All the Pretty Horses | Study Guide

Cormac McCarthy

Get the eBook on Amazon to study offline.

Buy on Amazon Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "All the Pretty Horses Study Guide." Course Hero. 12 Dec. 2016. Web. 1 Oct. 2023. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2016, December 12). All the Pretty Horses Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved October 1, 2023, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2016)



Course Hero. "All the Pretty Horses Study Guide." December 12, 2016. Accessed October 1, 2023.


Course Hero, "All the Pretty Horses Study Guide," December 12, 2016, accessed October 1, 2023,

All the Pretty Horses | Themes


Romanticism and Reality

John Grady Cole is introduced as a young man with big dreams. He doesn't need much out of life, but he believes he's entitled to a life of beautiful horses and a beautiful woman as a wife. The death of his grandfather thwarts his dream, so he heads south to Mexico in an effort to reclaim it. In Mexico, however, his youthful beliefs are challenged by reality, and whatever fantasies he has of this foreign land are eventually corrected.

To John Grady it's self-evident that he should be with his lover Alejandra. In a perfect world the coupling of two young lovers would not be opposed for any reason. Reality, however, is far from perfect. For Alejandra—and especially her family—the social costs of a relationship with John Grady are simply too great for his love to overcome. He rails against the state of affairs, but as Dueña Alfonsa explains to him, with the wisdom of someone who has lived through many terrible events, eventually everyone comes to see the light.

This tension is also personified by the behavior of the captain. As an officer of the law, the captain should operate in a way that is both lawful and moral. However, the captain violates his responsibility in an egregious fashion (for example, taking a bribe to kill Blevins). In Mexico John Grady discovers that the romantic notions of youth must often succumb to reality.

Coming of Age

As is fitting of a classic coming-of-age story, John Grady leaves San Angelo, Texas, when he is a 16-year-old sure of his position in the world. He is a horseman and a cattle rancher, and that's all there is to it. As a classic American horseman, John Grady lives for honor, loyalty, independence, heroism, and individualism.

However, John Grady's journey to Mexico leaves him heartbroken and physically abused—proving that the harsh realities of the world often don't align with the fantasies he conjured as a youth. After these experiences, he starts to comprehend the difficulty and troubles of the world. He realizes that his fantasies were for a time in a past that is buried. As he comes to accept the modern world and reject the fantasies of youth, he becomes an adult.

Just because he becomes an adult, however, doesn't mean that John Grady loses his moral bearings or his human concern. He seeks justice by returning to Encantada, taking back what rightfully belongs to him and his traveling companions, and delivering punishment to the captain. In fact, he feels even more vulnerable when he gets back to Texas than he did when he left. This vulnerability suggests he has gained a new sensitivity to the realities of the world, one no longer reflected through his youthful fantasies.


So many of the encounters the boys get caught up in are settled by violence or by the threat of violence. As they quickly learn, the world of adults is bloody. Indeed, as John Grady acknowledges at the beginning of the book when he goes riding and imagines American Indians crossing the land, the very farm John Grady's ancestors built was made possible because of violence.

The violence the boys witness in Mexico is a tool to wield personal power. When Alejandra's father wants to get rid of John Grady, he has him thrown into prison where he may be killed. The message is that family honor will be protected at any cost, as Dueña Alfonsa soberly tells John Grady. Likewise, the captain uses the threat of violence to try to extract payment from the boys. And, of course, he eagerly accepts bribe money in exchange for killing Blevins—an act that the charro's family sanctions in the name of "justice."

Even when no bloodshed occurs the specter of it hangs over the story. John Grady's chilling encounter with the wax harvester who wanted to buy Blevins highlights the fact that violence is always coiled and ready to strike.

Documents for Themes

View all

Questions for Themes

View all
In your own words, How was photography used as an instrument for social reform? What photograph do you think makes the most powerful social commentary? Why? Please explain?
Which empire claimed England before the Germanic tribes settled there?
. Who sang at the Grammy’s in Spanish in the late 1990s? What was the reaction? 2. When did Latin music burst back on the scene? What song brought it back to the mainstream? What effect did it have? 3
Part 1: Take two of the following ideas and narrow from topic, to main ideas, to thesis statement: • violence in video games • eating disorders • the need for health insurance • the benefits of playin
Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about All the Pretty Horses? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!