Steinbeckathon 2012: The Red Pony

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Steinbeckathon 2012: The Red Pony

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1Smiler69
Editado: Ago 3, 2012, 11:18 pm



"It wasn't Indians that were important, nor adventures, nor even getting out here. It was a whole bunch of people made into one big crawling beast. And I was the head. It was westering and westering. Every man wanted something for himself, but the big beast that was all of them wanted only westering. I was the leader, but if I hadn't been there, someone else would have been the head. The thing had to have a head."

This is the discussion thread for John Steinbeck's The Red Pony
Smiler69 (that's would be me, Ilana) will be hosting this thread.
Spoilers are welcome, but please indicate them in your message out of
respect for those who are reading at a different pace. Enjoy!

Images for 3rd (Bantam Books, 1st Printing, 1948, Mass Market Paperback) and 5th (Heinemann,
London, 1973, Hardcover) books are taken from AbeBooks and are available for purchase.




Steinbeckathon main thread: http://www.librarything.com/topic/130105

2wookiebender
Ago 3, 2012, 11:48 pm

Thanks for setting this up, Ilana! I'll be back when I've started the book (got two chunksters going in parallel at the moment, oh help...).

3Carmenere
Ago 4, 2012, 11:13 am

Count me in! I'm looking forward to gettng back to Steinbeck after my brief absence.

4Smiler69
Ago 4, 2012, 2:44 pm

Tanya, good luck with that. I had the same situation last month when I was trying to finish Wolf Hall and had East of Eden going too. No rush though, this one is really short and I myself won't get started on it for a while as I have a huge reading list this month (all optional of course, but still...)

Lynda - welcome back! Just thought I'd let you know that quite a few people haven't started, or are still reading East of Eden (as I am) and that we planned this short read this month specifically so people could pick up East of Eden into August too. Just thought I'd let you know...

5drneutron
Ago 4, 2012, 3:15 pm

On the wiki...

6Smiler69
Ago 4, 2012, 3:20 pm

Thanks Jim! I meant to go put it there last night, but it slipped my mind.

7Donna828
Ago 4, 2012, 3:24 pm

Woo hoo! More Steinbeck. I've skipped the last couple books because I wasn't ready for a reread, but this is a new one for me. Thanks, Ilana, I'll probably get started next week sometime.

8Carmenere
Ago 4, 2012, 3:53 pm

#4 Thanks for the heads up, Ilana. I'd like to finish A Tree Grows in Brooklyn first so the timing couldn't be better.

9Smiler69
Ago 4, 2012, 4:38 pm

Welcome Donna!

Lynda, I'm envious of the bunch of you currently reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn because it's such a great novel and I'd love to reread it, but I thought it might be a bit too soon for that given I read it for the first time last August... I'll be revisiting it in future beyond a doubt!

10Crazymamie
Ago 4, 2012, 10:32 pm

I'm in for this one, too. Thanks, Ilana, for setting up the thread! I'm still working on East of Eden also, so I'm thankful that this one is shorter or I would really be behind by the end of this month - totally my fault of course. Anyway, I am hopeful that I can be even Steven by the end of the month - at least that's what I keep telling myself!

11Smiler69
Editado: Ago 4, 2012, 11:18 pm

Mamie, when we planned what books to put on the agenda and the reading order, I'd anticipated that East of Eden would very likely take more than a month for many people (well, for me at least!).

I've had a little Bantam pocket book (see below) of The Red Pony for so long I don't remember where I got it originally (very rare for me to forget where I got my books even with my terrible memory!). I think I might read from that one instead of from The Short Novels of John Steinbeck which I got specifically for the Steinbeckathon.

12klobrien2
Ago 5, 2012, 8:08 pm

I've started The Red Pony, and I'm about halfway through already. Loving all of the description of the outdoors that Steinbeck does so well (I feel like I'm there). I'm again so grateful for the Steinbeck-a-thon, because I don't think I would ever have picked up this book without the prompting.

Karen O.

