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All The Pretty Horses Themes

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1978 words Published: 17th Jul 2017

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Cormac McCarthy’s novel All the Pretty Horses is considered to be a national bestseller not only because it has won the National Book Award but also because the author could touch upon a number of themes which are really close to all the readers. Such themes as the themes of good and evil, and human nature are the most significant in our life. Moreover, Cormac McCarthy shows some kind of a conflict between a man and a woman, between the rich and the poor. My goal in this research paper is to analyze all the themes conveyed by the author in his novel All the Pretty Horses and to prove the fact that this novel is really “the greatest American novel” of 20th century .

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To achieve this goal, I have organized my essay into several sections, two of which have some sub-sections. In the first section of my essay, I am going to discuss the author’s style of writing which impressed both the readers and the literary critics. In the second section of may paper, I’d like to discuss the numerous themes using the contents of the book All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy. In conclusion of my essay, I’ll summarize the main points of my paper and express my personal opinion on the issue discussed in my essay. Now I’d like to turn to the first section of my paper.


Cormac McCarthy’s novel All the Pretty Horses, the first novel of his Border Trilogy, was published in 1992. All the readers were greatly impressed by his simple style of writing which was represented by the minimum use of punctuation, the absence of commas (in some places), dashes, semicolons, parenthesis, ellipses and quotation marks (especially in dialogues). The use of full stops is “a standard use of punctuation” in his novel. (Jarret) Most of the sentences are complex and long. In single sentences, the author describes numerous actions which are separated by a long chain of conjunctions. He minted a great deal of compound words which made his writing style unique. His prose represents a striking contemporary context both simple and “highly accomplished”. (Jarret) His style of writing is often compared with William Faulkner and Ernest Hammingway’s style. He became labeled “writer’s writer”. (Stephen) The author uses a lot of stylistic devises among which are various metaphors which make his speech vivid. Besides, Cormac McCarthy uses expressive imagery and different “philosophical asides” in order to develop the themes of his novel. (Bell)


It is interesting to know that Cormac McCarthy is trying to convey many themes in his novel All the Pretty Horses. I’d like to turn to most of them in my essay. Now some words about the main character John Grady Cole.

A sixteen year old John Grady Cole lived with his grandfather on a small ranch in Texas. After his grandfather’s death their ranch was signed to John Grady’s mother, but she decided to sell it. The father of the young man was seriously injured in the World War II and he did not offer any help to his son John. So, the young man had no future in Texas and decided to go to Mexico. His friend Lacely Rawlins accompanied him.

The Theme of Real Friendship. One of the main themes in this novel is the theme of good and evil. The main characters often run into both good and bad people. The “sacred violence” is shown throughout the novel. (Hall, Wallach) Of course, the best friends of them are the horses. What John Grady “loved in horses was what he loved in men, the blood and the heat of the blood that ran them”. (McCarthy) Let’s recall the situation when John saw his horse Redbo in a stable for the first time after his jailing, Redbo whinnied and was very happy to see John again.

As a matter of fact, the novel is focused on the horses. We can see how the characters of the novel catch and ride them, how they breed and rescue them. They not only talk about horses, they admire them and philosophize about them. Moreover, the horses are the main source which connects young people to nature. The horses represent a part of the beautiful landscape scenes which are described by the author in the best way. Also the horses help the main characters to escape from danger.

The Theme of Inevitable Evil. The theme of inevitable evil is also shown by the author in his novel. Cormac McCarthy said that “there is no such a thing as life without bloodshed” and he proves this fact in his literary work. There are many examples of rage display, one of them is the following situation. John Grady and his friend Rawlings came to the La Purisima ranch. The young men were treated ill. Alejandra decided to use John as a so-called pawn in her rebellion. Rocha let the police to arrest the young men. Alfonsa fought against John Grady in order to get rid of the rage which was connected with her past. The young men could not believe that the members of two communities took concerted actions. They were thrown into the prison and blamed in committing a crime. These angry people were unjust to young men who were so innocent and could not do anything against their aggression. Rawlings decided to return home because he could not cope with injustice of human nature. John Grady tried to appropriate the violence which was inflicted on him and he wanted to take vengeance. He decided to return to San Angelo with two the most vital things he had – “his horses and his pride”. (McCarthy)

