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All the Pretty Horses | Study Guide

Cormac McCarthy

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All the Pretty Horses | Chapter 3 | Summary



The group heads north, back in the direction Rawlins and John Grady came from four months earlier. During a stop to eat John Grady looks at Rawlins, but Rawlins won't look back at him. They ride for three days, during which the guards don't talk to them. Eventually, they arrive back in the town of Encantada. Rawlins and John Grady are seated on a bench outside, and a large group of children assemble to look at them. John Grady asks two 12-year-old girls for cigarettes, and they go to fetch them. While the girls are searching, a still-simmering Rawlins finally speaks to John Grady. He tells John Grady when he was arrested he told the soldiers to wake Don Rocha, but they responded he was already up, and then they laughed, which makes him think Don Rocha is responsible for their arrest. The girls return with the cigarettes and give them to the boys. After John Grady thanks them, the girls ask if they are thieves. "Yes," says John Grady. "Very famous thieves. Bandoleros," which causes the girls to gasp.

The boys are led through the town and deposited at the local jail, a crumbling adobe building. They enter a room where a man in a uniform is sitting at a desk; he gestures to the guards, and they take the boys to their cell. When they enter the nearly pitch-black room they hear a man's voice tell them to stay clear of the bucket. John Grady translates this for Rawlins, and upon hearing them talk another voice chimes in: Blevins's. Rawlins grills Blevins, but Blevins won't confess to anything. John Grady tries another tack and asks the man—who is revealed to be older—what crime Blevins is accused of. He's accused of murdering three men, says the man.

John Grady gets Blevins to tell his story. Blevins says after the boys separated he'd found work in the town of Palau, 80 miles east. After two months of saving he rode back to the town to find his gun. In the ensuing scuffle he wound up shooting three men. Incredulous, John Grady asks Blevins, "You got any idea the kind of mess you're in?" Blevins speculates he'll be sent to prison, but Rawlins implies much worse is in store. John Grady interjects they don't have capital punishment in Mexico and tells Rawlins to be quiet. John Grady asks if they ever let the prisoners out, and Blevins says he doesn't know because the guards "busted my feet all to hell" and he can't walk.

That night John Grady has a dream he's up on the mesa running with beautiful wild horses. In the morning Rawlins is interrogated. He is taken to the room he passed through last night and sits across from the police captain. The captain forces him to undress and then begins questioning him. Rawlins answers honestly when he's asked about his dealings in Mexico, but he claims not to know anything about Blevins. Throughout the interrogation the captain continues to take make false accusations against him.

Rawlins returns to the holding cell mentally and physically defeated. When John Grady asks what he said, Rawlins says he "told em we was horsethieves and murderers. You will too." Next up it's John Grady's turn to face the captain's interrogation.

The captain tries to manipulate John Grady. "Your friend has told us everything," he says. John Grady tells the truth, but the captain throws false accusations at him. After John Grady tries to counter with an explanation of what really happened, the captain has no interest. "These are not the facts," he says. He tells John Grady that he has an "opportunity to tell the truth," but if he doesn't, in three days he will go to prison in Saltillo and it will be too late. "There aint but one truth," John Grady responds. John Grady is sent back to his cell, and Blevins is pulled out.

John Grady and Rawlins talk in the cell. John Grady says he thinks the captain is angling for "some kind of deal" to stay quiet about Blevins. "I think they aim to kill" Blevins, John Grady says. Rawlins cries silently when he hears this. Blevins returns to the cell and John Grady starts talking with the old man, whose name is Orlando. He doesn't know what he's been accused of, and he can't read or write. Blevins comes back into the cell and asks what the boys told the captain. John Grady says they told him the truth. Blevins says they "could have put in a good word." Rawlins yells at Blevins and nearly comes to tears. Finally John Grady intervenes, telling Rawlins to "just let it go."

Three days later the boys are loaded onto a flatbed truck along with parcels from villagers. Apart from the driver there are three soldiers and the captain. Before they head out of town they stop to pick up a charro (traditionally dressed Mexican horseman) at his house. The truck stops at various towns to offload the parcels. In the late afternoon the truck pulls up to an abandoned estancia. Blevins is ordered out of the truck. He reaches down and throws the pesos he had been stashing in his boot to John Grady. Blevins is escorted to an area of trees by the captain and the charro and is shot.

The truck drops John Grady and Rawlins off at the prison in Saltillo after midnight. Before they enter they speak with the captain, who explains that the charro paid him to be able to kill Blevins but lost his nerve. Therefore, the boys realize, it was the captain who killed Blevins. The captain tells the boys they will die in prison unless they pay the connections he has inside the prison. They protest they don't have any money, but he dismisses them. The captain tells them a chilling story about his experience with a prostitute, and then they are taken to their cells.