13EBT1002
Editado: Ago 6, 2012, 10:07 am

Good morning, Ilana! Thanks for setting up our thread for The Red Pony. I read it while sitting at my campsite at Mt. Rainier. I'll write some comments a bit later --- give folks a chance to get into it. But I will say that it's not my favorite Steinbeck (though I still gave it 4 stars, so that's something).

**POSSIBLE SPOILER** ---
it broke my heart twice. :-(

More to follow.

14EBT1002
Editado: Ago 6, 2012, 10:09 am

Here's the cover I have:

15Smiler69
Ago 6, 2012, 2:47 pm

Welcome back Ellen! Glad you enjoyed this short novel.

16klobrien2
Editado: Ago 7, 2012, 6:57 pm

I finished The Red Pony this afternoon. It was an interesting, short read, but seemed more like a collection of short stories than a novel.

**Potential Spoiler Alert**: I agree with Ellen's "spoiler," there were a few heartbreaks here, but I also found the relationship between Jody and his father to be a little heartbreaking also. Or more so, his father's nature and parenting style.

Karen O.

17PersephonesLibrary
Ago 12, 2012, 2:30 pm

Count me in! After the great experience of reading East of Eden, I just have to continue with the Steinbeckathon. :) The Red Pony will be definitely one of my next reads.

18Smiler69
Ago 12, 2012, 9:17 pm

Karen, for some reason, I'd always assumed that The Red Pony was a collection of short stories, maybe because the way the chapters are listed in my book makes it look like story titles.

I've just finished writing my review of East of Eden now. It was quite an undertaking! Should take me less time to read The Red Pony! Though I'm being a bad thread hostess and putting it off till later in the month...

Here's the link to my review if anyone's interested: http://www.librarything.com/work/2499/reviews/68726767

19Deern
Ago 13, 2012, 5:59 am

I got The Red Pony on my Kindle as part of the 'Short Novels' collection, and I hope I'll get to it before August ends.

20Donna828
Ago 13, 2012, 6:35 pm

16: Karen, I find that father-son relationship interesting and much how I imagine my husband's relationship with his dad. DH grew up on a ranch where chores came before play and mother and father worked hard six days a week. There was no time or place for sentimentality yet there was a real closeness between my husband and his father. From what I've read of The Red Pony, I can see that Carl doesn't coddle Jody, but he does seem to care that he grows up to be a hard worker and a good man.

I've read the first heartbreak. I fully expect there to be sadness in stories about boys and their pets, whether they be dogs, horses, or any warm-blooded animals. *Big sigh* I guess I'll read on and see what else is coming!

21PersephonesLibrary
Editado: Ago 15, 2012, 9:04 am

I finished The Red Pony today and... well, I don't need to read it again. I am not very much into such pet-stories in general and you'll never see me reading something like Lassie or Black Beauty. - Not because they would be badly written, but just because it's one of the few topics/settings that bore me.

But nevertheless Steinbeck shows again his narrative skills in these four episodes about a boy growing up and making his first experiences of birth, life and death. Jody has to learn that nothing is predictable and even experienced adults are not always right.
At some points I would have been more interested in Billy Buck's perspective - especially when he's dealing with his guilt.

I made the same experience as Karen and Ilana: You just notice that these four short-stories were published separately one after the other and I haven't perceived it as a novel neither.
And I can agree with Donna as far as the father-son-relationship is concerned. Carl's goal is not so much to have a close and heartful relation to Jody, but to teach him to be a hard-working man.

All in all, it's a book with interesting aspects, but no compulsory reading.

22klobrien2
Ago 16, 2012, 5:15 pm

I'm glad to have read The Red Pony because it helps me to know Steinbeck more as an author, but like Persephone, I don't think I'll ever feel the need to read it again.

Karen O.

23Donna828
Ago 16, 2012, 5:28 pm

I'm in agreement about not rereading this one. Those difficult scenes will be permanently etched in my memory! But, to me, that's the sign of good writing. If an author can write with such description and passion to make a scene (or two in this case) convey such a lasting impression, I think he's done his job well.

24klobrien2
Ago 17, 2012, 5:15 pm

Donna, I agree wholeheartedly.

Karen O.

