The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

The first third of the The Red Pony introduces the main characters as being Billy Buck, the main worker at a ranch who works has a close relationship with the Tiflin’s, Carl Tiflin, the owner of the ranch, and Jody Tiflin, the son of Carl. Jody is given a Red Pony and names it Gabilan. Billy makes a mistake which causes Gabilan to get sick. In this time, Jody develops a close relationship with the pony, but unfortunately it dies. By the time he realizes this, a buzzard (a type of bird) has gotten to Gabilan’s eye. Jody mercilessly kills the buzzard before Billy pulls him away from the scene.

Steinbeck does an excellent job of characterizing, especially when describing Jody and Billy. Billy is shown to be an optimist who possesses a slight fear of the Tiflin’s, despite the fact that they rely on him to operate the ranch. This is shown in several instances when Billy repeatedly assures Jody that his pony will be okay and recover, but fails multiple times in his promises. Jody’s true self is shown towards the end of the chapter when he chooses to kill the buzzard rather than bury Gabilan or something else along those lines. Although he is only a child, showing him in a fragile, emotional, and raw event allows the reader to know who he is on a deeper level. His violence and strong emotions overcome his compassion, creating an uncontrolled image of Jody.

A stylistic device that I noticed in the story was foreshadowing. This happens when Gabilan gets sick and Jody looks up into the sky and he, “…saw a hawk flying so high that it caught the sun on its breast and shone like a spark. Two blackbirds were driving him down the sky, glittering as they attacked their enemy” (28). Earlier in the story, Billy suggests that Jody should name his new pony Gabilan because, “‘…That means hawk…'” (10). These symbols are rather obvious, but they are effective in hinting towards the death of Gabilan because it is such a small observation from Jody, as if it does not matter to him until it actually occurs and he is in the moment. This characterizes him as a child further.



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5 responses to “The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

  1. maxlanders

    As I looked through “The Red Pony”, by John Steinbeck, I realized that the book itself is made of four stories. The first of which is “The Gift”, which can be read in the first third in the book. The book follows the story of Billy Buck, a farm-hand, Carl Tiflin, the owner of the farm and father to his son, Jody Tiflin. Jody is given a red pony from his father, which he christens Gabilan. Gabilan comes down with “a cold” and endures many horrifically descriptive “treatments” in an effort to ail his sickness. Gabilan eventually runs away and dies a short ways away, where he is attacked by buzzards. In a flurry of panic and rage, Jody attacks a buzzard and kills it.

    I wholeheartedly agree with Mohnish’s point; the detail which Steinbeck uses portrays himself as a realist writer. Steinbeck writes in a very informal manner, which makes the story connect emotionally with the reader very well. Overall, I feel that this book has so far been a much easier read than “The Grapes of Wrath”. To me, this story seems more like a child’s tale, as opposed to a play-by-play reenactment of early United States history. I also agree that Steinbeck’s choice of events in the novel directly shows a characters values and bring a deeper meaning to the character. However, I think that the language that Steinbeck uses creates a much more negative connotation. The “Red Pony” begins as seemingly a happy, harmless story. It explains Jody’s lifestyle, the surroundings and environment of the farm, and then refers to an innocent scene of a mother calling her child for dinner. The book however slowly takes an evil turn as the pony delves farther and farther into the lives of the Tiflins and Billy. Steinbeck uses vivid imagery such as “the bright knige point disappeared into the throat. The pony plunged weakly away and then stood still, trembling violently. The blood ran thickly out and up the knife”(Steinbeck 35). It seems as if Steinbeck almost wants to shock the reader by including such scenes of harm. This, at least to me, further suggests that these acts of violence and tragedy will continue throughout the novel. The books more informal stance and filterless language astounds me, but it makes me think that this book is once again designed to have a lesson within. However, this short story is very difficult to interpret without other details, so I will have to see what I can take away from the book as I continue to read.

    To me, this book has been very interesting, much more so than “The Grapes of Wrath”. But it has been hard to take away any symbolic meaning from the novel so far, which is ought to be revealed later.

