All the Pretty Horses | Study Guide

Cormac McCarthy

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All the Pretty Horses | Chapter 4, Part 2 | Summary

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Summary

After John Grady leaves the train station he checks out of the hotel and gets drunk at a wild local bar. He gets in a fight and then wakes up, bloody and bruised, in a strange room. He walks out of the building and hitches a ride to Torreon, the town where he left his horse. In Torreon he collects his horse and his bedroll and buys a box of bullets for his gun. Then he heads north. That night he sleeps in the open, with no fire, staring off into space and being lovesick. He continues his trip north through the countryside. Five days later he comes across a sign at a crossroads that points to the town of Encantada. He thinks for awhile and then takes off toward the town. "He leaned and spat ... The hell with it, he said. I aint leavin my horse down here."

He rides all through the night. When he gets to the outskirts of town he loads his gun and sticks it in his belt. Under cover of darkness he breaks into the jail and plops himself down on the captain's chair. After an hour a maid comes in, and he tells her to sit on one of the metal chairs in the room. When the captain comes in, he sees John Grady at his desk pointing a gun at him. The captain asks John Grady what he wants, and John Grady says he's here for his horse. He takes the captain's gun and leads him to the jail cell that once held the three boys. The old man Orlando is still in there. John Grady sets him free and then locks the maid in the cell (but not before apologizing).

At gunpoint John Grady takes the captain to the charro's house. The charro takes them to Rawlins's horse in a barn behind his house. John Grady asks about his and Blevins's horses, but the charro doesn't respond until John Grady puts his pistol in the captain's face and threatens to kill him. The charro confesses the horses are at the hacienda of Don Rafael. They ride the 10 kilometers to the ranch, the charro and the captain on Rawlins's horse and John Grady behind them posing as a prisoner. They reach the stable, and John Grady calls out for Redbo, who responds with a snort.

There's a shootout at the stable, and John Grady gets hit in the leg. He fights his way out and leaves with a new rifle, the handcuffed captain, Redbo, Junior (Rawlins's horse), Blevins's bay horse, and the grullo, but he's bleeding badly. Six riders come after him; he's able to avoid them, but he sacrifices the grullo in the process. John Grady continues his trip north with his hostage and the horses. That night they camp out, and he builds a big fire. John Grady heats his gun in the fire until it gets red hot, and then presses the scorching metal against his leg to cauterize his wounds. He keeps riding through the night. The captain rides limply on Rawlins's horse, in pain, and complains multiple times he can't go on; John Grady presses him on.

While he's being held hostage, the captain seems amazed at John Grady's cavalier attitude about his bleeding leg. "Are you no afraid of God?" he asks. "I got no reason to be afraid of God. I've even got a bone or two to pick with Him," John Grady says.

When they reach mountains, John Grady is awoken from an intense dream by a group of horsemen who claim to be "men of the country." They take the captain and give John Grady a serape (shawl). He continues north by himself, still guiding the three horses. He shoots a doe, and as it dies he thinks of Alejandra and the first time he saw her. When he reaches the town of Los Picos he stops for a meal at a local cafe. While he eats, he observes the townfolk and waxes philosophical. He crosses the Rio Grande back into Texas on Thanksgiving Day. As he crosses the border he thinks about his father, whom he believes is dead, and weeps.

He spends the next few weeks searching for the owner of Blevins's horse. Three men claim the horse is theirs, and the case goes before a judge. Over the course of a half hour, John Grady tells the court the full story of his adventure, and the judge immediately awards the horse back to him. That night John Grady goes to the judge's house. He expresses his sadness and frustration things didn't work out at the ranch and confesses he's still shaken by his killing in prison. The judge listens sympathetically to his troubles.