25marell
Ago 17, 2012, 5:18 pm

This was my first time reading this one. Where have I been all my life? As always, Mr. Steinbeck never disappoints me. What lovely, lovely writing, told so well of life in all its heartbreak and joy. His descriptions of the ranch and its surroundings make me want to jump in the car and go there. I read The Red Pony in a collection of stories in The Long Valley.

26Carmenere
Ago 17, 2012, 8:45 pm

Am I the only reader totally disturbed by the event concerning Jody hitting a bird with his sling shot? I found the whole seen disgusting. Other than that one part I'm finding the story rather interesting.

27Smiler69
Ago 17, 2012, 10:42 pm

I started the book last night and have about 20 pages to go, so have been looking at comments here with eyes half closed to avoid spoiler (spoilers are ok, but please remember to indicate them clearly). I thought the novel was 20 pages longer, but just discovered that there's another story in the book which doesn't even appear in the contents page called Junius Maltby. I'd never even heard of it until tonight.

Spoiler ahead:

#26 Yes, Jody's cruelty to animals fairly disgusts me too. The bird episode is indeed very disturbing, but I thought the poor toads and crickets and snakes in the lunch pail were also sorely mistreated. I guess that's pretty representative of certain young boys, especially those living in the country.

28Carmenere
Ago 18, 2012, 5:52 pm

I apologize if my bird comment was a spoiler, Ilana. It didn't seem very relevant but I'll be more careful in the future.
I have Junius Maltby in my book as well and I'm just about to begin reading it.

29Smiler69
Editado: Ago 18, 2012, 7:21 pm

No need to apologize Lynda, I'd already read that part when I saw your comment, so it wasn't a spoiler for me. I don't know that it's a spoiler at all actually. I finished the story today and found it all rather dispiriting. Wasn't so tempted to continue with Junius Maltby afterwards as wanted to read something light and fun instead, but I'll pick it up just for the sake of completing the book.

Major Spoiler Ahead:

I wonder how come we don't hear at all about the newborn pony after that awful birthing scene. As if he didn't exist at all?

30Deern
Ago 19, 2012, 12:14 pm

I read the book today. I must say I had been hoping for sth a little more uplifting.... I was glad it was so short. But as always it was well-observed and more than well-written.
Cruelty against animals: from what my mother told me about her childhood this behaviour has been quite normal when she was a kid in the 40s and 50s. Shooting birds casually, killing frogs, etc.
I am glad this has changed, but in a way it also prepared the kids for the not-so-nice tasks of a farmer back then - slaughtering pigs, hunting...

Spoiler answer to #29:
I was looking out for it throughout the last chapter, too. Maybe (I hope) the original publishing order was different?

31Donna828
Ago 19, 2012, 12:39 pm

Re: animal cruelty. So disturbing, but unfortunately, it goes on. Just yesterday in the local (Missouri) newspaper, there was a story about teenagers abusing a horse in a pasture. The horse will be okay, but I wonder about those teens.

I had the impression that Jody's acts were a result of his deep hurt about his first pony. It's a strange way to react, but he had to let his anger out somehow. I also agree with Nathalie above about life on the farm being totally unsentimental toward animals.

32Carmenere
Ago 19, 2012, 12:43 pm

Spoiler Alert

I was really getting into the story of the mysterious Gitano. Then all of a sudden, POOF*, He's gone.

33Smiler69
Ago 19, 2012, 1:51 pm

Lynda, thinking back on my comment in #29 and seeing your comment now, I'm coming to the conclusion that instead of looking at this book like a regular novel, each "chapter" should probably be taken as various sketches and character studies. Just my impression. I don't know what others think of this?

34Carmenere
Ago 19, 2012, 2:21 pm

I agree with you, Ilana. I'm considering this book a collection of short stories. Nothing more, nothing less. I think it is entitled The Red Pony because it is the first story in the collection. It could just as easily be called Gitano or Grandpa comes to visit. I'm ok with that, I think I just misinterpreted what this book actually was.
Once again, Steinbeck's way with words and setting a scene are second to none.
Does anyone know at what point in his career The Red Pony was written?

