The theme of a book, short tale, or other literary work is the central concept or underlying meaning that the author investigates. A story’s theme may be represented via characters, environment, dialogue, narrative, or these factors. Moreover, the theme is the overarching objective of the novel and the message that the author is seeking to transmit to the audience; it provides them with emotional and analytical satisfaction. Themes of romanticism and reality in All The Pretty Horses, a novel by Cormac McCarthy, have examined people’s adversities in hunting for better lives. The pursuit of happiness and search for greener pasture as adolescents often lead them to atrocities that at times shape their characters to face the unprecedented world in adulthood.
John Grady Cole, a sixteen-year-old boy who is the protagonist of the novel, faces the reality of life following the demise of his grandfather. After that death, he flies south to Mexico in an attempt to recapture his life. John’s only admiration is possessing beautiful horses and marrying a gorgeous, ”what he loved in horses was what he loved in men, the things that he desires are few and any person could acquire” (McCarthy 36). Upon arrival in Mexico, John’s adolescent ideals are tested by reality, and any fancies aspired by him of this distant place are finally rectified. According to John Grady, he feels he should be with his girlfriend, Alejandra. John portrays a perfect romantic scenario, ”John Grady rides back, hoping Alejandra will come back to switch horses again, but she doesn’t” (McCarthy 92); he dreams of a beautiful love scenario with Alejandra. John’s idea insinuated their pairing as two young loves would not be resisted for any cause. Unfortunately, the reality is far from ideal since Alejandra’s family, and societal demands of a relationship are too big for their love to endure.
Moreover, life can be brutal and unforgiving to young boys pursuing a better future. In this perspective, the notion of realism manifests as Captain shouts at John and Rawlings. The Captain bemoans them pleading to be released from prison, ”we can make the truth here. Or we can lose it. ” (McCarthy 141); the suggestion is that the Captain is crooked and nasty. Moreover, he replicates a person building a strong guy’s reputation so that he can command fear towards his subjects. The Captain murders Blevins in return for a payoff from the Charro and implies that he once attacked a prostitute for performing a joke on him. As an officer of the law, the Captain should work legally and ethically. At this point, John has experienced the realities of life as he undergoes adversities in Mexico. Hence, John Grady realizes that the idealized illusions of youth must frequently surrender to the truth of the contemporary world.
Further, romanticism encompasses more than simply passionate love. The act is exhibited by John Grady, who believes in Mexico and its residents and his beliefs regarding fairness. John Grady has a profound, intimate, and deep attachment to horses that he would want to nature to a modern cowboy (Gibbs 2). Much of the book is filled up merely with beautifully painted pictures of riding through the mesas and plains of the nation. The kind of romance he portrays in nature interprets the word as a poetic trend stressing personal, experiential perception, courageous deed, and the importance of emotion.
Nonetheless, his attachment to horses provides him with a distinct notion of possession, based less on rules and property ownership than on one’s subjective bond with other living species. John had a gift of taming horses, ”in his sleep, he dreamt of horses ” (McCarthy 79); this prowess helped him pursue his long-term dream of being a renowned horse rider. John’s further affection towards horses is illustrated in John Grady’s quest to obtain his robbed horse back. The reality, John Grady discovers, may favor Romantic ideals, as he endures adversities in a bid to gain his horses.
Additionally, McCarthy implores the adversities adolescents face when they seek better lives outside their ancestral homes. As befits a traditional coming-of-age narrative, John Grady leaves San Angelo, Texas. Grady is too young to explore some parts of the globe, considering his age. Like a traditional American horseman, Grady lives for dignity, allegiance, individuality, bravery, and independence. On the other hand, his voyage to Mexico leaves him devastated and physically tortured, demonstrating that the harsh facts of the world often contradict the illusions he created as a child. Following these encounters, he realizes the world’s difficulties and difficulties.
He determines that his fancies originated in a long-forgotten past. He matures into an adult as he accepts the contemporary reality and rejects his boyhood dreams. Nevertheless, just because John Grady turns an adult does not imply he eliminates his morals, ”the world is quite ruthless in selecting between the dream and the reality” (McCarthy 131), he seeks retribution at Encantada. Afterward, John reminisces his past predicaments and the hurdles he underwent; he reclaims what is rightly his and his traveling companions and punishes the Captain (Jayaraj et al. 4143). Indeed, Grady feels more vulnerable upon returning to Texas than before his departure. This susceptibility indicates that he has developed a new sensitivity to the world’s reality, one that is not mirrored in his adolescent illusions.
Throughout All the Pretty Horses, several allusions to a particular bond between rider and horse show romanticism, which captures the spirit of the cowboy myth. The book’s title, All the Pretty Horses, underscores the importance of horses; it encapsulates well what John Grady Cole is on the hunt for in this novel. Hence, it is not just horses but all beautiful horses being targeted. It appears like a depiction of a paradise in the Western sense (Sanborn 179). Once the boys’ trip gets underway, it becomes evident that the attachment they have formed with their horses is something extraordinary. After it has been proved that the horse was stolen, Blevins strips to his underpants and renounces them to flee from lightning, and the horse is described as standing in the rain, symbolizing a beautiful figure.
There is simply everything off about a cowboy who does not have his horse or the other way around. There is a romantic notion in that they are dependent on one another. The horse and human relationship completes one another in a loving relationship (Hillier 96). Grady’s perspective is that horse and a man is one thing that cannot be separated. Grady alleged men to have similar compassion as those of horses despite not being wary of men’s ideal character in the vast world.
Furthermore, John is subjected to the realism of the violent world. So many of the experiences in which the boys become involved are resolved through violence or the possible danger of viciousness. As they swiftly discover, the real world is a brutal place. Similarly, as John Grady imagined on horseback of American Indians traversing the land, the farm that John Grady’s forefathers constructed was achievable through bloodshed. Furthermore, the violence seen by the youngsters in Mexico is used to exercise personal dominance. When Alejandra’s father wants to rid himself of John Grady, he has him imprisoned, where he may be murdered.
Similarly, the rogue Captain threatens the youngsters with violence to obtain cash. Naturally, he readily takes bribes money in return for assassinating Blevins, an act sanctioned by the Charro’s family. Even when there is no violence, its threat looms large over the plot. John Grady’s unsettling experience with the wax harvester seeking to purchase Blevins demonstrates how violence is always coiled and waiting to strike.
Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses depicts romantic and realistic life. The book has exacerbated John Grady’s life, a young adult trying to make it live by seeking a greener pasture by being a horseman. He has deep devotion toward horses as he views them as part of his life; he is romantic towards the horses and his dream lover Alejandra. Moreover, the real world has been catapulted by John’s atrocities that he experienced in the real world outside his ancestral home. He was innocent when he left his home, but the ideal world prompted him to be a man, and he became an adult and ventured into the world without fear.
Hillier, Russell M. A Knowing Deep in the Bone: Cowboy Stoicism and Tragic Heroism in All the Pretty Horses. Morality in Cormac McCarthy’s Fiction, pp. 95–126, 2017.
Jayaraj, S. Christopher, and L. Felicita Mary Praba. “Intensity of Pain and Implication of Suffering in the Border Trilogy of Cormac Mccarthy.” Think India Journal, vol. 22, no. 14, pp. 4142-4150, 2019.
McCarthy, C. All the Pretty Horses: Book 1 of The Border Trilogy. New York, NY: Vintage International, 2010.
Sanborn, Wallis R. Reconsidering Horses and Horsemanship in Blood Meridian and the Border Trilogy. The Cormac McCarthy Journal, vol. 19, no. 2, pp.178–202. Duke University Press, 2021.