Summary and Analysis
Handcuffed, John Grady Cole and Lacey Rawlins are driven north on their horses for three days. At night, they are manacled to their saddle stirrups and forced to sleep under one blanket this way. They arrive in Encantada, and, while sitting on a bench on the main street, John Grady gestures to two little girls, asking for cigarettes. Rawlins calls him a ladies' man and talks to him for the first time since their capture.
John Grady and Rawlins start to argue. John Grady wants to get their problems out in the open and says they are there because of some lie. Rawlins retorts, "Or some truth." He reminds John Grady that he tried to reason with him (the implication is that he's referring to Alejandra). John Grady says some things aren't reasonable. Grudgingly, Rawlins says he has not quit John Grady. The little girls bring the cigarettes and ask if they are robbers.
John Grady and Rawlins are taken to an adobe prison on the north end of town and find that Blevins is already in the cell. They question him without results. But an old man, also imprisoned in the same cell, tells them that Blevins has killed three men. Blevins says only one died. In order to retrieve his pistol, he returned to Encantada after working for two months. Then he told his captors about John Grady and Rawlins. He can't walk because his feet have been broken.
John Grady dreams of horses that night as he sleeps. In the morning, Rawlins is questioned and asked to strip off his trousers; he is struck on the back of the head. They say he is lying about who he is. He says they are cowboys who have come to work in Mexico. He is asked why the horses have no brands or papers. Then John Grady is questioned. They are accused of having come to Mexico to steal horses. John Grady is told they will be taken to Saltillo.
John Grady tells his interrogators, "There aint but one truth." But they persist in asking questions about Blevins. Back in the cell, John Grady tells Rawlins that he thinks they want a deal to kill Blevins. This upsets Rawlins, but then he gets angry with Blevins and threatens him. John Grady says, "Let it go."
Three days later they are taken from the dark cell into the sunlight and put on a flatbed truck with three guards. They are heading back south to Saltillo. They stop for a break, and the captain has ordered a guard to take Blevins away from the other two. Before he goes, Blevins takes off one boot and gives John Grady his money. The captain and the charro take him into the trees and after "a long time" John Grady and Rawlins hear a pistol shot.
In Saltillo the truck makes various stops before they arrive at the big prison. While waiting in a room, John Grady tells the captain he didn't have to kill Blevins. The captain tells him, "A man does not change his mind." They are locked in a cell and sleep on iron bunks with greasy mattresses. After breakfast in the morning, they are turned loose into a common yard where they have to fight all day. The next day it is the same thing. By the third day, the fights are mostly over, and on the fourth day, Sunday, they buy new clothes with Blevins' money. They share a can of tomato soup they've purchased. Rawlins laments, "All over a goddamned horse." John Grady says it is not about a horse.
A man called Perez has them brought to him and he offers them protection, but no deal is made. The next day, Rawlins is attacked and cut with a knife. John Grady takes him to the gate, and the captors take Rawlins. John Grady goes to see Perez, who, it is rumored, is not a prisoner at all. How much power Perez has no one knows. John Grady arranges to buy a knife. He has another conversation with Perez, which involves a little speech from Perez about the mind of the Anglo. Perez says Americans are godless. There is a prison fight initiated against John Grady by a hired "cuchilero," or slasher (a fighter with a knife). John Grady is badly injured, but he survives because he kills the other man with his knife. John Grady is taken to Perez's room. As his wounds are healing, he thinks of his father and horses. Finally, he is taken to the commandante's office and handed an envelope of money and learns Rawlins is waiting outside for him.
John Grady and Rawlins are let out of the prison and catch a bus to the center of Saltillo. They go to a hotel for food and a room. In their conversations, John Grady makes it clear that he does not want to leave Mexico, because he wants to see Alejandra and he doesn't want to leave the horses. Rawlins is worried for John Grady and talks about Blevins. He still can't believe that Blevins was shot.
They figure that the money John Grady was given in the envelope and their release was procured by Alejandra's great-aunt. They buy new clothes and Rawlins catches a bus for Nuevo Larado. John Grady spends a week seeing surgeons, and, finally, the stitches are removed from his face and belly.
John Grady takes a bus heading north to Monclova.