35Smiler69
Editado: Ago 19, 2012, 2:50 pm

Does anyone know at what point in his career The Red Pony was written?

I just looked it up—it was an early work, published in 1933:

"Steinbeck's first novel, Cup of Gold, published in 1929, is based on the life and death of privateer Henry Morgan. It centers on Morgan's assault and sacking of the city of Panama, sometimes referred to as the 'Cup of Gold', and on the woman, fairer than the sun, who was said to be found there. After Cup of Gold, between 1931 and 1933 Steinbeck produced three shorter works. The Pastures of Heaven, published in 1932, comprised twelve interconnected stories about a valley near Monterey, that was discovered by a Spanish corporal while chasing runaway American Indian slaves. In 1933 Steinbeck published The Red Pony, a 100-page, four-chapter story weaving in memories of Steinbeck's childhood."

36Carmenere
Ago 19, 2012, 3:32 pm

In 1933 Steinbeck published The Red Pony, a 100-page, four-chapter story weaving in memories of Steinbeck's childhood."
Ah! Now it's beginning to make sense!
oh, oh, oh, The Pastures of Heaven - sounds like straight out of Junius Maltby
This is beginning to be a lot of fun!
Henry Morgan - would he be the famed Captain Morgan of the infamous rum company
Thanks for all the info, Ilana!!

37PersephonesLibrary
Ago 19, 2012, 4:32 pm

#22: I'm glad to have read The Red Pony because it helps me to know Steinbeck more as an author ... . I fully agree, Karen.

#26: No, I noticed the rising agressiveness and cruelty, too. One the one hand I think it was kind of a usual behaviour on the country (I know other examples for such cruelty, e.g. farmers drowning whole litters of kittens...). On the other hand I think that to let out the anger and learn to deal with his loss was one important step of growing up. As Donna in #31 said: Jody's acts were a result of his deep hurt about his first pony

#29: I was wondering about the colt's destiney, too. My idea was that it has to do with the structure of The Red Pony - because it consists of four short stories rather than being a novel. But maybe Steinbeck intended an open ending? Maybe it lived, maybe it died?

#35: Thanks for the additional information, Ilana! That's quite interesting!

38Smiler69
Editado: Ago 20, 2012, 9:12 pm

Kathy, your comment prompted me to look for more information, something I feel responsible for doing as the hostess. Better late than never!

Here are various comments from SparkNotes: http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/redpony

(Many spoilers ahead)

Context
John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California, in 1902. The Salinas Valley—and the nearby Monterey— would serve as the setting for some of his greatest fiction, including his long masterpieces The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden. In his youth, he intermittently attended Stanford between 1919 and 1925, eventually leaving without taking a degree. He began to work as a laborer, writing stories at the same time. After three unsuccessful novels, he achieved popular success with his book of short stories, Tortilla Flat which described the lives of Monterey paisanos like Gitano of The Red Pony.

The Red Pony was published in 1945 {this information conflicts with wikipedia's}, six years after Steinbeck had made his reputation with publication of The Grapes of Wrath. Like much of his fiction, The Red Pony takes place in the vicinity of Salinas and Monterey. Because most of his work deals with similar settings, what sets each work apart is form and theme. The Red Pony comprises four connected stories describing a young boy and his growing up. In 1949, Steinbeck turned the book into a screenplay.

The Gift: Commentary
The death of Gabilan is actually an introduction of death into Jody's life. In fact, it is a double introduction, as Jody also discovers his capacity to kill, as he does to the vulture. The tension between Billy and Carl after Jody kills the vulture is intense, and it is normal for the reader to side with Billy on the side of Jody. Yet Carl does have a point; there is something disturbing in Jody's retributive killing of the vulture. It is not the vulture's fault that Gabilan died; the vulture simply is a carrion eater. Though Jody does not realize it, and for that matter, neither does the reader, Carl's disgust of Jody's blind hatred of a carrion eater simply doing its job has merit, and displays a moral universe far more complex than that of which Jody is aware. After Gabilan, the theme of death and loss is constantly reexplored in The Red Pony through the story of Gitano, the birth of the young colt meant to replace Gabilan, and, metaphorically, in the story Leader of the People.

