Study Guide

The Red Pony

by John Steinbeck

The Red Pony Characters

The Characters (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Jody Tiflin is the main character of the story, and because its main theme is his education, he is largely a passive figure observing events rather than directing them. In the first stories, Jody is described as a “little boy” who is slightly punier than his playmates. His life is regulated almost entirely by his stern father and doting mother, and he readily acquiesces in this, since he cannot imagine anything different. The pony Gabilan is his first real responsibility and a sign that he is leaving childhood, but the pony’s death embitters him. This loss of innocence is a fallen state in which he kills or annoys helpless animals, fears but no longer respects adult authority, and regards maturity as the ability to swear.

Yet Jody’s disappointments also cause him to speculate on the world outside his own meager experience. When he sees Gitano’s sword, he realizes that he must tell no one about it, because to do so would destroy the sword’s peculiar truth; thus, Jody makes an important moral decision. In his grandfather, Jody sees that one whom he has idolized has also been disappointed by life and learns the value of sympathy. In his last action, making a lemonade, he becomes a mature and active character, who sees life without glorifying illusions.

Jody’s grandfather and Gitano have a similar function in The Red Pony: as representations of human frailty and transcendence. Both are very old men, yet they maintain strength and dignity because they carry on a tradition: Gitano, with his...

(The entire section is 626 words.)

The Red Pony Characters Discussed (Great Characters in Literature)

Jody Tiflin

Jody Tiflin, a young boy (ages ten through twelve over the four stories) growing up on an isolated California ranch. He is a normal kid—dreamy, sometimes irresponsible, and not above childish pranks—who loves the other members of his ranch family and learns something from each of them in the different stories of this novella: practical sense from his father, sensitivity from his mother, courage and caring from ranch hand Billy Buck, and a feeling for the past from his grandfather. Jody is at the center of each story. It is his red pony, Gabilan, that is “The Gift” that dies in the first story. In the second, Jody learns about life and death from Gitano, who returns to the ranch to die; in the third, Jody watches as Billy Buck saves Nellie’s colt but has to kill the mare to do it; and in the last story, Jody learns from Grandfather’s stories of “westering” in the nineteenth century about the importance of human history and human kindness.

Carl Tiflin

Carl Tiflin, Jody’s tall, stern father, who runs their Salinas Valley ranch. Carl is a disciplinarian who can be mean and cruel and who does not like to see weakness in others. A large part of his character clearly has been formed by the harsh environment that he is trying to control, yet he is not totally insensitive to Jody’s problems and growth.

Mrs. Tiflin

Mrs. Tiflin, Jody’s mother, a sensitive and...

(The entire section is 491 words.)

The Red Pony Characters

All four stories involve the maturation of Jody Tiflin, a boy of about ten when the action opens. He lives on his family's ranch with his...

(The entire section is 221 words.)

The Red Pony Character Analysis

Billy Buck

Billy Buck is the ranch hand who is known for his gentle understanding of horses. He promises, at one point, that nothing will happen to...

(The entire section is 173 words.)

Carl Tiflin

Carl Tiflin has very little about him that is likeable. He is a hard worker, and he recognizes that his son deserves to be rewarded for being...

(The entire section is 232 words.)

Jody Tiflin

Jody is the young boy on whom the stories in this novel focus. The stories follow a rite of passage for Jody as he learns how to be...

(The entire section is 263 words.)

Other Characters

Gitano
Gitano is an old man who comes back to the Tiflins' ranch to die. It was on this same property that he and his...

(The entire section is 344 words.)