All the Pretty Horses | Study Guide

Cormac McCarthy

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All the Pretty Horses | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


In what ways does Mexico live up to the boys' expectations after they enter the country in Chapter 1, Part 2 of All the Pretty Horses?

When the three boys first arrive in Mexico, they savor their newfound freedom. With no responsibilities (or adult authority figures telling them what to do) they're free to roam around, drink alcohol, and do other fun things. Rawlins captures the carefree mood of the group with his comment "Drinkin cactus juice in old Mexico ... What do you reckon they're sayin at home about now?" Good and buzzed, he confirms that the trip, at least thus far, is a success. All in all, the new country seems to live up to all the expectations the boys have for it.

Within All the Pretty Horses, what is the status of women in Mexico?

The status of women in Mexico is precarious. Though society claims to cherish them, its love—like the love of Alejandra's father for her—is conditional. Dueña Alfonsa explains to John Grady that "a man may lose his honor and regain it again. But a woman cannot. She cannot." This sexist double standard indicates the patriarchy is alive and well in Mexico. Virginity is prized above all else for women but not for men. As well, women do not have the right to vote. These are the forces that confront Alejandra daily, despite the fact she lives a life of great privilege.

How does John Grady's experience in Mexico create an example of situational irony in All the Pretty Horses?

John Grady leaves Texas because it no longer values the kinds of traditions he does. Texas, and the country at large, has become a society of cars, industrial jobs, and independent-minded women who move to Hollywood because they feel like it. It is no longer a place that needs large cattle ranches nor the horsemen who work on them. It's bitterly ironic, then, that John Grady is rejected by Alejandra's family with the excuse he has too many modern ideas—namely, that love should be enough to carry a relationship. As he eventually discovers, there are significant downsides to traditional life.

In what ways does Rawlins function as a kind of Greek chorus in All the Pretty Horses?

Because Rawlins is so chatty and expressive, he provides the story with running commentary and occasional moments of lightheartedness. Many times he says aloud, and to John Grady, what readers are thinking, which is one of the roles of a Greek chorus. During a conversation in a café after they're released from prison, John Grady admits he is going back to the Rocha family ranch. "Dont go down there," Rawlins tells him, speaking for readers who are incredulous that he would put himself in harm's way yet again. Earlier in the story, when the boys are in prison, Rawlins philosophizes that the boys' disastrous situation is "all over a goddamned horse," an observation that captures the absurdity of their circumstances.

What are John Grady's beliefs about God in All the Pretty Horses?

John Grady's beliefs about God fluctuate throughout the story. At the end of Chapter 1, Part 2, while the boys are resting next to a campfire, Rawlins asks him "You think God looks out for people?" John Grady says he thinks he does. Later in the story, when John Grady has the captain hostage, he isn't so sure about God, or at least that he's a merciful being. "I got no reason to be afraid of God. I've even got a bone or two to pick with Him," John Grady says disobediently. This statement seems to be motivated by his enormous hurt over losing Alejandra and his traumatic experiences in prison. After he releases the captain, however, he seems to be back on better terms with God. This may be because he has come to believe, as Dueña Alfonsa suggested to him in Chapter 4, Part 1, that even God has limitations.

What significance does the Rio Grande take on in Chapter 1, Part 1 of All the Pretty Horses?

The Rio Grande River takes on a distant religious significance in the story. To get to Mexico, the boys must cross the river. It's fairly deep, so it requires them to float their gear and their horses; by the time they cross they are nearly submerged. The event suggests a kind of baptism: the boys must pass through this water before they can enter a new phase of their lives, much like the function of a baptism. The boys' ecstatic reaction after they cross demonstrates their feeling something has changed. The crossing is a religious and symbolic step that cannot be reversed.

In Chapter 2 of All the Pretty Horses, how does John Grady's view of horses differ from the classic cowboy view?

The classic cowboy view of horses is that they are a means to an end, much like a nice car: think of Bullet, Roy Rogers's famous, friendly horse. John Grady's interest in horses, however, goes well beyond this and leans toward the metaphysical. Throughout the story he considers or discusses whether horses have souls, where they go after they die, what they have in common with men, and other topics demonstrating his complete (and perhaps unhealthy) regard for them. While he's breaking the first batch of horses hauled down from the mesa, he characterizes them in mystical terms: "they did not smell like horses. They smelled like what they were, wild animals."

How does the radio preacher Jimmy Blevins's faith compare and contrast to John Grady's beliefs about God in All the Pretty Horses?

Unsurprisingly for a radio preacher, Jimmy Blevins is a true believer. "There's a purpose for everything in this world, you see," he explains to John Grady. He is so dedicated to spreading the message of the Lord he has nearly exhausted himself. John Grady's faith, however, is more ambivalent. At the beginning of the story, when Rawlins asks him if he thinks "God looks out for people" in Chapter 1, Part 2, his response is telling: "Yeah. I guess He does." This suggests a somewhat tentative faith. John Grady's thoughts at the end of the story, after Abuela's death in Chapter 4, Part 2, further imply a struggle to reconcile the beliefs he has been taught with the reality of 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. Nothing for their struggles, nothing for their names. Nothing for the living or the dead."

In Chapter 4, Part 1 of All the Pretty Horses, what is Dueña Alfonsa's meaning about the Spaniard's "deep conviction that nothing can be proven except that it ... bleed"?

Dueña Alfonsa makes this assertion to John Grady after he gets out of prison and travels to the Rocha farm. She is lamenting, with no small amount of weariness, the violent culture Mexico has absorbed and continues to maintain. Spain was the country that colonized Mexico, and the Spanish Empire embedded its violent ways and religion into the native culture. She is saying the effects can still be felt in the captain's brutality and the glorification of virgins like Alejandra. Her list of things the Spanish "[make] to bleed" include "virgins, bulls, men"—all examples John Grady can relate to personally.

What does John Grady mean by his statement, "I know it is. But it aint my country" at the end of Chapter 4, Part 2 of All the Pretty Horses?

John Grady says this to Rawlins after the latter proclaims "this is still good country." With his statement, John Grady is acknowledging his values and perspective have changed. He is no longer the brooding teenager who regrets his inability to play gentleman rancher. Rather, he has recognized San Angelo has changed (per Rawlins, local opportunities to work on an oil rig "[pay] awful good"). That said, he also understands he does not want to be a part of the new San Angelo. His traumatic and deeply shaking experiences in Mexico have compelled him to search for a life he finds meaningful, a search that is not yet complete.

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