39Smiler69
Ago 19, 2012, 5:58 pm

SPOILERS

The Great Mountains: Commentary (Part 1)
This story concerns two elements: Jody's impulse for adventure, and the arrival of Gitano, a man who represents the rough-hewn pioneer past; both a legend in his own right and a member of the group that was replaced by Jody's own ancestors. In the fourth story, Jody's grandfather will visit the ranch, bringing with him his stories of westward expansion and the frustrations of a generation that wanted to keep going west but were stopped by the Pacific ocean. Throughout The Red Pony, Jody is confronted with iconic images of the west, whether they be horses or old cowboys. As the novel is set at the beginning of the 20th century, the reader must keep in mind that the heroic images of the west will soon be things of the past. Jody slowly becomes aware of this fact, but even as he does the theme itself evolves: as Jody's grandfather seems to suggest in the fourth story in the book, not only will the heroic images of the west cease to be, those images are themselves more myth than reality. The real frontier was one of adventure, but not the romantic ideal Jody believes in.

The arrival of Gitano is a challenge to Carl Tiflin. Gitano makes a claim to the land that stands in opposition to Carl's own claim. Jody is sympathetic to the old man because Gitano represents the adventure that his father discounts—Carl Tiflin is interested in keeping his ranch in business, not in exploring the mountains. Hence "The Great Mountains" continues the theme of friction between father and son. At the same time, the story reinforces similarities between Jody and his father. When Jody's mother chides him for being mean to Doubletree Mutt, Jody just feels meaner because of being ashamed, and throws a rock at the dog. When his father is ashamed of being brutal to Gitano, he reacts by saying another brutal thing. This comparison also highlights Jody's lack of a developed internal conscience: it is his mother who chides him, not himself, and he hides the remains of the bird he mutilates not because he feels sorry but because he doesn't want to get in trouble.

While many such themes continue from story to story, each story could certainly be read as a stand-alone piece. For example, in this first half of the story, there is no mention of Gabilan the horse, save a reference to the Gabilan mountains. As readers, we mustn't expect the four stories to add up to a grand narrative drama, instead we have to pay close attention to the moral themes that are developed over time.

40Smiler69
Ago 19, 2012, 5:58 pm

SPOILERS

The Great Mountains: Commentary (Part 2)
Gitano came to the ranch looking for a meaningful way to close his life. He decides to end it heroically, by plunging into the wilderness with a horse and a sword. This is the second time in the The Red Pony that something has wandered into the wilderness to die, the first being the miserable Gabilan. As before, Jody has a highly emotional reaction, but this time it is because he understands what Gitano is doing, even if his father does not. This story shows resolutely that Jody has more imagination than his father, more of an ability to connect with and revere the heroic ideal Gitano represents. This is a theme continued in the last story, "The Leader of the People." However, once again, there is no evidence that Jody's vision of things is the correct vision; it is possible that Gitano stole the horse simply because he needed the horse. Jody is certainly more imaginative than his father, but he is not necessarily more correct.

The word "Gitano" means gypsy in Spanish. In many ways, Gitano is much more than a misunderstood symbol of the old, romantic west. He is also representative of a dispossessed race, as the Mexicans slowly lost the West to ever encroaching America. Carl's prejudices against this race is evident in his remarks about the paisanos. Billy Buck, in contrast, is sympathetic with the paisanos. He defends them on the grounds of their ability to do hard work; ignoring race completely. Although Billy's argument has merit, it is impossible to discount the fact of race in the issue of land in the American West. Carl and his family have the land for the simple reason that they are not Mexican and not Native American; Jody's love for the land is not any less for this fact being true. In this story, the theme of land becomes tied up with the theme of dispossession, in turn leading to a deeper question of who the land belongs to, and whether such a question can ever be answered. Does it belong to Gitano, who was born on this land, and whose family lived there? Or does it belong to Jody, who was also born on the land, and whose family also lived there? Once again, the moral questions raised by the story far outdistance Jody's conception of them.

