All The Pretty Horses
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All the Pretty Horses is a 1992 novel written by American author Cormac McCarthy. The novel follows the adventures of John Grady Cole, a teenaged cowboy who travels on horseback to Mexico with two other young men. The novel received great critical acclaim at the time of its release, winning both the U.S. National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award. In 2000, it was adapted into a motion picture of the same name starring Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz, and directed by Billy Bob Thornton.
The novel begins in 1949 in San Angelo, Texas. John Grady Cole is sixteen years old and has lived on his grandfather’s Texan ranch his entire life. When his grandfather dies, however, his mother decides to sell the ranch because it is not making much money and John Grady is too young to run it by himself. John Grady begs her not to sell it, and appeals to his father and lawyer to no avail. Resigned to the ranch being sold, John Grady makes plans to ride to Mexico with his best friend, Lacey Rawlins, to look for work at another ranch there. After a few last goodbyes, the two boys set out on their journey.
Just before reaching the Mexican border, John Grady and Rawlins realize they are being followed. They meet a boy on horseback who introduces himself as Jimmy Blevins. The young Blevins looks thirteen, but tells John Grady and Rawlins that he is sixteen. He is riding a large, beautiful bay horse that John Grady suspects is stolen. Blevins manages to charm the other two teenagers into letting him tag along on their journey to Mexico. The trio rides on across the Mexican border, buying liquor from passing migrants as they go. One day, they are caught in a lightning storm and a drunk Blevins panics and rides off on his horse.
When John Grady and Rawlins find him again, he has lost all his clothing, which he had removed due to the metal fasteners, as well as his horse and prized Colt pistol. John Grady gives him a shirt and offers him a ride on the back of his horse. When the three boys ride into the nearest town of Encantada, Mexico, they find Blevins’s horse in an abandoned mud house and his pistol sticking out of a man’s back pocket. Although they have relocated Blevins’s lost possessions, they have no way of proving that he owns them and are forced to steal the horse back in the dead of night.
The three boys awaken the townspeople while stealing Blevins’s horse from the mud house, and are pursued by men on horseback as they make a run for it. After riding out of Encantada, John Grady and Rawlins decide to separate from Blevins and go their own way. As they continue riding through the Mexican countryside, they eventually come across a group of cattle ranchers and offer to help them herd their cattle back to the ranch. On the way there, they meet a beautiful young Mexican woman who rides up on an Arabian horse. When they arrive at the ranch, they learn that the woman, Alejandra, is the daughter of the ranch owner, Don Hector Rocha.
Impressed by John Grady and Rawlins’s cattle herding, Rocha offers them both jobs taking care of horses on his ranch. While working on the ranch, John Grady quickly falls in love with Alejandra and reluctantly allows her a ride on Rocha’s prized stallion. Alejandra’s grandaunt, Duena Alfonsa, notices the budding romance between the two young people and asks to have a talk with John Grady. Over tea and a game of chess, Duena tells John Grady that she is concerned about Alejandra’s reputation and does not approve of his relationship with her. However, John Grady ignores Duena’s warning and continues to see Alejandra, frequently joining her for moonlit rides to the lake after everyone else is asleep.
One day, Don Rocha tells John Grady that he plans to send Alejandra to school in France. A week later, a group of Mexican Rangers are brought back to the ranch and arrest John Grady and Rawlins, cuff them, and put them on their horses to ride to jail. After three days of travel, the party arrives back in Encantada where the two boys are thrown into a cell in the town jail. There, they are reunited with Blevins, who tells them his story. After separating from John Grady and Rawlins, Blevins went to work for two months for a family in Palau. With the money he earned from that job, Blevins rode back to Encantada to get his Colt pistol, and ended up shooting and killing the man who had it. The authorities threw him in jail, and went off to find his two accomplices.
After being interrogated by the police captain, the three boys are loaded into a truck headed to prison. On the way, the truck stops at an abandoned ranch and Blevins is taken out and executed. John Grady and Rawlins are then taken to prison, where they are attacked by the other inmates on a daily basis. In one particularly violent attack in the prison yard, Rawlins is hit with a gravel-filled sock which knocks out two of his teeth and closes his left eye. An inmate named Emilio Perez offers them special protection for money, but they decline because they do not have any money to pay him. When another prisoner attacks John Grady one night at dinner, he is forced to stab the attacker to death.
Soon afterwards, John Grady and Rawlins are both released from the prison. John Grady explains that Duena Alfonsa had bribed the authorities for their release and also given them an envelope of money for the journey back home. Rawlins heads back to San Angelo, while John Grady goes to Rocha’s ranch to see Alejandra one last time. Duena scolds John Grady for returning to the ranch, and tells him that she only freed him because Alejandra promised never to see him again. John Grady and Alejandra meet for one last date, where she rejects his marriage proposal.
After Alejandra takes the train back to school in Mexico City, John Grady goes back to Encantada to recover the three horses impounded at the jail there – his own, Rawlins’s, and Blevins’s. He kidnaps the police captain at gunpoint and forces him to return the horses and help ride them out of town. After arriving back in Texas, John Grady searches for the owner of Blevins’s horse but does not find him. When he gets back to San Angelo, he goes to see Rawlins and learns that his father had died while he was away. He stays in San Angelo to attend the funeral of Abuela, a Mexican woman who had worked for his family for fifty years. After mourning this last connection to his childhood home, however, John Grady crosses the Pecos River and rides off into the western desert with Blevins’s horse in tow. It is not clear where he is going next.
The main themes of the novel are nostalgia, adventure, romanticism, friendship, loyalty, and honor. The novel is a classic coming-of-age story in which the young protagonist gains maturity and wisdom through his adventures. He experiences real romance for the first time through his relationship with Alejandra, bonds with Rawlins, and becomes a makeshift father and protector to the young Blevins. He also learns to let go of both the things he lost, such his childhood ranch, and the things that he will never have, such as a permanent relationship with Alejandra, and to move on to the next adventure that is waiting for him just over the horizon.
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