be responsible!” It’s possible that all children have used this line on their poor defenseless parents atleast once. Owning your first pet is like a right of passage. For the first time, children, who are always under the care of another, now have something under their care. The life of an animal now depends on their actions. Steinbeck’s “The Red Pony” is full of rites of passage such as this. It portrays the coming of age of a young boy on a ranch through his experiences, observations, and relationships with the world around him. Steinbeck’s writing style is enjoyable, but the book preaches life lessons that are much deeper than what on the surface seems like leisure reading.
The book is broken down into four sections, each revolving around a new sobering experience which Jody, a farm boy encounters, and the lessons he carries away from it. Jody is young and na. He doesn’t yet understand that the world is an imperfect place, where things fall apart and come to an end. Over the course of the book, he deals with consequences of his actions, and the concept of loss.
In the first section, Billy Buck, the young farmhand and strong influence on Jody, convinces Jody’s father to give him a horse, to teach him responsibility. Jody is ecstatic and filled with fascination at this beautiful new creature. However, when the horse is left in the corral during a rain shower, he never fully recovers from a chill. Jody is crushed when his beloved pony dies. He takes out his anger on the world around him, blaming Billy for leaving the pony out in the cold, and lashing out at a buzzard that lands on the dead horse. Bitter and hurt, he doesn’t yet understand that things happen for a reason, and everything has its place in life.
In “The Great Mountains”, a mysterious stranger named Gitano comes to the ranch to live out his last days in his birthplace. Through many conversations, Jody forms a bond with and admiration for the man. When Gitano rides off alone to die in the wilderness, Jody is crushed once again. This second loss in his life helps him slowly understand how things come and go throughout the path of our lives.
In “The Gift”, Billy and Jody’s dad decide once again that Jody needs a horse to raise. Learning good work ethic and dreaming of his future colt, he works hard taking care of the pregnant mare. However, he comes crashing back to earth when the colt is born late and the mare is killed to save it. This third death affirms to Jody that life and death coexist. From this he learns that all things have a cost, and nothing in life is free.
In the last book, “The Leader of the People”, Jody’s grandfather comes to stay with them for a while. Immediately, there is a clash of generations. His grandfather stands for the gusto and zeal of the old west, and loves to share his stories. Carl, however, resents his father and the old ways. He is much more stern and unemotional. Jody is the by-stander who simply takes in the whole conflict. From this section, Jody learns old and new ways can go hand in hand. Though he is of the new generation, he still appreciates and respects the old.
Without analysis and a search for the deeper meanings of each section, this book may seem mundane. Unless you search for the symbolism and themes, all you retain is the surface, a story of a boy’s life on a ranch. Steinbeck meant to accomplish something different. Aside from displaying the harshness of ranch life, he wanted to symbolize the realities one must face in growing up, and the innocence lost when naivety disappears. He describes the gruesome scenes of the book in great detail as a reality check for the reader. Ranch life isn’t just square dances and horses as movies try to persuade us to believe. Steinbeck includes details about the medical procedures Billy performs, such as draining of puss from the pony’s lip, or the euthanasia and caesarian delivery of the colt. When Billy performs an emergency tracheotomy on the pony, Steinbeck does not spare the gore. “…the bright knife point disappeared into the throat. The pony plunged weakly away and then stood still, trembling violently. The blood ran thickly out and up the knife and across Billy’s hand and into his shirtsleeve. The sure square hand sawed out a round hole in the flesh, and the breath came bursting out of the hole, throwing a fine spray of blood”(32). This detail serves to shatter the idea of ranch work being no more than riding ponies and roping cattle.
Steinbeck shows Jody’s rage and frustration when he kills the buzzard that has landed on the corpse of his lifeless pony. “His fingers found the neck of the struggling bird…He held the neck to the ground with one hand while his other found the a piece of sharp white quartz…the first blow broke the beak sideways…black blood spurted…he was still beating the dead bird when Billy Buck pulled him off…”(36-37). This quote serves to illustrate the dark side of humanity and the carnage that is possible if we let our emotions run wild. Steinbeck is showing the trouble Jody has dealing with his anger. Through the illicit descriptive language Steinbeck employs, the reader understands the intensity of events and gains a sense of the rougher side of ranch life.
Steinbeck’s writing style helps the themes become evident to the reader. Where some authors use flowery cryptic language, he uses short concise statements that get to the point. In many books, so much effort is spent deciphering the verse that the theme is lost. However with Steinbeck’s method, understanding is reached quickly so that the reader may focus on the underlying messages.