41Smiler69
Editado: Ago 19, 2012, 6:00 pm

SPOILERS

The Promise: Commentary (Part 1)
"The Promise" is obviously similar to "The Gift." Even their titles are similar; both convey something positive, but also the prospect of sadness: a promise, like a gift, can be broken. When analyzing the two stories together, it is important to note how they are different. Even though he is still a little boy, as Steinbeck always makes clear, Jody has grown since Gabilan died. Jody's father is eager to treat the boy as if he is mature—he proposes a contract: if Jody takes care of Nellie, he will get to raise her colt. This is a key difference between "The Promise" and "The Gift"—instead of receiving a horse as a surprise, Jody has to work for it. Jody has more control, over the situation. The responsibility is his from the beginning. Also, with the violence of the stallions and mares sexual coupling, Jody is forced to see that life can be brutal from its beginning, whereas with Gabilan he faced disillusionment only at the bitter end.

As part of his effort at realism, Steinbeck is always careful to give an accurate and precise picture of ranch life. He includes the detail of the Tiflins receiving a catalog to emphasize the time period. Some of the story is often like a manual—as in the fiction of Hemingway, part of the portrait of each character is a detailed description of his skills.

42Smiler69
Ago 19, 2012, 6:02 pm

SPOILERS

The Promise: Commentary (Part 2)
This story is in many ways the climax of the novel. A continuing theme throughout The Red Pony is the somewhat dysfunctional relationship between Jody and his father, and the way Billy sometimes is a more ideal father to Jody. In The Promise, we see Billy's frustration with having failed Jody by letting Gabilan die come to a head. By the time Billy has to kill Nellie in order to produce the colt he has promised Jody, he seems to resent the moral burden placed upon him to please Jody.

Although the colt is born, it is at a great cost. This is foreshadowed by Billy's early discussion of the possible difficulties of birthings, by Jody's pessimistic thoughts under the cypress tree, and even by the gory details of the story of Gabilan. Jody continually sees the raising of horses as an ideal. Even after Gabilan dies, he is able to fantasize about his new horse making him a hero. But his relationship with horses never works out seamlessly, signaling that nothing is ideal in the harsh reality of the West. When his new horse is birthed out of the death of its mother, Jody must face the crumbling of the illusions; he has exactly what he wants, a healthy, strong horse, but it came at a price that Jody cannot and, as is evident in his refusal to leave the barn, will not ignore. In gaining a horse at the cost of its mother, Jody must face the ridiculousness of his fantasies about "Black Demon." Once again, Jody's romanticized notions of the world he lives in have been punctured.

43Smiler69
Ago 19, 2012, 6:05 pm

SPOILERS

The Leader of the People: Commentary (Part 1)
To Jody, his grandfather represents something fantastic from the outside world. In this way, Leader of the People resumes the theme of The Great Mountains—Jody's fascination with adventure outside of the ranch. Also, this story will provide further commentary on the relationship between Jody and his father. The character of the grandfather represents a counterpoint to Carl, Jody's father. Whereas Carl is pragmatic and unromantic, the grandfather actually lived in a heroic time, leading a wagon train across the Great Plains. The grandfather lives in this moment of the past, constantly retelling his stories, whereas Carl has little use for such stories; they offer him no help in the hard task of maintaining the ranch. It is small wonder, as the story begins, that Jody's relationship with his grandfather is reverent and open whereas that with his father is colder and more distant. The relationship between Billy Buck and the Grandfather is similarly instructive. The grandfather pleases Billy by noting that Billy is one of the few of his generation not to have gone "soft." With his pleasure, Billy gives notice that he also subscribes to the ideal of the American West; he wants to be hard and tough as the old cowboys were said to be. With this knowledge, the relationship between Billy and Jody takes on a new light; they share a conception of the West that Carl does not, and their occasional moments of agreement in defiance of Carl are moments when their mutual idealism comes to the fore.

