All the Pretty Horses | Study Guide

Cormac McCarthy

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All the Pretty Horses | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


What is John Grady's relationship with his mother like in Chapter 1, Part 1 of All the Pretty Horses?

John Grady and his mother are clearly very distant. They barely seem to even know each other. In one revealing scene, John Grady tells his father, "she's gone to San Antonio." His father, alarmed, rebukes John Grady by saying, "dont call her she." Every one of their exchanges is without warmth, and his mother always seems impatient with him. After he asks her to let him stay on the farm and offers to give her "all the money" he generates, she responds with typical coldness. "All the money. You dont know what you're talking about." When John Grady returns to Texas, after more than four months of being away, he goes to Rawlins's house, not his mother's.

What does John Grady's father mean by his statement "we're like the Comanches was two hundred years ago" in Chapter 1, Part 1 of All the Pretty Horses?

John Grady's father is saying history is repeating itself. When white settlers came to the area, the Comanche and other Indian tribes were displaced and eventually disappeared. Now that the United States is modernizing and cars have become an indispensable way of life for Americans, it is the ranchers' turn to disappear. This is the way the world turns; civilizations and people come and go. His remarks are meant for the benefit of John Grady. It's not that he's nostalgic for an old way of life; he has seen too much of the world to believe that "progress" can be stopped.

How does the personal growth of Blevins compare and contrast to the personal growth of John Grady in All the Pretty Horses?

John Grady's personal growth is arguably the entire point of the book. When the story begins he is something of a starry-eyed cowboy wannabe, a tough Texas teen who wants to raise horses and cattle and live the life of a gentleman rancher. As the story progresses, however, and he faces hardships in Mexico, he begins to reevaluate his life and his philosophy. His trauma at the hands of Don Rocha and his daughter Alejandra makes him think there is more to life than having "all the pretty horses." When he returns to Texas he is more vulnerable and more realistic. The opposite is true of Blevins. In between the time he joins John Grady and Rawlins by the Rio Grande and the time he is murdered, he has not changed at all. He remains reckless and immature, and he seems to have learned nothing about the costs of his actions. His stubborn conversation with Rawlins in the jail in Encantada confirms this. Despite the fact he may very well be killed, he insists defiantly "it was my horse."

In what ways are Don Rocha's actions hypocritical in All the Pretty Horses?

Don Rocha seems to care about what is right and proper, at least concerning his daughter Alejandra. As a member of upper-class Mexican society, there is immense pressure on him to conduct himself and direct his family in a way that is considered virtuous. This explains his interference in Alejandra's life. And yet, someone so preoccupied with making sure his family behaves in a way that is socially acceptable is the same person who throws John Grady into jail, subjecting him to the possibility of death. This demonstrates his concern for doing what is "right" very clearly has its limits.

Based on the limited information given in the text, what can readers infer that Alejandra's mother is like in All the Pretty Horses?

Alejandra's mother is unnamed throughout the book and is only referred to occasionally. However, a portrait of her personality emerges upon close reading. She seems to be a serious, dominating woman; Dueña Alfonsa says she is not very "civil" and that she threw "outrageous tantrums" when she negotiated the release of John Grady from prison. She is a city person who does not like to come to the farm, according to Alejandra. Taken together, these characteristics paint a picture of a woman who is not very unlike John Grady's mother, who is also unnamed throughout the story. The two women seem to share many traits: harsh, selfish, sophisticated, modern.

In her conversation with John Grady in Chapter 4, Part 1 of All the Pretty Horses, what does Dueña Alfonsa reveal about her perspective on fate?

Dueña Alfonsa implies she doesn't believe very strongly in fate, even though her father strongly believed in it. He saw the world as a series of events that unfold naturally from one to the other. Dueña Alfonsa, however, believes "the world has always been more of a puppet show," except even the puppets are controlled by other puppets. Events have some sort of conscious power lurking behind them. She may be alluding to God, but if this chain of "puppetry" stretches to infinity, as she suggests, that would mean there is no ultimate authority, and God is either nonexistent or limited. If either is true, this casts doubt on the idea of fate. She acquired this perspective, she explains, from observing Mexican history unfold.

According to Alejandra in Chapter 4, Part 1 of All the Pretty Horses, why can't she be with John Grady?

For Alejandra the price of continuing a relationship with John Grady is one she is not willing to pay. She has shamed her family and has begun to realize her father's affection may actually be conditional. "I didnt know that he would stop loving me. I didnt know he could. Now I know," she says about her father. Clearly she has done something very bad—at least in the eyes of her family. Her feelings for John Grady are more than a case of puppy love, but the prospect of being forsaken by her family and losing her privileged position in upper-class Mexican society is impossible.

What perspective on rebellion does All the Pretty Horses seem to take?

All the Pretty Horses seems to take a pretty dim view of rebellion. Everyone who rebels for what they believe to be a worthy cause is ultimately chastened. John Grady rebelled against the state of affairs in Texas; Alejandra rebelled against her father and Mexican social norms; Dueña Alfonsa rebelled against tradition; the Madero Brothers, the early leaders of the Mexican Revolution, literally participated in a rebellion—and all of them lost. The implication seems to be that rebellion or trying to change things is a hopeless exercise. Acceptance and adaptation are more useful strategies for making it in the world.

In Chapter 1, Part 1 of All the Pretty Horses, what does John Grady mean when he tells Rawlins, "I'm already gone"?

John Grady says this because he's already psychologically checked out. None of his pleas to stay in San Angelo and work on his family's ranch have been heard, so he has convinced himself to put San Angelo out of his mind and look to the future. The way he says this hints at his bitterness; it comes off as a kind of kiss off to his family, his ex-girlfriend, Mary Catherine Barnett, and any other locals who have stood in the way of his ranching dream. If John Grady can convince himself there's no place for him in his home, it makes the decision to leave that much easier.

What do the poetic descriptions of animals in All the Pretty Horses seem to suggest about their relationship to humans?

McCarthy's detailed and often intimate descriptions of animals, especially horses, imply a special kinship among the beings of the natural world—a group, of course, that includes humans. Surely, John Grady, who exalts horses almost as if they are equal to humans, endorses this view. At the beginning of the book, as he is riding around the San Angelo area, he has the thought that "what he loved in horses was what he loved in men, the blood and the heat of the blood that ran them." Though people often forget, humans are simply higher-order animals; they share many of the same physical processes and are subject to the same forces of nature as are other animals.

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