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.