This story also has more to do with Jody's mother than any other story. When she seems angry, Carl loses some of his stern control. A husband's frustration with his in-laws is a cliche, but it is important to remember that Jody's grandfather is not only an in-law but represents the kind of reckless, adventurous life that is alien to Carl Tiflin's business-like sensibilities.

44Smiler69
Ago 19, 2012, 6:10 pm

SPOILERS

The Leader of the People: Commentary (Part 2)
Carl, who has always been distant, now seems blindly, heedlessly cruel. His lack of imagination comes to seem more than pragmatism; it is a coldness of character. In his shame and anger, and his love for his grandfather, Jody is clearly dissociated from the father whom he has so long esteemed. However, once again, the moral world of the story is not quite so simple. In his conversation with his grandfather, it becomes clear that, sadly, perhaps Carl is correct. The grandfather clings to his stories, to the veneer of adventure, but he is now uncertain of the actual purpose of that adventure. In his statement that they moved for movements sake, is simultaneously the assessment that they moved simply because they had to, and that they moved for adventure's sake. It was important to the grandfather to be a leader, and he was a leader, but that heroism did not make his life an ideal thing; instead, he clings to his memories of the past much the way America clings to its heroic memory of the West. Carl is exposed as overly, perhaps fatally, cold; but his pragmatism is more at home in the modern world than is the grandfather's clingy idealism.

In the grandfather's admission of his own uncertainty about westward expansion is a larger commentary on the American West, which is perhaps the ultimate subject of Steinbeck's fiction. When Jody longed to explore the mountains, and Gitano romantically dashed off into them, sword in hand, to die, adventure seemed like an ideal destiny. But Jody's grandfather feels that the age of adventure is closed. In another sense, however, he affirms the idea of adventure by saying that what was important about crossing the plains was not that at the end he was in California, but that leading a wagon train was adventure in itself. The adventure of crossing, of "westering" as he puts it, was what was important—it didn't matter where the westering ended. With the physical frontier gone, Steinbeck seems to suggest, one might easily become like Carl, cold and pragmatic, since the adventure of the west no longer existed. The book ends on this note, with Jody having to face the loss of his last illusion. He has learned of death and the brutality of life, and slowly had his visions of his life as a cowboy in the west torn from him. But though his grandfather himself is stuck in the past, his grandfather's words offer what may be a way forward; the "westering", the adventure, was the thing. It did not matter what that adventure entailed. His words as he sits sadly on the porch, in conjunction with the death of Gabilan, Gitano, and Nellie, must also be taken as a warning: adventure into the outside world is important and vital, but it does not promise uncomplicated happiness.

45Smiler69
Editado: Ago 20, 2012, 9:12 pm

SPOILERS

Final Analysis
In each story, Jody learns an important moral lesson. In the first, he learns that even the incredibly experienced Billy Buck can be wrong, and that something as exciting and promising as a new horse can end in tragedy. In the second, he learns that he can better sympathize with a stranger than his mature, grown-up father can, and that he has a desire to explore that his father doesn't understand. In the third, he is once again confronted with death, but this time he learns that sometimes life comes from death. In the fourth, he learns that his father's sternness and temper can get him into trouble, and that tales of adventure do not add up to a successful, happy life, which complicates his longing to leave the ranch.


Tied up with the theme of Jody's coming-of-age is his changing relationship with his father. As the book opens, we see Carl Tiflin as a man who keeps his emotions hidden. When he does say something kind to Jody it thrills the boy in a way that shows such praise is rare. Jody can see his father only as a powerful man, a sort of mammoth, powerful distant, object. As the stories progress their relationship changes. Through the threat and promise of adventure inherent in Gitano, Jody begins to see that his own imagination is far more powerful than his father's and that his dreams and his father's dreams do not in any way coincide. As Jody grows up he is forced to face his differences with his father and to see his father as a person of faults and limitations. The arrival of Jody's grandfather in the fourth story, further shows Carl's coldness, and the sympathy of the boy for the old man shows what is lacking in his relationship with his father: sympathy, and a desire for adventure.

