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Written by Claire Cornwall
The Bond Between Horse and Human
From the outset of the novel, the deep and enduring bond between a horse and his rider or owner is both emphasized and revered. From the moment Joey arrives in the stable he and his human friend Albert are emotionally bonded, finding ways in which to communicate that allow them to get to know each other in a profound and genuine way. Albert has a special whistle noise that he makes to call Joey to him and it is this whistle that proves to his superior officers that the horse they have brought in years later is indeed his horse; the fact that Joey recognizes it is an illustration of this bond. Although Joey does bond with subsequent riders the love he and Albert share is lifelong and genuine. The bond between human and equine characters is also illustrated in a more general sense when Joey describes the intense relationship between his fellow artillery horses and their soldiers.
The Futility Of War
At the start of the novel the futile nature of war is dealt with in an abstract sense, with people in the farming community talking about news from the front and of young men they are acquainted with who have gone off to war. They also still carry hope that the war will solve problems and be a short lived route to victory. Later as the young men do not come home and more sons are sent to the front the futility of the battle starts to resonate with those still at home.
When Joey is riding with the German artillery he is surprised by the bond he forges with his rider and admires his character and strength; he tells the reader that he believes the soldiers in both armies are essentially the same and they are killing each other for reasons that they do not understand or believe in. This is reinforced after Joey escapes the battlefield and becomes trapped in "no man's land"; soldiers from both sides work together to free him safely, getting to know each other and finding much common ground as they do so. The fact that these men who work together so effectively and who have a great deal in common then return to their trenches and resume shooting at each other is a perfect example of the futility of their situation - they are not true enemies but given orders to kill as if they are.
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We get the fact that the narrator is a horse who grew up on a farm. Some mean drunken men buy a pony from a mother horse. The pony ends up at a nice farmer's house. The boy of the farm, Albert, falls in love with the horse and names him Joey.