This chapter is the one in which John Grady and Rawlins face their punishment. Here, the two youths spend time in jail, their adventure goes awry, and they are in greater danger than they have ever been in before. Rawlins spends time in a hospital at the prison, and John Grady is seriously wounded. What is the cause of their many problems? John Grady and Rawlins talk about this on their trip north, when they are first captured. Do they face this punishment because of a lie, as John Grady says, or because of the truth, as Rawlins says? It is, of course, a combination of factors, including bad luck. Blevins is a major part of their problems. John Grady and Rawlins helped Blevins because he was so young and without common sense. And he told the authorities who they were. A natural response to Blevins' treatment of John Grady and Rawlins is anger. But Rawlins, who has never defended Blevins and always thought he would bring bad luck, says repeatedly that no one deserves to die like that.
Another obvious reason for their imprisonment is John Grady's lie to Don Hector about coming from Texas alone, just the two of them. Although it is only one lie, it has terrible consequences. The lesson here should not go unheeded.
Rawlins, of course, thinks that the affair with Alejandra is what has landed them in trouble. He tells John Grady that, when the militia came for him in the night, he asked them if Rocha were awake and they laughed at him and said he'd been awake a long time.
The Romeo and Juliet parallel in this novel is quite interesting. Two young lovers have defied their parents, John Grady by running away from home and school and Alejandra by spending lots of time at the ranch. Alejandra is defying all her culture's dictates by having an affair with a poor Americano. She is not only soiling her virtue, she is ignoring her class position. And she is the one who initiates the affair.
Some things are not reasonable, as John Grady tells Rawlins, and indeed the whole history of tragic romances tells us that this is so. Nevertheless, we wish there could be a happy ending for the two lovers.
Finally, the young men are saved from death and imprisonment because of Alejandra and her great-aunt. So, at least, the lovers escape death. But one of the protagonist's friends dies, the one with the least common sense, just as in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet where Romeo's friend Mercutio dies.
In addition to the Romeo and Juliet motif, we see in All the Pretty Horses a Paradise Lost theme. First, there is the creation of the characters, by their families and upbringing. Then the two friends take a journey on their horses and find a paradise to live in, jobs they like, great horses to work with, a beautiful setting. They have their first taste of adulthood — no parents making decisions for them. But mistakes are made — helping Blevins, lying about knowing him, and having an affair with the forbidden girl.
John Grady says, "You dont get to go back and pick some time when the trouble started and then lay everthing off on your friend." What John Grady is saying is that luck and fate also play their parts in the way events come to pass. We can clearly see this: If Blevins had just been satisfied to have his horse and not want to go back again to retrieve his pistol, if the great-aunt had wielded her power with more sympathy, if the father had not been so passive about his daughter and a young man he really likes, if the two boys had had papers on their own horses, all would be different.
Instead, they have to endure the horrible prison at Saltillo and learn the most terrible lessons the journey brings them. Rawlins says he never could imagine there was a place like the prison, and both of them are shocked at the inhumane way Blevins is treated. The young American cowboys are finding out about real evil, real terror, and real pain.
In Chapter III, we see much discussion of what a man is or is supposed to be. The daily fighting in the prison yard looks like madness to an outsider. But it is more than survival, it's the way to claim manhood and territory in the prison. Only after the prisoners are severely wounded are they given any help. By this definition, you can only prove your manhood by coming close to death. To be a man is to fight.
Then there is the captain who shoots Blevins. He explains later to John Grady that men talk of honor and justice, but is that what they really want? "A man cannot go back. . . ." "A man does not change his mind." What the captain means is that men cannot look weak or change their minds because it would look bad. Does this mean that what is proclaimed as honor is often only ego or some kind of saving face?
On the other hand, look at the idealism of the young as portrayed by John Grady and sometimes even by Rawlins. When they first meet Blevins and he is asked why they should help him, he says, "Because I'm an American." And they stick by him, partly out of American loyalty, partly because they believe in the Golden Rule. Look where it gets them — in prison. Are the older, more cynical characters people who once were idealists, too? Has life taught them that idealism is inherently false? Remember, the old great-aunt says she was an idealist once herself.
After Rawlins and John Grady arrive in Encantada and are put in the tiny prison cell with Blevins and the old man (who doesn't even know how long he has been there or for what crime), John Grady can still dream of horses when he sleeps. He dreams he runs among the horses, mares, and colts, all of them moving like music, without fear; "They ran in that resonance which is the world itself and which cannot be spoken but only praised." This ability to dream of horses shows that in the middle of his terrible predicament, John Grady is still strongly attached to nature, that his basic spirit is still whole. It isn't just his idealism and ethics that motivate John Grady; it is his whole sense of what is good on the earth that pushes him to make the decisions he does. The way of the land, nature, and the horses have all been his greatest teachers. From them he has learned that one does not abandon the weakest member of the herd, that one lives to ride and run free over the varied terrain, with the winds.