All material posted in messages 38-45 taken from SparkNotes: http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/redpony/

46Smiler69
Ago 19, 2012, 6:14 pm

Hope all that isn't too overwhelming. I just found this info so interesting that it made me appreciate the novel in a whole new light... as perhaps a series of stories I might want to revisit eventually with those insights in mind. Does anyone else feel the same way after reading all this?

47Deern
Ago 20, 2012, 1:24 am

Thank you so much Ilana! It makes me understand the stories so much better - and I will upgrade my rating a bit. I admit I read the book without thinking too much yesterday, mainly to 'get it done' before August runs out. And after having watched too many romanticized 'boy and pet animal' movies in my life I was taken aback by the too realistic events around Gabilan and the colt.

48klobrien2
Ago 20, 2012, 2:31 pm

Thanks, Ilana--I found the analysis very helpful. It helped me clarify my thinking about the book.

Karen O.

49EBT1002
Ago 20, 2012, 3:11 pm

Wow, thanks for all that, Ilana. It's been a couple of weeks since I read it and the commentary brought back some of the nuances and gave meaning to some things that were, as folks have been saying, somewhat disturbing to read.

50avidmom
Ago 20, 2012, 7:44 pm

That was all very interesting! (You certainly did your homework!) I appreciate the way you analyzed each small story. It seems we reached similar conclusions about the work as a whole. The loss of the American "frontier spirit" (and the need of it) is something I remember Steinbeck writing about in America and Americans so I wasn't surprised to see it here. I like your comment about how America clings to its romantic memory of the west. I'd never really thought about it - maybe because I've just grown up with it so take it for granted - but it certainly is the truth!

51Smiler69
Ago 20, 2012, 9:09 pm

#47 Nathalie, I too read it with a 'get it done' frame of mind, though I knew from some of the comments I'd seen here to expect some disturbing things. I can't say I was shocked about the tone of the stories or the treatment of animals by a small boy coming from Steinbeck, but I see what you mean about being shocked when seen through the filter of all those Disneyfied movies you've seen.

#48 Karen, I started reading all that info out of personal interest and then I thought instead of providing a link to the site I may as well copy that over here where we can comment on it and refer to portions directly.

#49 I think others have said this, but for such a short work, it certainly didn't feel so short, since some parts were so hard to take... why does time seem to slow down when we're faced with unpleasantness I wonder? Before the SparkNotes, I don't think I would have considered reading this book again but now I think I would... eventually.

#50 avidmom, so sorry about the confusion! I cannot by any means take credit for all those insights! I went back to my first post of the series and made sure to indicated in bold letters I got this material from the SparkNotes site. In fact, I think I'll go and indicate it at the end of the last post too to avoid any such confusion. I'd love to have the time to analyze my reading materials like that, but as it is I can barely find time to write short reviews! All this takes nothing away from the fact that they were very helpful—and insightful—comments. All I ever knew about the American West as a child was like most people, gleaned from John Wayne movies and the like which certainly made those Western settlers seem romantic and heroic. They might have been that in some ways, but that's far from telling the whole story.

52Carmenere
Ago 21, 2012, 11:52 am

Thank you, Ilana for taking the time to research and post all that information. It was very enlightening and I hold a new regard for this book.

53avidmom
Ago 21, 2012, 11:55 am

>51 Smiler69: Oops! That was my fault, not yours. Still, it took some doing on your part to research that for us and bring it to us so thank you. :)

54ccookie
Ago 31, 2012, 7:59 pm

still plugging away. Just busy. May make it by midnight

55wookiebender
Set 1, 2012, 4:58 am

Whoops, I got all muddled and thought that August had 32 days or something. Turns out it's September already (in Australia, at any rate!). Read it this afternoon, a good simple story, but not shallow.

56ccookie
Set 1, 2012, 10:10 am

Squeaked it in before the end of the month!!
Still working on East of Eden though!

57Smiler69
Set 1, 2012, 2:14 pm

#55 By no means shallow Tania, I certainly agree with you there.

#56 Cathy, congrats for completing The Red Pony in August! Take whatever time you need to complete it East of Eden, it's certainly not a competition!

58ccookie
Set 1, 2012, 3:00 pm

> 57 - for sure!