All the Pretty Horses

All the Pretty Horses Summary and Analysis of Chapter 1 - Section 2 (pp. 32-96)

John Grady and Rawlins head towards Mexico, stopping occasionally to eat and rest the horses. Their journey is unhurried, their conversation terse. "I could get used to this life," says Rawlins.

After crossing the Pecos River, John Grady tells his friend that he's noticed a rider behind them - they're being followed. They wait by the river, but when no one shows up Rawlins suggests that they conceal themselves off the path and wait for him. The rider turns out to be a thirteen year-old kid. Rawlins and John Grady question him intently, but the boy brashly claims that he is neither following them nor riding a stolen horse. Convinced that the horse is the target of pursuit, Rawlins urges his partner to ride on. "You aint ridin with us," he tells the boy. "You'll get us thowed in jail."

They encounter the boy again the next day. He tells them his name is Jimmy Blevins, though Rawlins doubts this is true. The boy asks to ride with them to Mexico, claiming that even though he has no food, no money, and a stolen horse, that the two should welcome his company because he's "an American." While riding towards the plains, Rawlins continues to make cracks at the boy's expense. Blevins, however, precociously stands his ground. At one point, he reveals that he's not only carrying a gun but that he's an expert shot - he puts a hole through the center of Rawlins' wallet when it's thrown into the air as a target.

They ride into the town of Reforma and are welcomed into a small 'estancia', or private home. At dinner, however, Blevins blunders when he leans back from the bench and crashes to the floor. Though the hosts' young daughters clap gleefully, Blevins tells Rawlins that he can't sit at the table anymore because he doesn't "like to be laughed at." Unable to let go of his embarrassment, he spends the night and the next morning in the yard.

They ride on for several days, into the mountains, and over time, Blevins slowly begins to open up to his riding companions - he tells them that his father never came back from the war and that he ran off because he couldn't tolerate anymore abuse from his stepfather. They try to buy water from some passing caravans of migrant traders, but end up getting drunk off some cheap liquor. Blevins has an especially hard time handling it - when a lightning storm approaches, he anxiously recounts his family's history of encounters with lightning bolts and gallops off on his horse.

When John Grady finds him later, Blevins is wearing nothing but his underpants, shivering in the rain. He's lost his clothing - all of which he'd stripped off because of its metal buckles and snaps - his pistol, and his horse. John Grady gives him his spare shirt and swings him up onto his horse. The trio rides on silently, Blevins barefoot in his underwear.

They ride into a raggedy Mexican camp, where one of the men offers to buy Blevins as a slave. Since the boy doesn't hear this exchange, he presses his companions about the subject of the conversation. When he badgers them a few too many times, Rawlins tells him the truth. "There wasn't no call to do that," John Grady tells him later.

The next day they ride into Encantada where they see Blevins' pistol sticking out of the back pocket of a man. Knowing that a pants-less, bootless boy would clearly draw the attention of the horsestealers, Rawlins and John Grady leave Blevins in a gully and tell him to stay out of sight. They ride into the town and find the horse staring out the window of an abandoned mud house. Rawlins suggests to his partner that they leave the boy. "I cant do it," replies John Grady.

Early the next morning, they saddle the horses and return to the mud house. Blevins climbs through the window while Rawlins and John Grady wait across the street. They wait but hear nothing. Finally, a horse whinnies in the dark and Blevins explodes through the fence atop the horse, followed by a pack of howling dogs. Pistol shots soon follow and the three riders dig their heels into their horses and fly out of the town. They split up soon after, Blevins storming up the path to evade the pursuing riders, Rawlins and Grady heading towards the country.

The rest of the chapter follows Rawlins and Grady as they ride through the mountains and catch up with a group of 'vaqueros', or cattle-ranchers. While helping to steer their cattle towards a ranch, they encounter a beautiful young girl on an Arabian horse. She clearly has affected all of them - the Mexicans try hard to conceal their admiration, Rawlins is taken with the "little darling" and John Grady stares fixedly down the road as she rides away.

An hour later, the manager of the ranch, the girl's father, gives the two Americans jobs as cowboys. They eat with the vaqueros that night and then tuck comfortably into their beds. "How long do you think you'd like to stay here?" Rawlins asks his friend. "About a hundred years," comes the reply.


The second section of the first chapter passes like the lightning storm -calm and clarity, then thunder and a perilous downpour, a flight to safety, and finally, a return to stillness. This pattern of 'precarious' calm followed by inescapable evil is one of the significant themes of All the Pretty Horses and McCarthy's work in general. We will cover this more in future chapter analyses as the plot thickens, but it is important to realize how theme and narrative rhythm interact as part of the author's style. A New York Times critic perhaps put it best when he said that there is no such thing as peace in a Cormac McCarthy book: "Death, which announces itself often, reaches down from the open sky, abruptly, with a slashed throat or a bullet in the face. The abyss opens up at any misstep."

The second section also builds on the literary techniques we discussed earlier - genre, prose style, and character development. The Western genre usually relies on impending conflict: the anticipated showdown between the lawful and the lawless, the hero's race against time to save his sidekick or the girl - or at the very least, that "something bad is going to happen" feeling that prevents either the characters or the reader from getting too comfortable. No one seems to have that feeling here. These are two reticent cowboys who speak only out of necessity or climactic realization, who neither have a purpose nor are searching for one. It remains to be seen what will turn either one of these characters into heroes.

