An Analysis of All the Pretty Horses, a Novel by Cormac McCarthy

Categories: All the Pretty Horses

In his novel, All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy presents us with a young man s journey through the regions of the unknown into adulthood. This novel, at once a western, a coming of age story, and a picturesque adventure, gives the story of John Grady Cole, the last in a long line of west Texas ranchers. As McCarthy moves through this tale, one finds that humans do not remain its sole motivators. As the title suggests, horses play an intricate part in the development of the storyline.

In fact, the novel is centered around horses. Throughout, one finds the characters riding horses, rescuing horses, catching horses, breeding horses, talking about horses and even pondering their nature. The horses in All the Pretty Horses serve as the center around which the novel grows and depends.

McCarthy introduces John Grady Cole, 16, at his Grandfather s wake held at his family s small Texas ranch. In this first chapter, John finds that, despite numerous efforts on his part, his estranged mother intends to sell the family ranch that she has inherited from the grandfather.

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In addition, John s father, Cole, and his mother have recently divorced; thusly, Cole has given up any rights to the land and is unable to keep the family s land. With no apparent future in Texas, and sensing the threat a new era upon the traditional cowboy life that he values, John urges his friend Rawlins to accompany him to Mexico. Before reaching the border, they meet Jimmy Blevins, an even younger boy, who rides a magnificent bay.

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The three boys continue on into Mexico where they become vaqueros at the Hacienda de Nuestra Senora de la Purisima Conception. John meets Alejandra there, the daughter of the hacendado. Eventually, we find that these star-crossed lovers are not meant to be. John and his friends are thrown in prison for stealing a horse that had belonged to Blevins. In actuality, it is Alejandra s father who turns the three boys in to stop the relationship between his daughter and John. When John finally makes his way back to Alejandra, she rejects him because she had promised her great aunt, the family matriarch, never to see John again in exchange for his freedom.

As the novels progresses, one finds that the horses represent more than transportation for the human characters. They serve as connections between the story s various characters, representing bonds and history. In the beginning, they connect John to his grandfather, his parents, and his ancestors. This is why the loss of the family ranch weighs so heavily upon John; he is losing his connection to the only way of life he, and generations before him, have ever known. Even Rawlins speaks of times he has seen his father rattle a few times on a horse, indicating that he had most likely broken a horse or two, like him.

Horses also serve as a connection between the men and women in the novel. Early in the story John s father tells him that his mother had liked horses, that he had thought that was enough. That s how dumb I was. Later, when John meets Alejandra in Mexico on her father s, Don Hector s, land, the breeding, training, and riding of horses play a predominant part in the entire enstancia lifestyle.

Horses provide a bond between the men of All the Pretty Horses. Don Hector and John spend hours in conversation concerning the attributes of different horses and have read some of the same books on horses. It is after one of these conversations that Don Hectors chooses to put John in charge of breeding his horses. The novel s horses also irrevocably tie the three boys together. Even after Blevins is shot to death by the police Captain, John continues on to find the rightful owner of Blevins big bay horse. The way in which the boys, especially John, handled the horses at the estancia a reason for them to rise in esteem among the ranch s vaqueros. The horses connect the cowboys with the vaqueros, the old and the young, the Mexicans with the Americans.

Throughout the novel, one finds that the horses mean more to John and his friends than just the bonds that they have developed with them. Horses carry with them timeless meaning, ties to legends, romance, and battle. McCarthy uses the word grail near the beginning of the novel connecting the horses to the classic romance of the grand adventure that traces back in western culture to the crusades of Europe. The same ingredients found in these medieval stories arise in this novel; the brave knight, John Grady, rides off on his horse to far away lands to seek adventure and find some kind of treasure, in this case, to recapture a disappearing culture and lifestyle. However, as the book progresses one finds that McCarthy has evolved Arthurian legend into a type of existentialism. There is not a happy ending, or a fantastic victory over ominous foes, or a beautiful princess waiting for her knight at the end. Although the ending is not a happy one, there is no real tragedy in it. McCarthy has formed a story in which two teenage boys ride south on their horses and find themselves in the midst of a rustic fairytale specked with fragments of the tragic that twists the fate of men and their horses.

In relation to this book s romantic tendencies, the horses also seem to connect the past and the present. In the first pages of the novel John takes a lone ride along the ancient Comanche road. He imagines a place where 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 and the women and the children all of them pledged in blood and redeemable in blood only. Horses not only connect John s present with the Native American s past, but with his ancestors who took over the land and fenced it in.

Another important connection that the horses garner is the link between human beings and nature. The horses are made a part of almost all of the beautiful landscapes that McCarthy describes. They become an intricate part of the story s setting that inundates one with scenes depicting nature. It is this symbiotic relationship with nature that John finds renewed in Mexico. When he and Rawlins cross the border they notice the absence of fences. They discover the residual of a certain respect for nature that the Mexican culture has managed to maintain. Horses, coyotes, and human beings alike are permitted to traverse the country freely according to the laws of nature.

All the Pretty Horses is a story of loss and adventure, a coming of age story. John discovers that, although he may wish to escape to the old world, that that world is indeed dying out. At the end of the book he rides into the sunset, rider and horse passed on and their long shadows passed in tandem like the shadow of a single being. John Grady Cole and his horses are one in the same. One cannot separate the horse from its rider or from his dreams and his nature.

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An Analysis of All the Pretty Horses, a Novel by Cormac McCarthy. (2022, Apr 23). Retrieved from

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