Horses, John Grady Cole, and Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses: A Comparative Study
Horses and cowboys have, in many ways, changed the history of the West. “Horses are inextricably linked to the mythic cowboy within the national symbolic. More so even than the cow or the gun, the horse defines the cowboy’s status as sacred, special, and uniquely American” (Spurgeon, 89). Without what the Plain Indians called “sky dogs”, the west would not have been conquered. In fact, horses have played a major role in the evolution of civilization. From Alexander the Great conquering Macedonian horsemen, to Genghis Khan, to Napoleon, horses have always played an integral part of history. Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses is a coming of age story of John Grady Cole who dreams of the mythical west that we have all come to know and love. He himself is a modern recreation of the mythical horsemen that have circled the imagination of all young boys for centuries. John Grady was born a horseman and has the soul of a horseman. He has been “born to sit and ride a horse” (Lincoln, 102). Through the studying of the significance of the horse and its spirit, John Grady Cole, the main character in McCarthy’s novel, can be better understood and appreciated. All his life John Grady Cole grew up around and with horses. His life as it seems revolved around the presence of horses and they became an important part of his own existence. McCarthy presents horses as free spirits, untamed, passionate and strong. They almost take on a divine notion. Growing up on his grandfathers ranch, John would sit and listen to stories the ranch hands would tell about the open west, Mexico, and the vaqueros. He was exposed to the beliefs and passion that these horsemen had for horses and the value they placed on the majestic animals. Later on when John would travel to Mexico and gain employment on a Mexican horse ranch with his best friend Lacey Rawlins, another ranch hand, Luis, would tell the young men that “the old man only said that it was pointless to speak of there being no horses in the world for God would not permit such a thing” (McCarthy, 111). In the title All the Pretty Horses, McCarthy attempts to signify an importance of the effects of horses on the main character John Grady Cole. In the opening chapters of the novel, horses are presented to the reader as a form of economic means and transportation for John Grady and his best friend Lacey Rawlins. A modern comparison could be an automobile. It takes one to and from work and thus provides a means for economic growth. The author also seems, however, to describe another side to the animals. One which describes their spirit, a spirit which is not that different from mans. John is what some may call a “horse whisperer”, one who can speak and understand horses and their moods. It almost seems that he has been born with this gift, an inherent gift from God. This gift, however, seems not to work as well with humans. Throughout the story, John is forced to confront his shortcomings with humans and rethink what he thought he knew about horses and humans and the relationships between the two. The romantic and mythical world he has been living in shows its true self and shatters his beliefs in it. The title, it seems, is an ironic twist to what John experiences throughout the novel. The romantic world he believed in at the beginning and the very opposite that emerges at the end. All of John’s life, his existence has rotated around horses. In the beautiful world he lives in, horses are passionate, strong, and free. He can imagine them “thundering across some dramatic western landscape, wild and untamed” (Spurgeon, 89). Not unlike the vaqueros previously mentioned, John Grady worships horses not only for the various everyday roles they play in his life, but he truly sees them as a companion and a...