The Red Pony
The Promise—Part 1
It is spring, and Jody, walking home, first pretends to be a soldier, then pretends he is on safari and hunts for insects and frogs. When he gets home, he looks through a catalog that came in the mail; his mother interrupts to tell him that his father wants to speak with him. Carl Tiflin and Billy Buck are standing beside the corral. Jody is afraid he is in trouble, but when his father begins talking about how well he took care of Gabilan, he senses he is not in trouble. Billy has talked to Carl about what a good job Jody did, and has recommended that the best thing for Jody to do would be to raise a colt from birth.
The next day, Jody takes the mare Nellie over to a neighboring ranch to be bred. As Jody and the horse approach the barn, they hear a scream and the splintering of wood. The stallion gallops down the hill; Nellie whinnies and begins to scuffle with the stallion. The man who owns the stallion, Jess Taylor, finds Jody, who is scared and begs Jess to separate the two horses. Jess reassures him, and eventually Jody insists on staying, as the colt will be his and he is going to take care of Nellie in the meantime.
Because his father is providing a new horse for him, Jody begins to work very hard on his chores. He doesn't waste his time collecting bugs anymore. He learns to cut hay, and goes out to milk the cows each morning. Billy warned him that it would seem like forever before the colt comes, and indeed Jody grows impatient. Three months after the breeding, he and Billy go to look at Nellie, and Jody complains that there doesn't seem to be any change. Jody tells Billy he hopes the colt will be a stallion, but Billy replies that colts are hard to control and that his father wouldn't put up with it. Jody asks what the birthing will be like, and Billy explains that it is generally like a cow's birthing, and that the colt's legs and head have to be aligned properly, otherwise the horse may miscarry. Thinking of Gabilan, Jody grows worried and begs Billy to assure him that they will be there when the colt is born and that nothing will happen. Billy grows defensive, hurt that Jody vividly remembers how Billy let him down.
"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.
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!