He also uses images to portray the mood. The description of the buzzards circling invokes the idea of death in the readers mind. On page 76, Steinbeck takes detail in describing the Cyprus tree. “At the Cyprus tree, the roosting turkeys chattered a little in alarm, and the two good dogs responded to their duty and came charging out, barking to frighten away the coyotes they thought were prowling under the tree”(76).Without symbolism, the gnarled dead Cyprus tree would be just that: a tree. Since Jody associates the dead Cyprus tree with death and the slaughter of the pigs, the mention of this foreshadows throughout the book when a dark scene is approaching. By the end of the scene including the above quote, the mare must be sacrificed to birth the colt.
This book holds the special quality that a young and mature readers alike can enjoy; though they may draw different messages from it. It was simple enough for a middle school student to understand, but had deep universal themes for a high school student to analyze. Through strong themes and concise language, Steinbeck has created a timeless book of one boy’s coming of age that any generation can value.
The Red Pony by John Steinbeck: Death Theme in the Story
Death is something every living thing on this planet will face. On the other hand, we don’t really know when we will face our death or how we’ll face it. The word “death” freaks some people out, but for others it doesn’t. In “The Red Pony” a novel written by John Steinbeck, Jody the protagonist has a visitor named Gitano, he has come to live and wait for the arrival of his death. The violent cycle of life and death that cannot be controlled. If you’re young, usually you plan for your future life, but you never think of the word death, but if you’re old, every single day you imagine that it’s your last day in the world, this indicates that Gitano has done everything he wanted to do, and is waiting for his death, also to join Easter, Jody’s father, Carl Tiffin’s first horse, I have heard old people state, the arrival of their death a lot. This is what I evaluated based on the theme, “the violent cycle of life and death cannot be controlled”.
Gitano’s role in the novel established and proved the lesson, a character from the novel, “if you’re old, every single day you imagine that it’s our last day in the world, likewise Easter showed the significance of other living things, as a symbol in the novel. “It’s an old man outside. Come on out” (Pg.42 Ch.2). Gitano arrives, and has stated to Jody, “I am Gitano and I have come back”, he intend to state that he arrived to die there. Since he has fulfilled his life and in Spanish background it is a pleasure to come and die, in your birth place. Gitano is old and he was fortunate to live an average life of a person today. Easter is a bit different, Carl stated “You can’t imagine how Easter use to look like” (Pg.47ch.2), Easter had been through a lot and he is likewise looking forward towards his death. Gitano’s role has established importance; likewise Easter is shown as a symbol.
In chapter one of this novel, Jody dream’s about his first horse, and how he’s going to get to ride it, on Thanks Giving, but faces a misfortune and its death. Luckily, Carl still has his first horse; Easter has lived a wealthy life, and is waiting for its last moment, “death”. Easter is introduced to Gitano (pg.47), and Carl talks bad about him, of how useless he is now. The lesson in this is that, when you have completed an average human life, there is nothing for you in this world; that’s why you look forward towards death. In the end of the chapter, Jess, a character comes to Carl, and says that someone was one his horse, this shows the symbol, of Easter, that he was waiting for Gitano, and both of them went towards death. Gitano shows that his time is up and he also takes Easter with him, whose time is as well up, because they have lived the average like of their species. In the beginning when Gitano arrives at Carl’s house, he states that he is no longer able to work; likewise the horse wasn’t any more value to Carl, too. John Steinbeck, has connected and shown similarities between the horse and Gitano, and in the end they face their death together.
The moral I obtained from this story is when my grandfather’s acquaintance said “today I’m here, and tomorrow I’ll be gone”. This person use to sit with my grandfather in the Mosque, and use to tell me stories of his times, just like Jody, in the novel. One day he became really sick, and was sent to the hospital. The next morning my grandfather woke me early in the morning. He stated that his acquaintance was gone. Likewise, my dad’s cousin got married, and after a few months, he passed away suddenly while sleeping.
The violent cycle of life and death that cannot be controlled. If you’re young, usually you plan for your future life, but you never think of the word “death”. If you’re old, every single day you imagine that it’s your last day in the world. This indicates that Gitano has done everything he wanted to do, and is waiting for his death, also to join Easter, I have heard old people state, the arrival of their death a lot. This is why everyone should be aware of death, and it will come to you. In your early life or when you’re old and you should be ready, and prepared for it! Death is very common and will be faced by every living thing, and if a living thing lives an average life then they should be thankful for it and should rest, in the last days, before “resting in peace”.
