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The Red Pony

John Steinbeck

The Gift—Part 2

The Gift—Part 1

The Gift—Part 3

Summary

After the arrival of Gabilan, Jody gets up every morning before the ringing of the triangle to see to his horse. Sometimes, Jody tortures himself with "delicious little self-induced pains," imagining that something awful has happened to Gabilan. During these morning visits, Billy Buck often teaches Jody about horses, explaining for example how horses are constantly afraid their hoofs will be damaged. Jody is proud that after letting Gabilan out to romp around the corral, the horse drank greedily from the water trough—Jody had heard that a horse that only sips its water is a poor horse. Jody notes things he had never before noticed about horses, such as the shapes of their muscles and the way they communicate with their ears.

In the fall, Billy and Jody begin to train the horse. First, they train it to wear a halter. Gabilan is generally perfect at obeying commands once he learns them, although he sometimes tries to bite or kick Jody. Meanwhile, every night Billy works on making a "hair rope" from the hair Gabilan sheds. As halter training reaches completion, Jody's father warns that he doesn't want Gabilan to be a "trick horse" and that Jody will have to learn saddle soon. Billy and Jody comply, first teaching the horse to wear a saddle, then moving to a bridle. When the horse rebels against the training, Jody is happy, because he knows it means Gabilan is a good horse.

Jody worries constantly that if Gabilan throws him he will not have the courage to get back on. He plans to try for the first time at Thanksgiving, hoping that the rainy winter will not come too early. But it does. Jody keeps Gabilan in the barn—out of the rain—until one sunny day he asks Billy if it would be a good idea to leave Gabilan out in the corral while Jody goes to school. Billy assents, assuring Jody that if it rains he will come and put Gabilan in the stable.

Midday, it begins to rain. Jody wants to run home, but he knows he would be punished for leaving school. When he does return, he finds his pony standing miserably in the rain. Jody dries Gabilan as well as he can. Billy and Carl Tiflin return at dark; Billy is ashamed of his fallibility; and Jody's father warns Jody not to pamper the pony.

Commentary

In this section and through the end of "The Gift", it is important to follow the changing relationship between Billy Buck and Jody. At the very beginning of the story, Jody and Billy seemed to be perfect friends insofar as their age allowed, but now Billy has let down Jody. Jody is forced to withdraw his concerns into himself, as he begins to distrust Billy, and his father is as stern as ever. Incidentally, it is interesting to note that Steinbeck frequently writes out the full name, "Carl Tiflin," rather than simply saying "Carl" or "Jody's father." This is Steinbeck's way of making Carl Tiflin seem as distant to the reader as he seems to Jody.

In its detailed portrayal of training Gabilan, from the training of Gabilan to wear a bridle, which cuts the horse's lip, to Jody's worry that he might "break" Gabilan and thereby destroy his value, the story explores the violence, delicacy, and intricacy of training and growing up. Gabilan is being trained, but Jody is being similarly trained. Gabilan himself is a part of Jody's training; Carl and Billy feel that Jody is ready for the responsibility of a horse, and both seem to believe that in meeting that responsibility Jody is taking a step toward maturity. Jody's mother also obviously believes the same, since she allows Jody to slack on his chores in order to attend to his new responsibility. But the dangers inherent in training a horse, the pain it causes and the possibility that harsh training might break the horse too powerfully, are also dangers inherent in Jody's growing up. Billy and Carl, though both are engaged in "training" Jody, occupy very different roles in that training; Carl is stern and harsh, making sure Jody becomes no "trick pony;" Billy is more kind, making certain that Jody does not get broken. Gabilan, the Gift after which the story is named, thus becomes a metaphor for the entire book; his training and Jody's coming of age involve parallel difficulties.

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