The main character of All the Pretty Horses, John Grady Cole certainly does not begin McCarthy's novel as a prototypical Western hero. At sixteen, his dream is to run the ranch on which he's lived his whole life. But when his grandfather dies, his mother inherits the ranch - and promptly decides to sell it. With no recourse, John Grady becomes a character in search of a story, a hero in search of a novel. Indeed, his rite of passage is not to run his mother's ranch, but to leave it. In the course of his journey, he must grow up quickly. He becomes a father to Blevins, a lover to Alejandra, a loyal companion to Rawlins. His greatest strength is his intensity - indeed, his determination is perhaps the only reason he survives the peril of the Castelar prison, the impromptu rescue of the horses from Encantada.
At the same time, he struggles with his tendency to idealize and moralize. Our best insight into John Grady's character often comes in his conversations with foreigners - Rocha, Alfonsa, el capitan. During the course of these exchanges, he reveals himself to be great believer in the divide between good and evil, between right and wrong. He might listen to Alfonsa's tragic history or the captain's rationalization for blackmail, but it will not change his own views or his own behavior. His conscience is guided by the righteous and romantic. And though this inclination makes him a particularly 'moral' hero, it is also one that leaves him disillusioned at the end of the novel and regrettably hardened.
Lacy Rawlins is John Grady's best friend and riding partner. Of the two Americans, Rawlins is certainly the more emotional - he can't help but catcall when he sees Alejandra for the first time, nearly cries at the captain's barrage of questions - but he's unfailingly loyal to his best friend. Where John Grady is intense, reticent, wary, Rawlins is flippant, loquacious, sometimes puerile. Perhaps this is because his motivation for leaving San Angelo never becomes clear - if John Grady is looking for a higher purpose south of the border, Rawlins simply seems to be seeking a relief from boredom. When his thirst for adventure threatens to drown him, he ultimately abdicates his journey and returns back home.
The first - and perhaps the most indicative - thing we learn about Jimmy Blevins when he meets Rawlins and John Grady is that he isn't a very good liar. He claims he is sixteen, riding his own horse, and possesses the same name as a popular radio personality - all of which Rawlins impugns. Brash, precocious, and trigger-happy, Jimmy Blevins' fatal flaw is his inability to admit his own error or let go of the past. This is best seen when he refuses to return to the dinner table one night after falling off the bench, incites a pack of howling dogs and a posse of pursuers when he rabidly attempts to rescue his horse in Encantada, and ultimately invites his death by attacking the man who stole his pistol without planning his escape. Blevins and Rawlins seem to form a sibling relationship, while he and John Grady relate more as father and son. But because of the cacophony he creates in rescuing his horse from Encantada, he is forced to split up from his adopted 'family'. He disappears for a third of the novel while McCarthy recounts John Grady and Rawlins' experience at La Purisima. The last time we see him is just before he is taken out by the Encantada guards and summarily executed.
Our first glimpse of Alejandra, Don Rocha's daughter, is what we ultimately retain as the core of her character: beautiful, enigmatic. Pale with long black hair, she is often seen riding her Arabian horse off the ranch into the country. From the moment he sees her, John Grady is infatuated with Alejandra. They begin a slow, tentative love affair that blossoms only when it is expressly forbidden by Alejandra's grandaunt. In this, we see Alejandra's weakness: her rebellious impulsiveness. There are numerous examples of Alejandra defying what is expected of her or what she is told to do. She demands to ride Rocha's stallion even though she knows it means her love affair with John Grady will be found out. She confesses her love for John Grady to her father only because she cannot stand for her grandaunt to use the knowledge of the affair against her. And she breaks her promise to Alfonsa by going to see John Grady in Zacatecas when he returns from prison. Indeed, Alejandra is less a fully formed personality than a burgeoning teenager confused as to her loyalties. Ultimately, we see this vulnerability when she is forced to make a decision between love and family: she sacrifices John Grady to remain faithful to her father.
Don Hector Rocha
Don Hector Rocha owns the Hacienda de Nuestra Senora de la Purisima Concepcion ranch in the mountains of Coahuila, Mexico. A forty-seven year old hacendado (land-owner) with over a thousand head of cattle, he lives on the ranch as well - land that has been in his family for one hundred and seventy years. He also keeps a house in Mexico City where his wife lives, and where he ultimately takes Alejandra.