The Red Pony Literary Analysis: Understanding the Power of Steinbeck’s Writing
Defining what it means to be an American is a complicated, daunting, and nearly impossible task, for the nation’s broad geographical landscape makes it difficult to find a common ground for every citizen. While one man may imagine America to mean the sprawling desert ridges of the Grand Canyon, another might picture the towering forests of the Pacific Northwest, and yet another would envision the easy, rolling hills of the North East. With the physical planes eliminated, the essence of this complex citizenship must lie in the hearts of those who inhabit the country. Over his lifetime, John Steinbeck made it his mission to reveal the characteristics that make someone a true American: hard work, growth, and the journey into adulthood. Steinbeck’s accurate, yet personal, portrayal of the way these traits manifest themselves in citizen’s daily lives has placed him among the literary masters of the twentieth century.
In creating a raw and lasting image of his country, Steinbeck received a multitude of awards, most notably the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humor and keen social perception” (“The Nobel Prize in Literature 1962”). These traits are evident in his novella The Red Pony, which makes up for what it lacks in length with genuine emotion, fresh social commentary, and an essence of American spirit unlike any other work. In John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony, the characterization of Jody and his father reflect the theme that blind masculinity is flawed. Jody’s maturity comes slowly, revealing his character as a gentle boy growing into his own idea of manhood.
At the beginning of The Red Pony, Jody is just a normal boy on an American farm, “dreamy, sometimes irresponsible, and not above childish pranks” (Peck). He wants desperately to be an adult worthy of his father’s attention. When his father, Carl, prepares to go out in the morning, Jody “wished he might go along”, longing for a chance to prove himself to Carl (Steinbeck 3). Jody’s first brush with adult comes in the form of a red pony which “quickly becomes his chief joy and responsibility” (Bernardo). The skills that Jody learns while caring for Gabilan begin his initiation into adulthood. Representing more than simple farm skills, caring for the red pony demonstrates “a child’s acquisition of responsibility, industry, and independence” (“Steinbeck’s ‘The Red Pony’: Essays in Criticism”). When the beloved pony dies, Jody deals with another adult emotion: grief. These lessons learned in the first section of the novella form the basis for Jody’s characterization. Although he is clearly growing into his role as a man on the farm, he remains tender and emotional in many ways. This is exemplified when the old man, Gitano, arrives on the ranch. Jody reacts to the new visitor with excitement, declaring to everyone on the ranch “’It’s an old man…and he says he’s come back’” (Steinbeck 44). While Carl reacts to the man with anger and disgust, Jody still displays a childlike innocence, asking Gitano questions about his life.
When Carl sends the man off to the mountains to die, the cruel side of manhood appears compared to Jody who falls to the ground “full of nameless sorrow” (55). Although Carl attempts to teach Jody his collected and stoic ways, Jody is unable to abandon emotion. When his mare must be killed to save her colt, the experience haunts Jody. The passage of life and death should be an understood part of being a rancher, yet as Jody “tried to be glad because of the colt…the bloody face…hung in the eyes ahead of him” (79). Each of the first three stories represents Jody as a boy attempting desperately to become the man that his father has taught him to be. Jody’s character is simply too tender and kind. Although Carl would view this as a weakness, Jody’s grandfather provides him with a different perspective. When Carl interacts with Grandfather, he has little patience for his tired stories and “regard[s him] with mingled pity and scorn” (Bernardo). In the final scenes, the boy that Jody once was melts away. As Jody watches his father’s blatant disrespect of Grandfather, Jody realizes that he does not have to become the man his father is, “learn[ing] that human beings are fallible and have limits” (Price). Despite all of Jody’s efforts on the farm, this moment represents Jody’s true transition into manhood, for realizes that taking care of others is not a point of shame.
