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The novel begins with Johns as a child with unhappiness and disappointment with his life in San Angelo; his girlfriend, Mary Catherine, left him for an older man with a car, his mother is selling their ranch and his grandfather has just passed away. Feeling upset and disappointed with his life he decides to go on a journey with his best friend Rawlins. "Some things in this world just can't be helped." McCarthy 18. This quote is said to John when he tries to convince his mom into not selling the ranch. As a kid he wants to help but his mom doesn't believe in him. This pushes John into leaving his home to begin his journey which during he hopes to find his inner self. There is nothing left for him in Texas except a dying father. All he wants to find is a ranch life with horses. John plans to leave for Mexico where a cowboy lifestyle can still be attained. When John tells his best friend Rawlins "I'm already gone" McCarthy 27, it cements his choice to leave for Mexico to find happiness. John begins to find happiness in the freedom to roam the country and travel wherever he chooses. However, in order to enter Mexico, the boys must wade through the Rio Grande, baptizing themselves for the new country. Their crossing of the Rio Grande gives John the ability to become anyone he chooses and start a new journey in which he can become who he wants to be.
John Grady also finds sweet joy and bitter disappointment with his Shakespearean romance with Alejandra. Their romance begins on her father's ranch where John is employed. They share a similar interest in horses and feel completely comfortable with each other, however when her father finds out about their relationship he allows the police to take Rawlins and John Grady Cole away. While imprisoned John uses every happy memory except Alejandra to keep him sane. He saves her memories because he knows there will be a time when only she can save him. John says this quote about Alejandra "Real horse, real rider, real land and sky and yet a dream withal" McCarthy 189. This quote explains Johns love for Alejandra, for horses and for the land, all combine to form the foundation of his dreams he wants to make on his journey. The dreams are the dreams a true man and his desires, which is exactly what John is becoming. John Grady also attempts to keep Alejandra's memory, his greatest happiness, untarnished and whole so that he may hold on to those jovial days. When John is finally freed he sets out to find Alejandra and offer himself completely to her. However, their love cannot continue because Alejandra bartered their relationship in exchange for his release. She is forced to choose between romance with John or respect and her family's love. Alejandra chooses to keep her promise to her family and never see John Grady again. "She tells me I must be my own person and with every breath she tries to make me her person." McCarthy 251. John realizes that this up that they can never be together. It breaks John's heart and is one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the novel. In order to fully understand the sadness and heartbreak it takes to become a man, John must lose the one girl he truly ever loved. This signifies John's path into becoming a true man on his journey.
John Grady's and Rawlins Journey take a turn for the worst when they are imprisoned in Saltillo. Their constant day to day struggle to remain alive, weathers the boys. "There was no light in the room save what fell through the grate in the door and they stood holding their blankets waiting for their eyes to grade the darkness. The floor of the cell was concrete and the air smelled of excrement." This excerpt explains the pain and gloominess suffered by the boys in prison. It showed the dark and hard times we can encounter when were adults, which is alimentally what John is beginning to come on his journey. The boys encounter many things when they are imprisoned such as the assassin in jail. The assassin confronts John and he is forced to fight to stay alive. Where he sustains multiple injuries and ultimately ends up killing the boy. This sinful act haunts his mind for the rest of his life. It is the brutal reality of a cowboy's lifestyle that he had not anticipated. Although John is happy to be released, he cannot justify his actions to himself and he searches for someone to tell him it is okay. As a kid he feels he owes someone an explanation for his actions. Although his journey is transforming John into the man he went looking for he still has times when he feels like a kid, just like everyone does. During this time John also goes through another tragic and unfathomable event that changes him into the man he is becoming on his journey. He witnesses his friends Blevins execution. His inability to move past this event brings him constant unhappiness. "He thought that in the beauty of the world were hid a secret. He thought that the world's heart beat at some terrible cost and that the world's pain and its beauty moved in a relationship of diverging equity and that in this headlong deficit the blood of multitudes might ultimately be exacted for the vision of a single flower." McCarthy 282 John is finally starting to understand what he has just gone through on his journey. With his loss of innocence, John has lost his carefree joy. He feels that he will always have his friend's blood on his hands and a heavy conscious. This event changes the whole outcome of John's journey. He has become more than just a man. He suffers pain and heartache which makes him fully understands how grown adults deal and overcome them. By doing this John has truly found what he was looking for on his Journey, manhood.
Cormac McCarthy suggests that John's main focus on his journey was to become a man, and change from where he was at the beginning of the novel. Although happiness can be found in the prospect of a new life and a new love, it can be forsaken in sacrifice and survival. John Grady Cole's experiences taken on his journey make him into the man he wasn't. He was able to overcome obstacles of heartache which is what a true man will endeavor in life and overcome to become an even better man.