All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy is a quest story in which John Grady Cole trades his innocence for experience and finally finds the ‘paradise’ he has always been dreaming of. John Grady Cole does not value the same things as those whom he lives among. He does not understand why the world is changing and is unwilling to accept it. For a young character, it is surprising how unwilling John Grady Cole is to give up the past.
His refusal to be modernized causes him to run away from home to find a place where he belongs. A quest story has a structure to it, usually containing several defining moments that can be categorized as “Call to Adventure”, “Crossing the Threshold”, “Journey”, “The Final Ordeals” and “The Goal”. John Grady Cole’s future in Texas was taken from him, therefore he seeks one elsewhere. He knows that there is not future for him in Texas. He is called to discover his inner wildness. JGC listens to his conscious and seeks a cowboy lifestyle in Mexico answering his call to adventure and let his inner wildness run free. The Call to Adventure is the point in a person’s life when they are first given notice that everything is going to change.
In the opening scene of the book Cole says goodbye to his deceased grandfather, while Cole can physically see the reality of death he realizes that there is a difference between what appears to be and what really is. This is his “call” to find out the difference between his ideal world and reality. McCarthy writes, “The candle flame and the image of the candle flame caught in the pierglass twisted and righted when he entered the hall. Lastly he looked at the face so caved and drawn among the folds of funeral cloth, the yellow moustache, the eyelids paper thin.
That was not sleeping. That was not sleeping” (McCarthy, 3). John Grady Cole wants to be a Texan rancher, so he goes to a lawyer to try to save the ranch his mother is selling, however, the lawyer says that it is not possible. “Some things in this world can’t be helped, he said.
And I believe this is probably one of ’em” (McCarthy 18). This passage is important because it initiates Cole’s call and helps him realize that he lacks something in Texas, and he must venture out into the world to find what is missing. He tries to find some words of guidance from watching his mother’s play, but he does not find anything of value from it. It is obvious that John Grady seeks adventure, he attempts to find clues around him that will lead him to make sense of the world, but Texas does not offer him an answer, so he seeks the world elsewhere. He ventures out on his journey with an open mind, unprepared and not knowing what to expect. The point at which the character begins their adventure is referred to as Crossing the Threshold.
The adventure could be leading the way into a new realm in which rules and limits are not known or clarified. “They rode at once jaunty and circumspect like thieves newly loosed in that dark electric, like young thieves in a glowing orchard, loosely jacketed against the cold and ten thousand worlds for the choosing:” (McCarthy 30) At this point in the story Cole and Rawlins have just left the ranch in Texas and they sleep under the stars on the first night of their journey. Cole has left his life, his family, and his home. His mother has sold the ranch and his father is a hopeless old man. Essentially, they have stepped out of their known country out into the world. These two young men venture out with excitement. This adventure offers them unlimited opportunity. Cole and Rawlins have left their known world and approach the unknown world with caution.
They are ignorant about this new country and they are not prepared for the trails that Mexico will challenge them with. The Journey is a series of trials and tribulations that a character or characters must face to begin their transformation. It is in this that they discover there is a benign power everywhere supporting them. Through these trials, the hero transcends his personal past, his former way of knowing, and sees the change in himself.
“Ever’ dumb thing I ever done in my life there was a decision I made before that got me into it. It was never the dumb thing. It was always some choice I’d made before it.
” (McCarthy 79). When Rawlings states this he and JGC are riding deeper into Mexico on their adventure. They had encountered a young rider named Blevins who rides with them. The three riders ran into some Mexican men who wanted to buy Blevins. This presents Rawlins and Cole with an opportunity to ditch Blevins. Cole made the choice to wait for Blevins and not leave him behind, ultimately being a bad decision considering it later lead to situations that risked the lives of Cole and Rawlins.
Later in his adventure, Cole learns that the decision to stay with Blevins led him to great misfortune. At this point in his journey, Cole does not understand the consequences of other people’s decisions. After splitting from Blevins, the boys come across a ranch and work with the breaking horses. After Cole refuses to listen to Aunt Alfonsa’s warnings to stay away from Alejandra, Cole and Rawlins are identified and associated with Blevins and his crimes. The boys are casted out of the ranch that has acted as an oasis for them. They are taken to a jailhouse in a small town, leaving the ranch and exposing them to a whole new side of Mexico. It tests their ability to survive. In addition, John Grady Cole is separated from his love, Alejandra, which breaks his heart.
In the Final Ordeals, the boys are released from the Mexican jail. They believe that alfonsa paid for their bail. Rawlins decides to return back to Texas while Cole is determined to go back to the ranch. Cole has unfinished business in Mexico that he feels he must take care of before returning to Texas. If he left with Rawlins his quest would not have been complete. He requires closure with both Alejandra and Alfonsa. Rawlins and Cole discuss their separation, “You’re going back down there, ain’t you? Said Rawlins.
Yeah. I guess I am. On account of the girl? Yeah. What about the horses? The girl and the horses… Don’t go down there, he said. I done made up my mind… There’s only one kind of deal I can see that she could of made with the old woman. I know.
But she’s going to have to tell me herself. If she does will you come back? I’ll come back. All right. I still want the horses” (McCarthy 211-212). John Grady Cole shortly returns to Texas, visiting his hometown. He drops off Rawlins’ horse, and heads out into a red sunset with his horse. In the final image, McCarthy plays off the picturesque scene of a cowboy riding into the sunset.
Cole feels the unity of the horse and rider as one single being, riding out into his one world. He has discovered his one world, and it took him experiencing an unknown world to reassure that his passion is for horses. John Grady Cole does not regret the past because he knows that his misfortunes gave him his new conscious. He now has freedom to live, thanks to his new capability to understand fate. McCarthy writes, “He rode with the sun coppering his face and the red wind blowing out of the west across the evening land and the small desert birds blew chittering among the dry bracken and horse and rider and hose and passed on and their long shadows passed in tandem like the shadow of a single being. Passed and paled into the darkening land, the world to come” (McCarthy 302). Throughout the story, John Grady Cole endures two different journeys.
The first is the obvious, physical journey from Texas to Mexico and all the stops he makes along the way. The second is his emotional journey. This is how the reader really observes growth of his character over time. John Grady Cole learns that his passion for horses is pure and rare. He decides he must embrace his desire for freedom and leave the changing society for the cowboy lifestyle.
His journey and the way he carries himself could lead the reader to forget about his young age. John Grady Cole created his own identity throughout his journey. McCarthy, Cormac. All the Pretty Horses. Vol. 1, Vintage International, 1993.