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All the Pretty Horses | Study Guide

Cormac McCarthy

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All the Pretty Horses | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Chapter 1

The Ranch

John Grady Cole is a 16-year-old who lives near the town of San Angelo in southern Texas, not far from the Mexican border. His family has been in the cattle ranching business since 1872, but when his maternal grandfather dies in 1949, his mother sells the farm. She is divorced from John Grady's father (also a rancher) and has become an actress. When John Grady was a baby she moved to Hollywood, leaving him to be raised by his father and the Mexican-American staff on the ranch.


John Grady wants nothing more than to be a rancher. Despite his age he's an expert horseman, and he loves exploring the terrain around San Angelo. After a meeting with his mother's lawyer makes it clear he has no recourse, even though he desperately wants to take over his family's ranch, he takes off for Mexico with his best friend Lacey Rawlins, who is a year older. The boys travel by horseback and camp out in the open. Just before they cross into Mexico they are joined by a mysterious younger boy, also on horseback, who says his name is Jimmy Blevins. The trio crosses into Mexico by driving their horses through the Rio Grande River.

The boys wander south but don't have any destination in mind. After a few days they come across a rancher who says there's work 300 kilometers away, over the Sierra del Carmen mountains, and they set off in that direction. A bad thunderstorm separates Blevins from his horse and personal effects, but John Grady lets him ride with him. The next day they come across the village of Encantada and immediately see his horse tied up outside a house and a man wearing Blevins's gun. They're able to free Blevins's horse, but not without waking up the entire town and provoking a chase. Blevins, the fastest rider, instructs Rawlins and John Grady to separate from him; once he outruns the hunting party, the three of them can reconnect down the road.

Chapter 2

The Hacienda

John Grady and Rawlins continue riding. After they cross the mountain range they come to a sprawling cattle ranch named Hacienda de Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción, and after proving their skills handling cattle they are taken on as ranch hands. The ranch is owned by Don Héctor Rocha y Villareal, a 49-year-old aristocrat who flies his own plane between the farm and his house in Mexico City where his wife lives full-time. He has a beautiful 17-year-old daughter named Alejandra who rides her Arabian horse around the ranch.

The boys are tasked with rounding up wild mares and bringing them back to the ranch to be broken. They're good at the work, and they enjoy it.


At a dance in a nearby town, John Grady dances with Alejandra. A few weeks later, he comes across her riding in the road, and they ride each other's horses home. Alejandra's great-aunt, Dueña Alfonsa, hears about their unsupervised encounter and summons John Grady to meet with her. She is cordial but commands him to stay away from her great-niece. A week later Alejandra shows up at John Grady's room, and they slip out of the ranch. They sneak out regularly, often riding up into the mountains.

Chapter 3


Early one morning John Grady and Rawlins are arrested by a group of soldiers. They are handcuffed and taken north back through the territory they had crossed months ago. Eventually, they arrive in the town of Encantada and are thrown into a windowless jail cell. Blevins and an unnamed old man are already in the cell. Blevins tells them his story. After the trio split up, Blevins found work in a town 80 miles away. He came back to Encantada for his horse and his gun; in the ensuing fight over his property he shot three men, one of whom died.

Rawlins and John Grady are interrogated separately by a police captain. The boys are taken away to prison in Saltillo, a full day's drive, but on the way the captain stops to execute Blevins. The prison is a place of anarchy and brutality. After John Grady doesn't pay the leader of a prison gang, an inmate stabs Rawlins and he nearly bleeds to death. John Grady obtains a knife for protection. He's attacked in the mess hall by a hired killer roughly his age, and he kills the boy with his knife.

Chapter 4


The boys are released from prison after Dueña Alfonsa pays for their release. Rawlins heads back home, but John Grady sets out for the Rocha ranch. He is received by Dueña Alfonsa, who tells him about her tragic life in an attempt to explain why he can never be with Alejandra. John Grady listens patiently but explains he will not give up pursuing Alejandra.

He rides to another town and calls Alejandra, who is in Mexico City. She agrees to meet in the town of Zacatecas on her way to the ranch. The couple spends a day and night together, but Alejandra tells him firmly they cannot be together. She leaves the next day. Heartbroken, John Grady goes on a drunken rampage. When he wakes up he decides to return to Encantada and get his crew's horses back.

Homeward Bound

He takes the captain hostage and seizes his, Blevins's, and Rawlins's horses. He heads north with the kidnapped captain. Close to the border a band of ranch hands takes the captain from John Grady. He crosses back into Texas with the three horses. For weeks he tries to find the owner of Blevins's horse, but he's unable to. John Grady returns to San Angelo briefly and chats with Rawlins, who informs him his family's longtime help, Abuela, has just died. John Grady attends the funeral and then heads back out through the Texas desert.

All the Pretty Horses Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 John Grady's family farm is put up for sale.

Rising Action

2 John Grady and Lacey Rawlins leave home for Mexico.

3 The boys steal Jimmy Blevins's horse back in Encantada.

4 John Grady and Rawlins become ranch hands in Mexico.

5 John Grady and Alejandra begin a forbidden relationship.

6 The captain murders Blevins.

7 John Grady and Rawlins end up in prison.

8 Dueña Alfonsa tells John Grady he can't be with Alejandra.


9 Alejandra breaks up with John Grady.

Falling Action

10 John Grady takes the captain hostage.

11 John Grady comes back to Texas.


12 John Grady rides off for a new adventure.

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