  2. maxlanders

    The second third of the book consists of two stories, “The Great Mountains”, and “The Promise”. In “The Great Mountains”, Jody’s family encounters a Mexican man named Gitano, who claims that his family owned the property at one point. He then requests to stay at the Tiflin’s till death. Carl Tiflin, furious, denies him and only allows him to stay for one night. After Jody converses with him for a while, Gitano leaves the next morning, stealing a horse and heading for the mountains and beyond. In “The Promise”, Jody is given the opportunity to care for a colt; to raise a horse as his own. Happily, he takes it, vowing to do his chores until the birth. Finally, after a year of waiting, Nellie, the mare, is preparing to give birth. However, the birth miscarriages, forcing Billy to kill Nellie in order to save the colt. Instead of being happy for the new life, Jody is solemn and sick from the death of the mare.

    One of the biggest similarities between the two books “The Great Mountains” and “The Gift” is its ending. Both Gabilan and Gitano walk off into the unknown before the story ends, presumably dying in the process. Billy takes both of these losses in a very meaningful, emotional way, reflecting on both lives and the impact on himself. In “The Great Mountains”, Steinbeck shockingly portrays Jody in a way that, at least to me, seemed unexpected. At the beginning of “The Great Mountains”, Jody is bored and has nothing to do. To satisfy his hunger for variety and interest, Jody first throws “rocks at the swallows’ nests under the eaves”, then “baited a rat trap with stale cheese” and placed where his dog “could get his nose snapped.” Steinbeck then goes on to say that “Jody was not moved by an impulse of cruelty.” In anger, Jody then “threw a rock at [the] Mutt” and finally killed a bird with a slingshot. Shockingly, Jody “felt a mean pain in his stomach” and proceeded to “cut off the bird’s head…, disembowel it, and [take] off its wings.” Steinbeck then chooses to describe Jody as uncaring “to the bird, or its life”(Steinbeck 57). Steinbeck chooses to includes these crude and shocking images of Jody to show his childlike, violent side. Throughout the book, Jody is portrayed as mature at times, but primarily in the second half. In the first half, Jody primarily blames the death of Gabilan on Billy, childly not ready to accept that the death was completely out of anyone’s control. Now, Billy chooses to kill and harm sentient, harmless beings for fun, showing his lack of empathy, and his overall indifference over life.

    A lot of this novel has so far been revolving around Jody’s change as a person, and his transition from being a imaginative, childlike boy to a serious young adult. Between both the loss of Nellie and Gitano, Jody seems to exponentially reflect more and more deeply on life and death. Jody’s transition also can be literally found in the novel, as in “The Promise”, where Jody is able to take on both the responsibility of managing his chores as well as managing his colt.

    Personally, the novel is enjoyable and deep which is an aspect I very much enjoy. Although a bit disturbing at times, I would definitely recommend it to a person who enjoys a heavy solemn book with an interesting plot.

  3. mohnishjudge3

    2nd Part

    As Max previously described, Jody’s violent tendencies are exposed in the later part of the first chapter. This transition is exaggerated at the beginning of the next part in cases when Jody throws rocks at his dog and disembowels a bird after killing it. In addition to this, I did also notice how his actions demonstrate his maturity and possible growth or change. While it is not clear whether or not his actions are shaping his future, this is something that I am looking forward to in the last part. In the first parts, we have seen Jody as both a sympathetic and reckless individual, so I am expecting a positive change to conclude the story.
    An aspect of Steinbeck’s writing that I found intriguing was his use of Jody’s perspective. Typically in a third person novel, the reader is aware of multiple characters’ thoughts and perspectives but in The Red Pony, Steinbeck manages to change this norm of third person writing. Jody, still being a child, is not able to understand some situations at the level that his father or mother would. A clear example of this occurs when a new character is introduced. Gitano, an old man who claims to be the former owner of the ranch, encounters the Tiflin’s. The descriptions of Gitano and his actions are often vague and somewhat confused, as if Jody does not comprehend what is going on. When Jody’s parents interact with Gitano, they seem to recognize him before immediately shunning him, illustrating Jody’s ignorance of the situation.