The character of Perez, the man who lives in a special hut on the prison grounds, presents another important lesson for John Grady. Perez says, "You cannot stay in this place and be independent peoples." Later, he talks of the mind of the Anglo and says it is closed in a rare way. He thinks Anglos have an incomplete picture of the world. Perhaps he is saying they don't comprehend cruelty. He also has a unique idea of manhood: "The world wants to know if you have cojones." He cynically says that people who don't have a price die. Later, he says that Americans aren't practical and they think "there are good things and bad things." Are we to see this Perez character as an evil force that John Grady must contend with at the lowest point of his life? Or is Perez the existential survivor who sees that John Grady lives through the terrible stabbing? Some of what Perez says makes some sense, and it may very well be true that "evil is a true thing in Mexico." This may be one of John Grady's lessons. However, it is clear that Perez is also always manipulating his own situation and this makes him a very slippery character, one whose mind is genuinely foreign, not just by nationality, but also temperament.
As an interesting footnote, Rawlins has received over a liter of Mexican blood, and at the end of the chapter it worries him that he might be part Mexican. John Grady teases him about being a half-breed, but has to exclaim, "Hell . . . blood's blood." Neither of them is very happy. They now know the effects of their actions and certain circumstances, but the full power of what has happened to them and their total fall from grace has not totally been understood.
Selvedge also selvage, a woven edge.
Alameda (Spanish) boulevard.
sull up go sullen or sulky; cowboy lingo.
muy amable (Spanish) very kind.
Son americanos ustedes? (Spanish) Are you all Americans?
Son ladrones? (Spanish) Are you robbers?
Sí. Ladrones muy famosos. Bandoleros. (Spanish) Yes. Very famous robbers. Bandits.
Qué precioso (Spanish) How adorable.
las esposas (Spanish) the handcuffs.
Cuidado con el bote (Spanish) Be careful of the pot.
De qué crimen queda acusado el joven? (Spanish) What crime is the kid being accused of?
El ha matado un hombre? (Spanish) He has killed a man?
Rurales (Spanish) country guys.
Quita las esposas (Spanish) Take the handcuffs off.
Somos vaqueros (Spanish) We are cowboys.
Marca (Spanish) brand.
Factura (Spanish) registered papers.
Cazador (Spanish) hunter.
Charro (Spanish) Mexican cowboy; picturesque.
Sólo el chico (Spanish) only the boy.
Están esperando. (Spanish) They are waiting.
Quinta (Spanish) country house.
Paseos (Spanish) strolls, walks.
Se llama la periquera. (Spanish) I am called the parakeet (bird).
Santo (Spanish) saints' day.
Pozole (Spanish) cornmeal mush.
Gabachos (Spanish) derogatory for French person; derived from "gabacha," meaning "apron."
Bolillos (Spanish) drumsticks; here, an insulting term.
Satrap petty tyrant.
Alcaide (Spanish) jailer or guard.
Cuchillero (Spanish) a brawler or person clever with a knife.
Quisiera hablar con el señor Peréz. (Spanish) I would like to talk with Sr. Perez.
Con respecto de que? (Spanish) With respect to what?
Con respecto de mi cuate (Spanish) In regard to my buddy.
Me toma el pelo. (Spanish) He/she fools me (pulls my hair).
Castellano (Spanish) Spanish.
Previas (Spanish) preliminary hearing.
Cojones (Spanish) balls, testicles.
Quiero comprar una trucha. (Spanish) I would like to buy a knife.
Cúanto dinero tienes? (Spanish) How much money do you have?
cuarenta Y cinco pesos (Spanish) forty-five pesos.
Bueno. La tendre esta tarde. (Spanish) Good. I will have it this afternoon.
Punche (Spanish) low class, potent, homegrown tobacco.
Esclarajo (Spanish) lighter.
Nó tienes visitantes? (Spanish) Don't you have any visitors?
Hay un cordón. (Spanish) There is a cord.
Tamalera (Spanish) seller of tamales.
El padrote quiere ayudarle. (Spanish) The patron wants to help you.
Dame el refresco. Nada más. (Spanish) Give me a pop. Nothing more.
Mejor que nunca (Spanish) Better than ever.
Quién és usted? (Spanish) Who are you?
Sus prendas (Spanish) Your clothes.
Dónde está mi compadre? (Spanish) Where is my friend?