All the Pretty Horses | Study Guide

Cormac McCarthy

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All the Pretty Horses | Chapter 1, Part 2 | Summary

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Summary

During breakfast the next morning Rawlins gives Blevins a hard time about his name and suggests Blevins should trade his beautiful horse for something that will bring less attention to the group; Blevins asserts he's not getting rid of the horse and he can defend himself because he has an old 32-20 Colt pistol. Rawlins is skeptical such a young kid can handle that type of gun and decides to test Blevins by throwing his wallet up in the air. Blevins shoots a hole right through it, demonstrating his expert marksmanship.

The boys continue riding south. Eventually, they find a trail leading to the tiny rural town of Reforma. They find a small store (tienda), purchase three glasses of alcoholic cider, and then refill their glasses twice. The boys sit outside the tienda and take in their surroundings. Rawlins marvels at their new situation, saying, "Drinkin cactus juice in old Mexico ... What do you reckon they're sayin at home about now?"

That evening they arrive at a small family farm (estancia). The couple that owns the property invites the boys to stay for dinner and offers to board them and their horses overnight. They eat a filling dinner of beans, tortillas, and goat with the couple and their two young daughters, who are amazed by the strange visitors. The farmer inquires about life in America, a place he's never been, despite living only 30 miles away from the border. At the end of dinner Blevins accidentally falls out of his seat, provoking a fury of laughter from the girls. Embarrassed, Blevins excuses himself and waits outside. He spends the night there nursing his pride, while Rawlins and John Grady sleep on straw pallets in a room at the back of the house. Before they go to bed, John Grady tells Rawlins that the farmer told him there may be work opportunities a few hundred kilometers south, on the other side of the Sierra del Carmen mountain range. "He made that country sound like the Big Rock Candy Mountains. Said there was lakes and runnin water and grass to the stirrups," recounts John Grady.

After a large breakfast John Grady and Rawlins thank the farmer and his wife and resume their journey south. They leave with a lunch the farmer's wife packed. Blevins is nowhere to be found, but soon after they leave the property they spot him waiting on the side of the road. Rawlins resumes his hostile questioning of Blevins and refuses to let him have any of their food so early in the morning. At noon the boys eat lunch. They continue traveling all day. At night they set up a camp, and as they sit around the fire Rawlins continues to needle Blevins, this time about his horse-riding skills. John Grady tires of this and finally tells Rawlins to "leave [Blevins] alone."

As they pass through the mountains their food supplies dwindle. After they reach the plains they encounter a group of Mexican farmhands heading up into the mountains to collect grass. They are poorly outfitted, but John Grady observes that they are "well mounted." John Grady makes small talk with the group, who seems indifferent about the crew of young Americans. The new landscape is much more fertile than the desert they had come from; they find a clear stream, various game, and cattle grazing on quality grass.

Blevins shoots a jackrabbit, and the boys cook it for dinner. While it cooks Rawlins takes a gentler tone with Blevins, and he gets him to talk about his background. Blevins says he's from Uvalde County, in west Texas, and that he's run away from home multiple times. He also claims to be 17. He implies the reason he left this time is to escape his abusive stepfather and explains that his real father died in World War II. After a volley of questions, a frustrated Blevins tells Rawlins "you got a awful lot of goddamned questions" and scolds Rawlins for spitting into the fire. Blevins's assertiveness causes John Grady to laugh.

As they travel south the boys pass more and more people, many of them traveling peddlers bringing goods north to the border. They buy an alcoholic drink called sotol from one of the peddlers and quickly become drunk; Blevins is so intoxicated he falls off his horse. The sky darkens and Blevins starts to worry. He claims several people in his family have been struck by lightning, and if he doesn't get to shelter he'll surely be struck, too. He races off on his horse to outrun the storm, leaving John Grady and Rawlins to stand by the road in disbelief.

