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Throughout the course of a novel, characters may face obstacles and endure many hardships, ultimately leading them towards a path to self-awareness. Both Miranda in John Fowles’ The Collector, and John Grady Cole in Cormac McCarthy’s All The Pretty Horses, encounter many unexpected struggles, which teach them important life lessons. Though Miranda’s journey to selfrecognition occurs solely in a dark basement, and John Grady’s takes place on a trip throughout Mexico, they confront many of the same hurdles.
Through their experiences, John Grady and Miranda undergo many changes in their traits and thus begin to view their lives in a different light. As a result of being locked up, Miranda slowly begins to realize that life is not all about material things. Along Grady’s journey throughout Mexico, he learns that things that he once saw as crucial to his life do not seem so important anymore. Though it can be argued that these two characters and their situations are extremely different, there is no doubt that the lessons that John Grady Cole and Miranda learn throughout the novels help them both to “find” themselves.
In the beginning of both novels, Miranda and Grady share a common characteristic- their navet. Miranda grows up in an affluent community, surrounded by peers and countless opportunities. As an art student, she tries to see the beauty in everything, but she cannot seem to look past the material things in life. At times, Miranda is extremely hypocritical and has many untested beliefs.
Miranda knows nothing about the world around her, and though she is constantly surrounded by her peers and mentors, she nevertheless feels lonely. Like Miranda, John Grady Cole is very inexperienced when it comes to life. Grady is a romantic- he desperately wants to hold on to his dreams of the cowboy ideals of the past. He is devastated when he discovers that his mother’s ranch has been sold. Unlike Miranda, however, Grady is not wealthy, and he values his dreams over concrete objects. He feels that in order to piece his life together, he must leave Texas. Because of this, his journey can be said to be voluntary. Miranda, on the other hand, is taken by complete surprise when she gets kidnapped, and is not prepared to face the drastic change that her life will undergo. While Grady is somewhat aware that his experiences throughout Mexico may help him find himself, Miranda has no idea that her “journey” will ultimately lead to her self- understanding.
Neither Miranda nor Grady can expect or comprehend what is in store for them when they begin their journeys. Miranda’s first struggle begins with the way she is kidnapped-by suffocation from a chloroform pad. During her first days of captivity, Miranda displays her snobbish attitudes in many ways. She feels that she is above Clegg, her kidnapper, and says that it is “simple as sneezing to put him on the defensive” (127). Miranda tries to run away and is nave to think that she can escape. During Grady’s journey through Mexico with Rawlins and Blevins, he encounters many scary and powerful men. He meets Alejandra and has an affair with her, but later gets arrested because her father does not approve of him. These examples clearly show that throughout the beginning of their experiences, neither Miranda nor Grady knows how to handle their situations yet.
As time goes on, however, both characters slowly begin to learn that there is no way that they can survive their challenges if they do not change their mentality. Miranda and Grady each start to learn their own life lessons. Through the perils of victimization, Miranda gradually starts building a new “self”- instead of the chloroform pad that she was attacked with at the beginning, she now has another pad- a writing pad that she uses to express her ideas. Through her writing, she reflects on her life and she begins to value her freedom and realizes that she cannot take life for granted. In a way, her imprisonment is showing her that there is more to life than parties and luxuries. Miranda “never knew how much (she] wanted to live before. If [she gets] out of this, (she] shall never be the same” (124). She talks about how she wants a family and a husband–things that she never would have even considered at this point in her life had it not been for the kidnapping. Though Grady’s expedition through Mexico is different than Miranda’s captivity, each lesson that he learns helps him develop as a person. Before his adventures, Grady had never had a real love. When he sees Alejandra for the first time, “he’d half meant to speak but those eyes had altered the world forever in the space of a heartbeat”(109). This is a critical part in the novel- it is here that the reader sees that because of Alejandra, Grady changes as a person. She opens his eyes to a world that he never knew existed and a love that he never experienced before. Grady begins to realize that having a life filled with love is much more important than getting back a ranch. However, his love affair with Alejandra falls to pieces and he begins to learn one of the most important lessons of all that the world is cruel and it is a matter of survival of the fittest. While in The Collector, Miranda learns to realize that fighting back and using violence are not feasible ways to get her out of her situation, Grady learns the exact opposite. Through being thrown in jail, being forced to witness his friend’s execution and having to fight his way out of Saltillo, Grady realizes that acting morally will lead to his death. He is repeatedly in the face of death, and it is only after John Grady “brought his knife up from the floor and sank it into the cuchillero’s heart” (201) that he finally escapes his demise. After all this, Grady begins to realize what this life is all about and therefore can begin to figure out his place in the world.
While both Miranda and Grady reach a level of maturation that they most likely would not have achieved had it not been for their adventures, both novels show unhappy endings for the two characters. In The Collector, though Miranda finally begins to understand herself and change her perspectives on life, it is too little too late. She becomes very ill and does not live to see what her new life would be like if she ever escapes from Clegg’s basement. In All the Pretty Horses, John Grady is given his freedom from the jail at Saltillo, but in return for his life, he can never see Alejandra again. When Grady sees her for the last time, he saw very clearly how all his life led only to this moment and all after led nowhere at all. He 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 (257).
Grady realizes that Alejandra is his eternal love, and living a life without love is like not living at all. His escape from prison is like making a deal with the devil. Which is worse-dying, or going through your life knowing that you do not have the one thing that can make your life complete? At the end of the novel, Grady realizes that he cannot stay in Texas, and he rides off into the sunset like all the cowboys do. It is sad to think that neither Miranda nor Grady are given the opportunity to live their lives according to their lessons.
The road to finding oneself is long and grueling, and had it not been for Miranda’s abduction and Grady’s expedition through Mexico, neither character would have learned the lessons that they learned. The one big difference in the way that they achieve their self-awareness is in the process in which they do so. When Miranda had constant attention and groups of friends around her, she felt lost and lonesome. Only after she had been left alone with her journal did she finally begin to see her life in a different perspective. Grady, on the other hand, does not reach a sense of self- understanding by himself. Throughout his journey, people such as Alejandra, Emilio Perez and Don Hector help him to understand himself and the harsh reality of the world. Though their circumstances could not be more different from each other, Miranda and Grady’s journeys teach them that the only thing that they can find in their lives is themselves.
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