The Red Pony
The Leader of the People—Part 1
Billy Buck is gathering the last of the year's hay. Jody suggests that he and the dogs ought to chase out the mice that are no doubt inhabiting it. Carl Tiflin appears on the ridge, a letter in hand. It is from Jody's grandfather, on his mother's side. His mother reads it; Jody's grandfather is traveling from Monterey to stay for a while. Jody's father is angry, and complains that all the grandfather does is talk. He and Jody's mother are about to quarrel, and Jody is sent out from the house, although he continues to listen from the window. Carl complains that the grandfather does nothing but complain about how when he was leading a wagon train across the Great Plains, Indians chased off their horses. Jody's mother retorts that crossing the plains was the one big thing in her father's life. Jody's father is frustrated and walks out of the house. Jody quickly sets about his chores.
Jody walks up the road to meet his grandfather, who is coming that day—the letter was late in arriving. Eventually, he sees a cart. He waits for a while then runs toward it once it's close, slowing to a more dignified walk at the last moment. His grandfather is walking, leading the horse, stepping with gravity, and wearing old fashion clothes. Jody immediately asks him to help with the mouse hunt he's planning for the haystack. The family comes out to meet the grandfather. Billy in particular respects the grandfather, as the grandfather respects him for being one of the few of the "younger generation" that has not gone soft.
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.
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