We get our first clue when we meet Jimmy Blevins. (Indeed, Rawlins makes this foreshadowing explicit: 'Somethin bad is going to happen', he tells his partner.) Unlike Rawlins and John Grady, who seem to attract nothing but smiling waiters, glorious weather, and babbling brooks, Blevins is a magnet for chaos. Suddenly the riders are besieged by lightning storms, thieves, howling dogs, a gun-toting posse. And fittingly, the moment he splits up from Rawlins and John Grady, the two men rediscover their vistas, sunshine, and silence. They go to sleep on the gerente's ranch, reprising their conversation from earlier - only this time it is John Grady who says he could get used to this life, who says he could stay here for a 'hundred years.' It's as if Jimmy Blevins was nothing more than a storm himself.

In the course of this storm, John Grady's character begins to change. If he's unsure and uncertain as a son, he is decisive and dogged as a 'father.' The change can be noticed in the tone of the dialogue between initial encounters with Blevins and subsequent interactions:

Hell, said John Grady, that was your idea. I was the one said just leave him for the buzzards.

You want to see who gets to shoot him?

Yeah. Go ahead.

Call it, said Rawlins.


Heads, he said.

Let me have your rifle.

John Grady shook his head. He reached and unbuckled his saddlebag and took out his spare shirt and pitched it down to Blevins.

Put that on before you get parboiled out here. I'll ride down and see if I can see your clothes anywheres.

I appreciate it, said Blevins...

When he came back Blevins was sitting as he'd left him.

That boot's gone, he said.

I figured as much.

John Grady reached down a hand. Let's go.

He swung Blevins in his underwear up onto the horse behind him. Rawlins will pitch a pure hissy when he sees you, he said.

His psyche certainly hasn't changed - both passages find their emotional center in deflected anger. Just as he tried to blame the 'boy who rode on before him' for his misery earlier in the chapter, John Grady blows off steam by affecting control over Blevins. What has changed is the tone of his anger. Suddenly, he's passive aggressive - the genial father who protects the son from the nefarious 'brother' or 'uncle'. At this point, we have only fleeting clues why John Grady looks after him - why he shares his food, comes looking for him after he flees the estancia and the lightning storm, rejects Rawlins appeal to abandon him, and colludes in retrieving his horse. Does he empathize with the boy's courage or does he sympathize with his ingenuousness? Is he amused by the boy or saddened? And perhaps most significantly, does he help the boy out of altruism - or guilt?

If the first section of the chapter introduced to the rhythms of McCarthy's language, the second gives us deeper insight into what makes his prose so potent and yet so serene. While the scenes in San Angelo are a collage, the journey of Rawlins and John Grady to Mexico is treated as a fairly linear narrative. Still, McCarthy's prose continues to gain its power from broken cadences - sprawling description, then staccato exchange. But here, instead of simulating consciousness, the effect is to mimic the tempo and silence of two cowboys not looking for anything in particular - just looking:

...They built a fire and skinned out the rabbit and skewered it on a green limb and set it to broil at the edge of the fire. John Grady opened his blackened canvas campbag and took out a small enameled tin coffeepot and went to the creek and filled it. They sat and watched the fire and they watched the thin crescent moon above the black hills to the west.

Rawlins rolled a cigarette and lit it with a coal and lay back against his saddle. I'm going to tell you something.

Tell it.

I could get used to this life.

Moreover, his dialogue is virtually free of modifiers and adverbs, so that the words seem to dangle in the silence of the scenery:

Here you go, he said.

What's that?


I wish we had some bread.

How about some fresh corn and potatoes and apple cobbler?

Don't be an ass.

Aint them things done yet?

No. Set down.

This exchange could be continuous, or it could be broken by lengthy lulls. But the pauses seem to arise naturally, as if we're hearing the conversation rather than reading it:

Here you go, he said.

What's that?

Salt. [long pause]

I wish we had some bread.

How about some fresh corn and potatoes and apple cobbler?

Don't be an ass. [pause]

Aint them things done yet?

No. Set down.

McCarthy's imagery, though sparkling and scrupulous, is not laden with figurative language. He uses metaphors and similes cautiously, perhaps to enhance the newness of the land to the riders, or perhaps to enhance the effect when he does choose to use them:

The grasslands lay in a deep violet haze and to the west thin flights of waterfowl were moving north before the sunset in the deep red galleries under the cloudbanks like schoolfish in a burning sea...

Often he finds the space between description and figuration: riders disappear into a "golden gauze of dust," "yellow squares of windowlight" give warmth and shape to the world. The prose is like the panorama, at once epic and spare.

By the end of Chapter I, we can sense each character's Achilles heel. Blevins is both too easily embarrassed and too easily provoked. He's liable to get trigger-happy at any moment, even riding backseat in his underpants:

Yonder's my goddamn pistol, sang out Blevins.

John Grady reached behind and grabbed him by the shirt, or he'd have slid down from the horse.

Hold on idjit, he said.

Hold on hell, said Blevins.

What do you think you're going to do?

Of course, the boy hasn't thought about it. John Grady, on the other hand, seems to do nothing but think. The difference in temperament between John Grady and Rawlins becomes evident when Alejandra, the beautiful Mexican girl rides by:

Rawlins fell back among the riders and alongside John Grady.

Did you see that little darling? He said.

John Grady didn't answer. He was still looking down the road where she'd gone. There was nothing there to see but he was looking anyway.

Blevins sings out, Rawlins catcalls, John Grady stares. Indeed, he has a tendency to keep looking when there is nothing there to see - probing for answers in his mother's play, searching the vista for personal meaning while riding with his father, and now waiting to understand how this beautiful girl will affect his life. Stephen Tatum notes that John Grady's "sentimental idealism underpins his charismatic presence and defines his naivete, his innocence, as well as his immaturity. It also defines his capacity for self-deception" (40). But as the chapter ends idyllically amidst candlelight and amiable banter, the question still remains: What will bring out this 'self-deception'? A classic rivalry over the girl? A showdown with the Encantada gang? Or perhaps McCarthy will, as he has done all along, find richness and revelation in landscapes that are familiar only from a distance.