Jody’s finds strength in his empathy exhibited throughout The Red Pony, for “he has learned to feel and to reach out beyond himself to try to deal with the feelings and needs of others” (Price). Growth into manhood manifests itself different for Jody than for Carl, but that does not mean Carl’s way of life is the only way. In showing the successful development of Jody from boy to man, Steinbeck demonstrates that emotion can actually be a strength through his theme that a strict idea of masculinity limits the scope of one’s growth. Carl serves as a foil to Jody’s character, for where Jody is soft and tender, Carl is hardened and practical to represent the flaws in harsh masculinity. In Carl’s eyes, his twisted version of masculinity is practically necessary for survival, as “a large part of his character clearly has been formed by the harsh environment [on the ranch]” (Peck). As Jody grows up, Carl remains the same man, attempting to indoctrinate Jody into his tough ways of life. Even when Carl is being kind, as in “The Gift”, he still attempts to break Jody of his emotional spirit, for “[Jody’s] father’s presents were given with reservations which hampered their value somewhat” (Steinbeck 6-7). A key example of Carl’s character is his interaction with Gitano. Rather than approaching the situation with a degree of kindness for a man who is obviously confused and alone, Carl reacts with anger and frustration. He meets the old man’s pleas with the harsh “I tell you you can’t stay,” with no regard for the man’s circumstances (45). Although the text claims that “Carl didn’t like to be cruel”, it is clear that his first and only priority is the maintenance of the ranch (46). As Jody, a young boy being groomed to follow in his father’s footsteps, watches this unfold, he is being taught by example that a man is someone who cares for no one besides himself. When his father scoffs that he “can’t afford food and doctor bills for an old man”, Jody is also led to believe that a man who cannot provide for himself is hardly a man at all (45-46). The old man, forced to rely on the lacking goodwill of strangers, is no longer a man in Carl’s eyes, for he “does not like to see weakness in others,” (Peck). It can be argued that this way of life was necessary, for “as provider for the family, he runs his ranch with authority, certainly the dominant figure in his domain” (“Steinbeck’s ‘The Red Pony’: Essays in Criticism”). When hard decisions regarding the ranch’s livelihood are left in the hands of a single man, there is little question of how he would handle his emotions.
Feelings have no place on Carl’s ranch, for feelings mean failure. Despite the perceived need for a strong presence, Carl’s cruel characterization shows that the “manly” way has its flaws as well, including real harms to the people around him. The second example of this is his interaction with Jody’s Grandfather, “[a man] he should treat with some hospitality and respect” (“Steinbeck’s ‘The Red Pony’: Essays in Criticism”). Rather than recognizing that Grandfather is much wiser than him, Carl mocks him and complains about his presence. He justifies his poor behavior by claiming that the old man “’just goes on and on’” (Steinbeck 85). When he disrespects Grandfather, his stubbornness pushes Jody away once and for all, “inspir[ing] his son to behave as his opposite… Jody’s father acts as the model of what Jody does not want to become,” (“Steinbeck’s ‘The Red Pony’: Essays in Criticism”). Carl’s constant adherence to his idea of manhood and authority ultimately pushes Jody away, allowing Jody to develop into a man on his own terms. This transformation serves as the strongest advocate for Steinbeck’s theme in The Red Pony’s. Although Carl found success in a life lived with only cold reason and hard facts, this blind masculinity has a multitude of flaws in the way it pushes away other people. By creating a characterization of Carl to serve in stark contrast with Jody’s developing compassion, Steinbeck forces the reader to realize that masculinity comes in many forms, not all of them as cruel disciplinarians.
Jody’s coming-of-age story represents the struggles of men across America to find the balance between strength and compassion. By employing the characterization of two opposite characters, Jody’s growth and Carl’s stagnation represent the flaws in pursuing a strict, unbending degree of masculinity. Steinbeck’s triumph shines in the way he portrays such complex struggles with simplicity. Regarded as one of the great American writers, Steinbeck encompasses the push-pull that every American man faces in The Red Pony. The awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature solidifies the notion that Steinbeck fundamentally understood what it meant to be a man and a citizen in the changing landscape of the United States.
Bernardo, Anthony. “The Red Pony.” Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition (2000): 1-3. Literary Reference Center. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.
“The Nobel Prize in Literature 1962”. Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 30 Nov 2016. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1962/summary/
Peck, David. “The Red Pony.” Cyclopedia Of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition (1998): 1. Literary Reference Center. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.
Price, Victoria. “The Leader Of The People.” Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition (2004): 1-2. Literary Reference Center. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.
Steinbeck, John. The Red Pony. 1945. New York, Penguin Books, 1992.
“Steinbeck’s ‘The Red Pony’: Essays in Criticism.” Steinbeck Monograph Series. University Libraries Digital Media Repository. Accessed 29 Nov. 2016. Originally published in Steinbeck’s “The Red Pony”: Essays in Criticism, edited by Tetsumaro Hayashi and Thomas J. Moore, Ball State University, Steinbeck Research Institute, 1988, pp. 1-56. Steinbeck Monograph Series 13.