John Grady and Rawlins continue riding and eventually come upon Blevins's tied up horse. John Grady rides around and discovers Blevins hiding under a dead tree in his boxers. He tries to coax Blevins out, but he refuses to leave. John Grady and Rawlins take cover under a small outcropping. The storm opens up, and before long the boys hear Blevins's horse take off. After the storm clears they vomit up the sotol over the new landscape, and the sound unsettles the horses.

The next morning John Grady returns to the spot where he left Blevins. With no clothes, horse, or provisions of any kind, Blevins makes a pathetic sight, but John Grady hoists him up onto his horse. Rawlins seethes predictably when he sees Blevins's sad state, and the three ride on in silence. At noon they pass through a makeshift camp set up by a large group of rough-looking wax harvesters. John Grady asks if the three of them can eat lunch with the laborers, and they allow it. While John Grady makes small talk in Spanish with the workers, one of them asks how much it would cost to buy Blevins. John Grady is unsettled by the comment. He walks back to Blevins and Rawlins and tells them tersely to move on. Blevins takes his time, so John Grady hauls him up on his horse and quickly leaves the camp.

That night the boys camp out in the foothills of the Sierra de la Encantada mountains. While Blevins is sleeping (wrapped in the blanket from John Grady's bedroll), Rawlins tells John Grady, "I'll tell you somethin ... Somethin bad is goin to happen."

The next day the boys ride into the town of Encantada. As they arrive Blevins spots his pistol in the pocket of a man working on his car and quickly starts fuming. To pacify Blevins, John Grady agrees to look for his horse with Rawlins. They leave him in a hidden spot just outside town and search around for the horse as discreetly as possible. They find it stashed inside an abandoned house and return to the place they left Blevins to plot a way to free it, but Blevins isn't there. The situation has made Rawlins extremely worried, and he tries to get John Grady to cut their losses and leave. He explains that every time he's gotten into trouble, it started with a stupid decision—such as the one they just made. John Grady listens to his argument but decides he can't leave Blevins. They take a nap, and when they wake up Blevins is sitting in front of them.

John Grady tells Blevins they'll help get his horse back but not all of his other stuff. Blevins protests, which causes Rawlins to erupt at him. Finally Blevins agrees, and they go to sleep. Before daybreak they return to the abandoned house, but the horse isn't there. Blevins disappears to find it. While John Grady and Rawlins are hanging around dogs start barking, and before long the entire block wakes up. Blevins materializes seemingly out of nowhere and storms past John Grady and Rawlins atop his horse chased by a pack of dogs. Shots ring out, and the three boys race out of town, nearly exhausting their horses. When they're a mile south of town they stop to make a plan. Blevins says that because he's the fastest he'll serve as the bait. "Let me take the road since it's me they're huntin'. They'll follow the dust and you all can slip off into the country."

John Grady and Rawlins get off the road and navigate their way through the brush in the dark. After some time, they look back and see a group of riders two miles away. The scene unnerves Rawlins, who says "we're goin to die in this goddamned country." He also curses Blevins. They ride their worn-out horses until they nearly drop and camp for the night without food or water. The next day they ride until noon before they find any water. Rawlins is able to shoot a buck, and they gorge themselves on their first meal in over a day. Finally, well fed and a bit more relaxed, they have a conversation that touches on various topics, including the existence of an afterlife and the status of Blevins. Despite his harshness with the boy, Rawlins says "I dont want to see nothin bad happen to him."

The next day they continue riding, heading west through the hill country. Eventually, they come to the fertile cattle-dotted landscape the farmer had described to John Grady. They spot a group of ranch hands (vaqueros) driving cattle and after a pleasant exchange join the group. Just after they reach a fence and turn the cattle south, a striking young woman dressed in elegant riding clothes passes the crew. John Grady and Rawlins are smitten by the sight. John Grady is so taken he seems to become tongue-tied. Soon they reach their destination: a holding pen on a local ranch. After they unload the cattle the leader of the vaqueros quizzes them on their ranching knowledge and, satisfied, hires them to work.