The following Sunday John Grady is having breakfast in a restaurant when he hears a radio playing the Jimmy Blevins Gospel Hour. He's told the station playing it is in Del Rio, Texas, and he takes off for the town. John Grady finds the Blevins house and introduces himself to the preacher and his wife. He asks the preacher if that's his horse, and if he knows a 14-year-old named Jimmy Blevins, but the preacher declines on both accounts. However, they invite John Grady to stay for dinner. He spends some more time searching for the owner but never finds him.

In February John Grady returns to San Angelo and goes straight to Rawlins's house. Rawlins is amazed by the sight of his old friend; in typically understated fashion, John Grady tells him, "I figured you might want your old horse back." Rawlins fills him in on news: his father died, Abuela is very sick, and Arturo now works at the school. Rawlins asks what John Grady is going to do next; he says, "I think I'm goin to move on."

John Grady attends the funeral for Abuela, the woman who had worked on the Grady ranch and helped raised multiple generations of Grady boys. Her death causes him to reflect on life; overwhelmed with emotion, he cries. After the funeral John Grady heads out of town with Blevins's horse behind him. On his way he passes a group of Indians, who sit watching him. This time he's heading west.

Analysis

Alejandra's rejection sends John Grady reeling. Like people often do in moments of deep distress, he goes and gets drunk to cope with the pain. The description of his camp outside of Torreon reveals the depth of his broken heart. He is so distraught he can't even bring himself to make a fire; instead, he stares off into space, interpreting the natural world through the lens of his despair: "he listened to the wind in the emptiness and watched stars trace the arc of the hemisphere and die in the darkness at the edge of the world and as he lay there the agony in his heart was like a stake."

His decision to halt his trip back home and instead retrieve the horses from Encantada suggests a number of things. For one, it underlines (again) his heartbroken state. The idea seems enormously risky and dangerous, to say the least, so if the typically prudent John Grady is willing to undertake such a risky effort without any thought, it's quite obvious he's not his old self. Arguably, he does this because he's given up on life—at least temporarily—and doesn't care if he dies in a blaze of glory.

On the other hand, his decision to go back and get the horses can be seen as an attempt to make things right. Blevins has been killed, and Rawlins is traumatized by prison and without his horse. The captain is the same, except richer after having sold three horses. For John Grady this is unacceptable. Despite Dueña Alfonsa's belief that youthful idealism is a dangerous and futile exercise, John Grady takes a stand.

Eventually, John Grady seems to make his peace with God. When he's people watching from the café in Los Picos, he muses "it was good that God kept the truths of life from the young as they were starting out or else they'd have no heart to start at all." This is an expression of deep cynicism, but it implies his belief in God's mysterious ways is still intact. At any rate it shows his worldview has become less romantic. It seems Dueña Alfonsa herself would agree with his observation.

When John Grady crosses back into Texas he is more emotionally fragile. He cries three times in this small section—when he thinks about his father's death, when he discusses Blevins with the judge, and again at Abuela's funeral—despite not crying in any previous part of the book. He is also eager to discuss his anxieties and his tribulations from the trip, as evidenced by his conversations with the judge in court and at the judge's house. After all he's seen and experienced, he seems to have acquired a new sense of vulnerability, and in some ways his behavior seems more akin to that of Rawlins than himself. Likewise, his obsession with tracking down the owner of Blevins's horse shows he is trying to make things right in some small way. It also reveals his anxiety about the choices he made in Mexico. The judge seems to speak for the reader when he tells John Grady, "there's nothing wrong with you son. I think you'll get it sorted out."

The death of Abuela figuratively and literally closes the chapter. As she is one of the last remaining links to the Grady family farm and its ancestors, her death symbolizes the end of it. John Grady weeping at her funeral implies that at last he understands this part of life is over. He also understands the cold indifference of the universe: "he held out his hands as if to steady himself ... or perhaps as if to slow the world that was rushing away and seemed to care nothing for the old or the young or rich or poor or dark or pale or he or she."

The Indians he passes further suggest the passing of time. At the beginning of the book, there are frequent references to the ghosts of the Indians that used to roam the area. Now the ghosts of the Gradys roam the land.

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