They spend their very first day fighting and defending themselves against other prisoners in the yard. After the third day they are bruised and exhausted, but it appears that their fighting initiation is over. A few days later a papazote (big shot) named Emilio Pérez requests to speak with the boys, and they visit him in his well-appointed cell/house. He tells the boys he can get them out if they pay him, but they tell him they don't have any money. He presses them, trying to explain that they won't make it without his help, but they leave without giving or promising him anything.

The next day Rawlins is stabbed in the yard. John Grady walks him, bleeding, to the guards, who take him to the infirmary. John Grady visits Pérez a few days later to check on Rawlins. Pérez insists he must know somebody who can pay his way. John Grady says he doesn't, but Pérez persists in insinuating something bad will come if John Grady can't pay him. He does, however, claim Rawlins is not dead. John Grady leaves, but not before Pérez warns him to be careful "with whom you break bread."

John Grady buys a knife with the money Blevins gave him. That night in the mess hall, he's attacked by a slightly older boy. After a bloody tussle the boy gets within striking distance of finishing John Grady off, but John Grady stabs the boy in the heart, killing him. John Grady collapses in the yard. Pérez's bodyguard picks him up and takes him into Pérez's room.

John Grady wakes up in a cell. His wounds have been dressed, and an orderly brings him food and soda. A few days later a doctor comes in to see him; then, a man in a uniform visits. He slowly heals in his cell. Eventually, he is summoned to see the man in the uniform, the commandante, who informs him he is being released and Rawlins is outside. He meets Rawlins outside the prison, and they board a bus that takes them into town.

The boys find a restaurant and take stock of their situation. John Grady says Dueña Alfonsa paid for them to get out of prison. Rawlins says he's going home; John Grady says he's going back to the ranch. Rawlins tells him not to, but John Grady says, "I done made up my mind." However, he agrees if Alejandra no longer wants him, he'll come back. The boys check into a hotel, where they shower and talk. John Grady asks Rawlins if he knew what happened in the mess hall, and Rawlins says he does. The next morning Rawlins leaves town by bus. After a few days, during which he finds a surgeon to remove his stitches, John Grady leaves town, too, heading north on the back of a flatbed truck.


The bond between Rawlins and John Grady gets tested in this chapter. When the soldiers haul them out of the ranch, Rawlins refuses to look at John Grady. As they talk outside the jail cell in Encantada, Rawlins expresses his frustration with John Grady's pursuit of Alejandra. "I tried to reason with you, that's all. Tried any number of times," Rawlins tells him. John Grady responds that "some things aint reasonable." And, he adds, it's unfair for Rawlins to have thought about giving up on him when things got tough. "I never even promised you you wouldnt die down here," he says. "I dont believe in signing on just till it quits suitin you. You either stick or you quit and I wouldnt quit you I dont care what you done." Rawlins responds he never gave up on John Grady.

John Grady's first conversation with the captain highlights, again, his unyielding moral code. When the captain tells him, threateningly, that "truth" is contingent upon whatever the authorities decide ("we can make the truth here"), John Grady rebuts him. "There aint but one truth," he says, "The truth is what happened. It aint what comes out of somebody's mouth."

The corruption of the captain and Pérez stands in stark contrast to John Grady's purity, and the characters' interactions suggest the dichotomies of youth versus age, and idealism versus cold realism. The captain also has a code of sorts, but it is like the twisted inverse of John Grady's morality. "A man cannot go out to do something and then he go back ... A man does not change his mind." This could just as easily be a quote from John Grady, but the captain is referring to an experience with a prostitute. "Not changing his mind" seems to refer to something sadistic he did to the prostitute, who refused him at first.

Until the end Blevins remains his defiant unaware self. He refuses to reevaluate his decision to come back to Encantada or his involvement in the three shootings, claiming that he "aint done nothing that nobody else wouldnt of." His stubbornness is too much for Rawlins to take; Blevins's lack of realization he may wind up dead sends Rawlins into a fit of rage. John Grady, still protective of the young hothead, tries to help Blevins when he speaks with the captain by emphasizing his young age. His effort is ultimately useless.

Despite Rawlins's lingering anger at John Grady, once the boys are thrown into prison they are faithful friends again. After Rawlins gets beat up badly on the first day, John Grady refuses to let him pity himself, lest he make himself vulnerable to the predators in their midst. If they're going to stay alive, they have to send the signal they are hardasses. "There aint a place on me that don't hurt," Rawlins says. "I know it. I know it and I don't care," John Grady informs him.

At the end of the chapter, it is Rawlins's turn to be the rock. In the hotel room in Saltillo, John Grady comes as close to expressing his feelings as he is capable. He tells Rawlins he never thought he'd kill someone, and Rawlins reassures him multiple times he had no other option. John Grady's remark "you dont need to try and make it right" suggests he remains troubled by the incident, but Rawlins's willingness to talk with him about it is clearly meaningful to him.

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