The boys drop their stuff off in the bunkhouse and have dinner with the other vaqueros, who pepper them with questions about America, horses, and cattle. Before they go to sleep Rawlins and John Grady lie awake in their bunks discussing their happy change in fortune. "This is some country, ain't it?" Rawlins muses, "How long do you think you'd like to stay here?" "About a hundred years," John Grady responds.

Analysis

This section shares the perspective of the three boys as they process their experiences and feelings in a new place. Though Mexico isn't geographically far from the west Texas areas where John Grady, Rawlins, and Blevins were raised, psychologically it might as well be Europe. Rawlins's frequent outbursts of amazement—at the poor, carless towns; at the modest tiendas; at "drinkin cactus juice in old Mexico"—reveal that the boys perceive it as mysterious and exotic.

Through their interactions in this new environment the boys begin to reveal their personalities. John Grady shows himself to be cool, calm, and collected. He has a strong moral code, and he feels obligated to look out for Blevins despite the fact the hotheaded and immature 13-year-old consistently makes bad decisions, some of which put the group in serious danger. He embodies the classic stereotype of masculine honor, which dictates doing the right thing no matter the circumstances. Just before he and Rawlins go looking for Blevins's horse in Encantada, Rawlins floats the idea of leaving Blevins, who has been nothing but trouble: "This is our last chance. Right now. This is the time and there won't be another time and I guarantee it." John Grady concedes that Blevins has made bad decision after bad decision but concludes he can't abandon the boy.

Rawlins's concept of loyalty is more flexible. Though he's eager to free himself from Blevins and his constant drama, he's not disloyal to John Grady. As he tells John Grady, "I wouldnt leave you and you wouldnt leave me." Arguably, this flexibility makes him much more practical than John Grady, who is confined to a rigid worldview. Though Rawlins is less mature in general, he may actually be better equipped to adapt and deal with the world.

Rawlins is opinionated, blustery, playful, and occasionally worried—all personality traits that put him in contrast to John Grady. His personality is much more typical of a teenager than John Grady's. This may be the very reason Rawlins seems to have such contempt for Blevins—he sees himself in the boy. It's not hard to imagine Rawlins was just as cocky as Blevins when he was the same age.

Regardless, Blevins is clearly troubled. He's a tough kid, but he seems to have not learned many lessons. His ignorance is intensified by his complete self-confidence. Whereas John Grady seems to embody the best qualities of honor, Blevins demonstrates the downside of it. When he embarrasses himself at the hacienda, he interprets the young girls' laughter as humiliation—not as a natural reaction to a funny scene—and exiles himself. Likewise, when he loses his horse due to his own incompetent behavior, he refuses to move on, reasoning dubiously "it's my horse."

More than just the characters' personalities come through in this section. McCarthy spends no small amount of time describing the new world the boys have entered. The northern part of Mexico is a majestic, physically daunting place, and he pays respect to its natural power with dramatic descriptions that border on the religious. As they make their way out of the first set of mountains south of the estancia, the boys take in a country "where the last shadows were running over the land before the wind and the sun to the west lay blood red among the shelving clouds and the distant cordilleras ranged down the terminals of the sky to fade from pale to pale of blue and then to nothing at all."

While the grandeur of the land is evoked, so is its potential to be the scene of violence. This section hints that, like anywhere else, Mexico has a dark underbelly. Though it may not have been sincere, the wax harvester's attempt to buy Blevins is deeply unsettling and reminds the reader how vulnerable the boys are, even if they fancy themselves a bunch of tough horse-wrangling, gun-toting adventure-seekers. The truth is, they are no match for a group of people who wish to do them harm.

The scene at the wax camp offers just a taste of what may come, and the story soon veers back into a happy Western tale. When Rawlins and John Grady get set up in the Rocha family ranch, everything seems to be falling into place—thus John Grady's remark that he'd like to stay at the ranch "about a hundred years." He has a job working with horses and cattle, and there's a pretty girl on the premises.

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