  4. mohnishjudge3

    Part 3

    The Leader of The People concludes The Red Pony and introduces a new character. Grandfather, Mrs. Tiflin’s mother and Jody’s grandfather, arrives at the Tiflin’s home and it is immediately clear that he is obsessed with his previous journeys west. But, Mr. Tiflin does not seem interested, especially when Grandfather says, “‘I just wonder whether I ever told you how those thieving Piutes drove off thirty-five of our horses.’ ‘I think you did,’ Carl interrupted. ‘Wasn’t it just before you went up into the Tahoe country?’ Grandfather turned quickly toward his son-in-law. ‘That’s right. I guess I must have told you that story’” (92).. And, the recurring theme of violence and death also comes up on numerous occasions. First is when Grandfather describes how it was his duty to kill certain animals to feed the people who he led. Next is when he agrees with Jody that Jody should kill mice. The story ends with Mr. Tiflin complaining about Grandfather. Grandfather overhears this and walks into the room before proclaiming that his journey west was not important. Instead, he focuses on the importance of being a leader, which Jody hopes to become. But, Grandfather replies to Jody by saying that he can no longer do so.
    Although Jody does have much progress as a character himself, Grandfather seems to be a symbol for the future. Jody’s near future will have him become more mature and stop killing just to be cruel, which is shown through Grandfather’s passage in which he describes feeding his group (Grandfather’s talks in the past, suggesting that he is talking about the middle of his life). Instead, he will kill to benefit others, becoming less selfish and impulsive. In this way, killing is a physical action to illustrate this change of maturity. But the act of killing also suggests that life is a cycle as Grandfather, an old man, relates to Jody in his distaste for mice. To add on, in the later stage of life, he seems to be more negative and pessimistic, relating to Jody’s dark side with experiences involving animals.
    Overall, I would rate The Red Pony 7/10. It has strong messages regarding family, maturity, and death, but it was a little dry at times. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a short novel that discusses heavy (and quite depressing) topics through the perspective of a growing child.

  5. maxlanders

    As Mohnish commented before, the Red Pony concludes with “The Leader of the People”, which is a story of Jody’s grandfather and the experiences between the family. Grandfather is portrayed as having a more idealistic view of the past, constantly referring highly to the Westward Expansion, as well as his role in this movement. Carl, on the other hand, seems much more cruel in this story, referring to Grandfather’s stories as irrelevant.

    Similarly to Mohnish’s focus on character development, I noticed many changes from the beginning of the book. Most importantly, I saw Jody’s transition from idolizing his father to a much more negative standpoint as being a key theme of the book. ‘You’ve done a good job,’ he said to Jody… Jody was tight with pride for hours afterward.” ( Steinbeck 68). For much of the book, Jody looked up to his father as a leader in his life. When he receives a rare bout of praise from Carl, Jody is excited and tingling for many hours afterwards. In many ways, it seems as if Jody has waited for this moment: to please a large figure in his life. This refers back to theme of “The Leader of the People”. Although not plural, Carl Tiflin was the “leader” in Jody’s life, telling him what’s right and what’s wrong. One early example of this is with Jody and the hunting rifle. Carl Tiflin regulates and ensures that Jody cannot fire the rifle. As a result, Jody manages to find joy in just aiming at things. Carl was a leader not through example, but through action, by controlling his son directly.

    In “The Leader of The People”, Carl Tiflin expresses his displeasure over Grandfather to his family at the meal table. Grandfather overhears, and walks away dismayed. Eager and curious to comfort his grandfather, Jody runs over and offers lemonade in an effort to please. Jody, always being curious about the outside world, asks many questions about adventure. Dismayed, his Grandfather replies “There’s no place to go. There’s no ocean to stop you”( Steinbeck 91). Although this passage ends on a very sad note, there is much that a reader can delve from the passage. Consistently throughout the book, Jody has showed interest in the outside world (Gitano and the mountains for one example). Seeing a chance to explore and learn more about a different lifestyle, Jody “employs” his Grandfather as a leader, who teaches not just life lessons, but stories that inspire dreaming and thinking. I agree that the Grandfather is a symbol for the future, but in a different manner and topic than what Mohnish mentioned before. The Grandfather brings more depth to the story, implying much more than what is on the surface. When the Grandfather suggests that “there’s no place to go”, Steinbeck suggests that Jody will forever be trapped within a similar lifestyle as his current one, working on a farm and becoming ironically like his father.

    I would give this book an 8/10, as it really made the reader think very hard about the book, allowing them to find a different meaning or message every time. However, I do agree that book seemed very repetitive with it’s messages of the outside world. But, I still feel that this is largely overshadowed with a plot that allows a reader to extract a surprising variety of meaning.

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