We only see Rocha twice - both in conversation with John Grady. In the first, he seems suspicious of the American's motives for coming to Mexico. In the second, he is clearly distrustful of John Grady's motives for staying on the ranch. Everything else we learn about Rocha comes from other sources - that he allowed the arrest of the two Americans because he knew of John Grady's affair with his daughter, that he investigated their reputation as horse thieves before verifying that the accusations were true, that he only spared John Grady's life because his daughter might have killed herself. When John Grady returns from prison to confront Rocha, he finds out that the hacendado has taken his daughter to Mexico City. Neither John Grady nor the reader see him again.
La senorita, the mistress of the ranch, Duena Alfonsa is grandaunt and godmother to Alejandra. She is 72 years old and lives on the ranch at La Purisima with her brother Don Hector. She is missing two fingers on her left hand, lost in a shooting accident. Like Rocha, we only see her twice - both in conversation with John Grady. She makes it clear to him that she will not tolerate his advances on her goddaughter. Because of her own misfortunes in romance, which she recounts in a long tale of love found and tragically lost, she is especially wary of how Alejandra chooses her suitors. Indeed, Duena Alfonsa believes that the same characteristics which afflicted her own search for love - willful improvidence, blind rebellion - are in the blood of every woman in the Rocha family. Thus, she believes that Alejandra cannot rationally choose her own mate.
Alfonsa pays for John Grady and Rawlins release from prison, but only because her grandniece promised her that she would never see John Grady again. Ultimately, we are not sure whether Alfonsa's motivations are genuine or deluded, whether she protects Alejandra out of love or bitterness. We are sure, however, that she is primarily responsible for ending the affair, since it is in defiance of her authority that Alejandra confesses her love for John Grady to her father.
John Grady's mother is a 36-year old aspiring actress who spends most of her time away from the San Angelo ranch. Because she is her father's only child, she inherits the ranch when he dies and chooses to sell it. She has a tense relationship with her son and has no communication with her ex-husband. Her conversations with John Grady usually end with her leaving abruptly. When John Grady goes to see her act in a play in San Antonio, he also sees her with a well-dressed man in a hotel, implying that she has found a new lover since divorcing his father.
John Grady's father is an ex-Army veteran who hasn't talked to his ex-wife in seven years. He seems to suffer from some type of lung disease - either emphysema or lung cancer - which ultimately leads to his death. His relationship with his son is awkward and in their conversations, riddled with silence, he often seems to be the younger of the two. Before John Grady leaves San Angelo, his father gifts him a new saddle and takes him on a last ride through the country.
The family lawyer in San Angelo, Mr. Franklin tells John Grady that not only does his mother have complete control over the fate of the ranch, but his parents have officially divorced without telling him.
El Capitan (the captain)
After capturing Blevins in Encatada, the captain orders the arrest of his two accomplices. When he does finally capture Rawlins and John Grady, he peppers the Americans with illogical accusations and specious evidence. He makes it clear that they cannot leave the prison until they buy their way out. Seemingly drunk on his own power, his speeches often drift into the absurd. Ultimately, however, he loses his verve when he's taken hostage by John Grady, sniveling and pleading until the American sets him free out of pity.
El Charro (the cowboy)
The official Encantada cowboy in charge of tending the horses, the charro helps John Grady rescue his four horses when he returns to Encantada near the end of the novel. Though the charro seems to defer to the captain at first, we soon learn that there is bad blood between the two men. When John Grady asks the charro to help him tie up the captain, he complies without resistance.
A man in his forties with graying hair and a moustache, Perez seemingly controls the bribes that pass through the prison. He tells John Grady and Rawlins that should they produce enough money, he will be able to get them released. He also makes it clear that should they not, they will stay in the prison at their own risk, since those who are not under his protection usually die.
San Angelo Judge
The judge awards John Grady full custody of the horses upon his return to San Angelo after three men claim ownership of them. Almost priest-like in his willingness to listen, he tells John Grady that his actions in Mexico seem justified by the circumstances and that after all his struggles, he's sure that the boy will 'get it sorted out.'
The house attendant at La Purisima, Maria serves as the go-between between John Grady and Duena Alfonsa.
The housekeeper who worked for the Grady family for over fifty years, Abuela cared for John Grady's mother as a baby and all of his mother's uncles who had died in their youth. At the end of the novel, John Grady attends her funeral.
All the Pretty Horses Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for All the Pretty Horses is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.