What is the theme of William Saroyan's "The Summer of the Beautiful White Horse"?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the themes of Saryoan's short story is the idea of redemption through actions.  There is little doubt that Aram and Mourad did wrong by taking the horse.  However, one of the most compelling elements of the story is that John Byro, the horse's owner, does not seek vengeance or extreme retribution for the actions.  He understands that the boys understand that they should be accountable for their actions.  In fact, the boys' taking of the horse results in the horse being better trained and also in greater conditioning.  The redemptive powers of forgiveness, understanding, and community are themes that are enhanced through the short story.

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beateach | Elementary School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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One of the major themes of “The Summer of the Beautiful White Horse” by William Saroyan is honor. The young boy, Aram, explains the underlying philosophies of his large extended family. Although they were poor, they had pride and morals. When his cousin, Mourad, appears at his window in the early morning light, Aram has to justify the horse his cousin has in tow.

We were proud first, honest next, and after that we believed in right and wrong. None of us would take advantage of anybody in the world, let alone steal.

Mourad, who is considered to be “crazy” by his clan, has an uncanny way with animals. He relates to them with caring and understanding. As a result, when he takes the horse, it is well exercised and thrives. In his mind, he is not stealing the horse, he is caring for it.

John Byro, the horse’s rightful owner, has a suspicion about the boys having the horse and pays a visit to Aram’s home. He was a lonely man who befriended the family. He understands their virtuous, honorable existence, but also knows the boys have his horse. He hints to the adults but does not accuse the boys of stealing. When Byro and the boys run into each other, the boys have the horse. Byro knowingly examines the horse but does not accuse the boys of stealing it. He allows the boys to return the horse without asking any questions.

Early the following morning we took the horse to John Byro's vineyard and put it in the barn. The dogs followed us around without making a sound.

The dogs, I whispered to my cousin Mourad. I thought they would bark.

They would at somebody else, he said. I have a way with dogs.

Again, Byro visits Aram’s house, this time with his horse pulling his surrey. His actions allow the boys to maintain their honor. John Byro appreciates the horse being a healthy specimen when he is returned. 

I do not know what to think, he said. The horse is stronger than ever. Better-tempered, too. I thank God.

The boys learned a lesson in respect and John Byro is able to maintain his friendship with the family. 


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