All the Pretty Horses

by: Cormac McCarthy

Chapter I - Part 2

Commentary

This section begins as the most untroubled in a troubled novel. For an idyllic stretch of perhaps a few days and thirty pages, there is no violence. Nothing goes wrong. The journey from San Angeelo to Mexico is accomplished flawlessly and easily. It conforms to the expectations of the teenage cowboys: this is the life they imagined living, without responsibility, under the sun and starlit nights. It is not that the life is either easy or leisured; they do not have the creature comforts of civilization. But this is precisely the point: their aim is to act like the men who fill their idealized imaginings, men not of leisure but of serious purpose, effort, and perseverance. Of course, the two teenagers have yet to encounter situations that will require their true effort and perseverance. Instead, they begin to think--especially Rawlins, the more immature and less driven of the two--that they have succeeded in recapturing the cowboy lifestyle. For now we have the sense of a storm building (this storm, of course, will be both literal and figurative), that this idyll is merely a prelude to the bloody trauma of their trial-by-fire; as the nervous Rawlins puts it, "Just seems too damn easy in a way." Suffering will authenticate their choice of lifestyle: the price it will eventually exact will be nearly incalculable.

If rough and independent living is inseparable from the life to which Rawlins and John Grady Cole aspire, so too is their laconic style of speech. As the companions ride, we overhear their dialogue. There is a stoic refusal to convey emotion; an avoidance of introspection and elaborate discussion in favor of aphoristic wisdom and statements of fact; occasionally, there is some quiet humor. Of the two companions, Rawlins is the more talkative and nervous: he makes jokes, boasts, and pokes fun at Blevins. John Grady remains nearly silent throughout, especially during Rawlins' conversations with Blevins. John Grady's silences are not merely an incidental facet of his personality: they are part and parcel of the code to which he subscribes, and which governs all of his behavior.

Readers of American literature will recognize John Grady's silences and speech patterns. They are a version of the patterns shared by the protagonists of Ernest Hemingway's novels and short stories. Like John Grady, Hemingway's men subscribe to what Hemingway critics have referred to as a "sportsman's code," characterized by scrupulous honesty, self-control, courage, skill, and stoicism. Adherence to this code, for Hemingway's heroes, is necessary for survival, and also necessary to retain any honor and individuality in the chaos of human life. The same might be said of John Grady Cole. Although his code leads him again and again into mortal danger--in this section he refuses to abandon Blevins and attempts to rescue Blevins' horse, and later in the novel he returns to the ranch to see Alejandra and refuses to bend to Perez' will--it eventually preserves him as a moral creature. John Grady's triumphs in the novel are largely internal triumphs, and they flow from his unwavering adherence to his moral code. This moral code, in McCarthy as in Hemingway, manifests itself in the speech patterns of its adherents: it demands thoughtfulness rather than verbosity; modest silence rather than boasting; concise wisdom rather than elaborate argument and discussion; and repression of emotion rather than expression of fears or weakness.