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The Red Pony

John Steinbeck

Study Questions

Analysis

Review Quiz

What is the relationship between Jody and his father? Between Jody and Billy Buck? How do the three interact as a unit?

Both Carl Tiflin and Billy Buck act as father figures toward Jody. Carl thinks of what's best for Jody, giving him chances to learn about horses, and making sure that he is disciplined and does his chores. Billy, on the other hand, spends a lot of time with Jody, for example teaching him how to take care of Gabilan. The tension between Billy and Carl over what is best for Jody manifests itself in several scenes. For example, when Jody kills a vulture, Carl reprimands him, but Billy stands up for him, because he is better able to understand how Jody must feel. When thinking about which man is closest to Jody, it is telling that when Billy has to kill Nellie to produce Jody's colt, Carl is nowhere to be seen.

How does Steinbeck make use of symbols? Name some key symbols and describe their meaning.

Steinbeck is fairly straightforward with his symbols. He discusses what many of them mean to Jody. Jody hates vultures, since they are an obvious symbol of death and decay. He feels uncomfortable around the Cypress tree, because it is where pigs are butchered, and Steinbeck practically says that it represents death, by writing that it is the enemy of green grass surrounding the water tub. Other symbols includes the horse hair rope that symbolizes the frailty of Gabilan's life, the Great Mountains that symbolize Jody's budding adolescent restlessness, and Jody's dogs, who at one point or another Jody treats or mistreats according to his emotions.

Most of the novel takes place within the bounds of the farm. What is significant about the action that takes place away from the farm?

The most prominent events that take place off of the ranch are the death of Gabilan and the suicidal escape of Gitano. In both instances, the ranch is seen as a place of safety; however, it also seems to be suffocating, since both Gitano and Gabilan eventually flee, though in fleeing they die. Thus, The Red Pony sets up its dominant tension: the safety and nourishment the farm provides comes hand-in-hand with limitation and boundary, while the freedom that is accessible only outside the farm can also lead to death. For Jody, the Great Mountains represent escape and adventure. But as Jody grows and learns about the nature of the world, he begins to see that adventure is not the romantic ideal he believes it to be. His desire for adventure remains, he still wants to live among the Great Mountains, but he begins to see the needless danger such a desire entails. The road is also a symbol of escape. It is on the road that Jody greets his grandfather, a teller of stories of adventure, and on the road that the two are free to enjoy one another's company. Once they arrive at the ranch, though, there relationship loses its freedom, and Jody's grandfather comes clean about the difficulties and sadness to which adventure can sometimes lead.

How does Jody's sympathy for Gitano and his grandfather undermine his relationship with his father?

Why is the book entitled "The Red Pony?" Is "The Gift," the story of Gabilan the red pony, the most important and central story?

What evidence is there that Jody actually matures from story to story?

Is Jody mature enough to handle the "gifts" and "promises" his father gives him in challenging him to deal with horses?

Does Steinbeck give the reader much information about what goes on in Jody's mind? How does the limited information we have about Jody's improve the book. Does it keep the book from being overly philosophical? Does if force the reader to draw her or his own conclusions?

How do the stories themes of loss, growing up, and yearning for adventure relate to the setting of the American West?

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