From a young age, children have a strong desire to become adults. They imitate their parents and other relatives when playing games, and try to act as grownups, when they are not. Sinclair Ross explores this idea in “The Outlaw”, a story about a boy who seeks guidance from his horse, Isabel, on his path to maturity.
The boy projects his thoughts and feelings onto his horse, which represent his dreams and his attitude toward life. He gives Isabel anthropomorphic qualities, which depict her as a temptress, as trying to seduce him to ride her. He mentions that: “She had sized me up, evidently, as soft-hearted as well as faint-hearted, and decided there was just a chance that I might weaken and go riding.(p18/130)” This statement shows his feelings about himself and his sense of insecurity and the fact that he is a coward. Since the horse has a notorious reputation, his parents say: “nobody expects it of you (p18/130)”, referring to him being able to tame Isabel; therefore, she has become a challenge to him in order to cure his sense of inferiority.
The boy imagines conquering foreign lands with Isabel: “Thundering battle chargers, fleet Arabians, untamed mustangs – sitting beside her on her manger I knew and rode them all (p19/130)”, this represents his dreams and fantasies which symbolize how much he thinks he can achieve by taming Isabel. However, in reality he is a coward; he ran away from a fight and wants use Isabel to put his shameful past behind him. He goes on to say: “she was a dangerous horse, and dutifully my parents kept warning me (p19/130)”, which shows him trying to justify why he is scared to ride her. He believes to be a grownup, but does not seem to show such qualities.
The narrator has misperceptions of what manhood really is, and thinks that the latter is attained easily. He thinks that he is already a man since he has turned thirteen. As he mentions: “After all, I was turned thirteen. It wasn’t as if I were a small boy. (p20/131)” However, when he finally does take the horse out, Isabel teaches him numerous life lessons. This is especially evident when Isabel shows him the landscape: “but Isabel, like a conscientious teacher at a fair, dragging you off to see the instructive things, insisted on the landscape”, this is symbolic because it shows that now he is free, but with adulthood comes confinement: “Look, she said firmly, while it’s here before you. So that to the last detail it will remain clear. For you, too, some day there may be stalls and halters, and it will be a good memory.” On the way back home, he feels vain: “I was now both her master and my own.” Symbolically, after a small pause he is laying in the snow fifteen or twenty feet away. This just shows that Isabel wants to bring him back down to earth; ironically, she does it literally as well.
The boy realizes that maturity comes with responsibilities, and in order to be considered an adult, one has to face the consequences of one’s actions. Before facing his father he says “should he so much as threaten the razor strap I would ride away on Isabel and be lost to them forever”, this shows that he wants to run away from his problems. However, after his father does not get angry at him, he realizes that his father has gained confidence in him and is proud of his son because his boy showed some courage for once.
The boy realizes that his parents do not think much of him, as he describes it: “How long, they, had I kept them waiting? How many times in the last few months had they looked at me and despaired?” From this moment on, his maturing is clearly visible: “I was about to protest […] but instead, remembering in time, went on docilely with my supper”, he does not act like a child would but thinks about his actions and makes a mature decision.
In the end, the boy begins to see the future realistically. He begins to understand things from his parents’ perspective and understand himself. His old folks only want their son to show some courage and responsibility: “Now in their peculiar parental idiom, they had just given their permission, and Isabel and the future were all mine.” He realizes that the lessons taught by Isabel are true and he will take her into consideration from now on in order to succeed.
Most children want to be considered adults, and they try to imitate them all the time. However, what they do not know is that life is not as simple as it seems. Sinclair Ross tires to show, in this coming-of-age short story, that the passage to manhood is not a one-step process, but rather requires the facing of one’s problems and acceptance of one’s responsibilities.
“The Outlaw” by Sinclair Ross