The Theme of Coming of Age. The other theme which is shown by the author in his novel All the Pretty Horses is the theme of coming of age. Cormac McCarthy represents the life of young people who rebelled against their family and found their love. For John Grady love is the main thing in his “rite of passage”. In San Angelo he was a stranger: his mother was indifferent to him, his father was a miserable ill man whose life was completely ruined. However, at the end of the story, we can see that this young man John Grady has got all the qualities to be a true hero who can easily be a good father to Jimmy Blevins, a rather dangerous boy, a passionate lover to the young girl Alejandra, a real friend to Rawlins. The most significant thing is that John Grady did not lose his faith. We can see a clever and an experienced man when he leaves San Angelo at the end of the novel. He returns to Texas a changed man but there is no home, nobody is waiting for him: his father is dead, his childhood nurse is dead too.

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The Theme of Competing Moral Codes. The theme of competing morals is also touched by the author in the literary work. Cormac McCarthy shows us the character of John Grady in such situations when he meets those people who are immoral. He fells his love for Alejandra in the context of “right and wrong”, Duena Alfonsa, Alejandra’s god mother, thinks quite the contrary. She wants John to leave Alejandra alone because Don Hestor will never permit her to marry a poor American young man. The captain and Emilio Perez repudiate the idea of “tainted money”. Moreover, they jeer the young man’s opposition to pay for his way out of prison. It is clear that John Grady becomes a real hero not only due to his idealistic beliefs and his relation to life but also because he can give up his ideas in situations of restoring justice and saving life. For example, when Don Hestor asked John about his past, he did not tell him about Jimmy Blevins and the fact that he and his friend Lacey Rawlins may be on the wanted list for the horse theft. The other situation takes place in the prison where John and Rawlins were taken. The young men are terribly beaten and John sees that Rawlins is seriously injured. John Grady kills a prisoner who attacked him and understands that the evil lives inside him too. Another situation which shows the moral codes of our characters is the last John’s meeting with Alejandra. He loved her, he wanted to be with her. However, she changed her decision and chose her family approval and life in the rich house.

The Theme Of Love. Cormac McCarthy represents the theme of love through the relations of his main character John Grady Cole and a young beautiful girl Alejandra. Sometimes it seems that the author wanted to show the same story as William Shakespeare showed in his Romeo and Juliet. The young man John who was only 16 met a beautiful young girl Alejandra, the daughter of Rocha, at La Purisima hacienda where he and his friend Rawlins came to work as cowboys. The first time he saw her riding on a black Arabian horse and fell in love with her.

She also fell in love with this young man. She invited him and his friend to the party where she danced with John. John found her hands tender and “small” and her waist nice and “slight”. In spite of warnings of Donna Alfonsa who protected Alejandra the young man and the young girl started to have rides at night time together, they went swimming at the lake together. They became lovers. She came to his room every night for a period of nine nights and they were happy to make love. However, then she returned to Mexico. John wanted to be with her and he went to Mexico City and found her there. However, Alejandra had changed. She said that she was afraid of her father who wanted to kill John. She decided to say no to John, and for the last time they made love in the hotel and then parted never to meet again.

The Theme of Family Relations. Cormac McCarthy showed another important theme – the theme of family relations by the example of John Grady’s family. Such family relations affected his future and his character in a way. John’s mother left him when he was a baby. A Mexican woman took care of him and became his second mother. John’s father could not pay him attention because he was away taking part in the World War II but he taught him “to love horses”. John’s grandfather did not give the boy the parenting he wanted to get. The other character of the novel is Lacey Rawlins whose family was a poor one and he decided to escape and live alone. Jimmy Blevins, a small boy who was 13 years old, did not have a family at all. These young men needed family and were unhappy. Their unfortunate family relations had great influence on their emotional and psychological state.

The Theme of Nature. The author pays special attention to nature in his novel. The beauty of nature described in the book helps him to show the characters’ attitude to the earth, horses, wonderful landscapes, lakes and rivers and reveal the best qualities of their characters. John’s relationships with horses show the close connection between nature and all the human beings. He had a long journey which changed him as a man. He experiences love and cruelty, theft and killing, prison and the system of justice. In each situation nature helped him to survive.


In conclusion, I should say that Cormac McCarthy’s novel All the Pretty Horses is really a great literary work which can teach us to love nature, to love our country and our family. It shows us how to fight with injustice and how to survive. I think that all the themes the author conveyed in his novel are still actual for the present day life. The author could discover human nature in his novel by the examples of main characters and their attitude to horses as a part of nature.


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