The Characters (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
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...
(The entire section is 626 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
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, 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, Jody’s mother, a sensitive and...
(The entire section is 491 words.)
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 father, Carl, his mother, Ruth, and the hired hand, a middle-aged cowboy named Billy Buck. From time to time they are visited by Jody's grandfather, a venerable old man who led one of the first wagon trains to California.
"The Gift," the first story in the sequence, concerns Jody's red pony, which he names Gabilan after the nearby mountain range. The pony soon becomes a symbol of the boy's growing maturity and his developing knowledge of the natural world. Later he carelessly leaves the pony out in the rain, and it takes cold and dies despite Billy Buck's efforts to save it. Thus Jody learns of nature's cruel indifference to human wishes.
In the second section, "The Great Mountains," the Tiflin ranch is visited by a former resident, Gitano, an aged Mexican-American laborer raised in a hacienda that is no longer standing. Old Gitano has come home to die. Carl persuades Ruth that they cannot take Old Gitano in, but their dialogue proves pointless. Stealing a broken-down nag significantly named Easter, the old man rides off into the mountains to die in dignity. Again, Jody discovers some of the complex, harsh reality of adult life.
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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 Jody's red pony. Unfortunately, the pony becomes very sick, and Billy cannot save him. Billy feels very bad about having made a promise that he could not keep.
When one of the mares becomes impregnated, Billy knows better than to promise anything to Jody. He tells Jody that he will do his best to give him a healthy colt but that there are no guarantees. In order to deliver the colt, however, Billy must kill the mother, for the colt is turned the wrong way in her womb.
Billy's character is in stark contrast to Carl Tiflin's. Billy is more sensitive, more compassionate, less harsh, and more understanding. He listens to Billy, and he also listens to Grandfather's stories, just as he always listened to them. He is much more sensitive toward Gitano, who has worked hard all his life and, according to Billy, deserves time to rest.
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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 so good. His saving grace is his sensitivity in knowing to bring home one of the most thrilling gifts he could give his son. However, after bringing home the red pony, Carl has very little to do with helping Jody raise the pony. Likewise, Carl knows that after the pony dies, he needs to replace it with something else. He offers Jody another try at raising a colt by having his mare impregnated. However, once again, it is Billy, not Carl, who helps Jody through the whole ordeal.
Carl is not very sympathetic when Gitano shows up at the ranch. He does not have any empathy for the old man, not even as much empathy as he has for his old horse Easter. When Gitano takes the horse into the mountains, Carl assumes that Gitano has stolen him. He has no awareness that Gitano has gone into the mountains to kill the horse and then to kill himself.
Carl's worst side appears in the last story when his father-in-law comes to visit. Carl is totally incapable of showing the old man any respect. He is bored with his stories and lets everyone, including his father-in-law, know it. Through his crudeness, his father-in-law's spirit is broken.
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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 responsible for animals and to experience the pain of losing an animal to death, and he begins to show signs of maturing into a man.
Jody is often quiet and shy, but he soaks in all the conversations and emotions that are around him. He painfully watches his red pony grow more and more ill. In the end, he also finds his pony on top of the hill, having run away to die. He sees the buzzards come down and begin to consume the dead pony.
Later he watches his mare and a neighbor's stallion mate and then patiently awaits the new colt. The arrival of the colt is traumatic due to complications, and the mare must be killed. Jody learns about the cycles of death and birth through witnessing the lives of the animals around him.
It is not just the animals that teach him, though. Jody is very aware of Gitano's impending death, more so than anyone else around him. He is a curious boy and has deep insights into the emotions of those around him. When he sees Gitano's sword, he senses that he must keep a secret. When he hears that Gitano has gone up into the mountains, he knows why Gitano has gone there. Likewise, Jody is also very sensitive to his grandfather's feelings. He knows that his father has broken his grandfather's spirit, and Jody tries to repair it.
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Gitano is an old man who comes back to the Tiflins' ranch to die. It was on this same property that he and his father were born. It is not explained how they lost their property, but Gitano insists that he is staying there until he dies.
Gitano is told that he is not welcome on the property, and because he does not have any other place that he wants to go, early in the morning he disappears with the old horse Easter and a sword that his father had left him.
Mrs. Tiflin's father comes to visit his daughter and her family. He is a proud man whose time has passed. He has nothing to look forward to, and so he lives in the past. The highlight of his life occurred while he led pioneers across the Plains into California. Once he reached the ocean, he had nowhere else to go. Since that time he has been angry at the ocean for having stopped him. To give himself a sense of worth, he constantly repeats his stories. He does not understand that other people do not get the same feelings that he gets in retelling them. His spirit is broken when his son-in-law tells him, indirectly, that he is tired of hearing the same stories over and over again.
Jess Taylor is the neighbor who owns the stallion that eventually impregnates Jody's mare. He rescues Jody when the stallion breaks loose to get to the mare that Jody is leading up the long driveway. Jess...
(The entire section is 344 words.)