The Red Pony a novel comprised of four separate short stories sharing character and setting and essentially the same period, but which do not connect smoothly to each other in the fashion of chapters in a traditional novel.
The four stories which make up the novel are:
“The Gift” in which young Jody is presented with the title animal as a gift from his father. This is the most famous section of the novel and also the most heartbreaking as it is ends in tragedy for the horse.
“The Great Mountains” relates the story of a an old man who has returned to the Salinas Valley to die with as much honor as possible for a poor old man.
“The Promise” covers a year in the life of Jody as he tends to the family’s mare, Nellie, on the promise of receiving her next colt as a gift. More tragedy ensues, but this time as a trade-off for new life.
“The Leader of the People” is another take on the theme of aging just the third section is a counterpart to the first section about Jody struggling to care for an animal. In this case, the old man at the center is Jody’s grandfather. The old man traces his life in the valley back to the days when it wagon trains carried the families would settle the region. His life is now lived mostly in the memories of those more exciting days as it winds to an end.
The four stories connect most evidently in the character of Jody and the fact that two of the stories involves horses and two involve the passing of members of the older generation is significant in ways that may not be immediately apparent from the loose structure. Essentially, The Red Pony is a standard coming-of-age story about young boy learning the hard lessons necessary to mature into a young man. The lack of a flowing transition between the isolated stories is as significant as the apparent repetition of thematic subject matter. What Steinbeck appears to be suggesting is that the maturation process is not always a fluidly linear one, but is rather more staccato with stops and spurts that return to visit elements before moving forward again.
The Red Pony was adapted into a theatrical film in 1949 and then a made-for-TV movie in 1973.