Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
These stories present a young boy’s entrance into maturity through his encounters with life’s harsh realities. Death, disappointment, and the world’s stubborn refusal to conform to human ideals break down Jody’s childlike certitudes. Yet, though Jody at times is callous or bitter because of these experiences, he ultimately realizes that life holds both disappointment and promise and that acceptance of life with endurance and sympathy is the way of maturity.
In the first story, “The Gift,” Mr. Tiflin presents Jody with a red pony which Jody names after the Gabilan Mountains near his home. The pony quickly becomes his chief joy and responsibility, and under Billy Buck’s guidance, he prepares Gabilan to be ridden. As the horse is nearing the completion of his training, however, he is caught out in the rain on a day Billy had promised Jody it would not rain. Gabilan catches cold and, despite Billy Buck’s constant attention, dies. As Jody watches buzzards descend on Gabilan’s body, he kills one of them out of frustration.
Jody’s next encounter with the harsh realities of nature occurs in “The Great Mountains,” when an old Chicano named Gitano walks onto the Tiflin ranch on his way to the western mountains where he was born and asks to stay at the Tiflins’ until it is time for him to die. Mr. Tiflin refuses to grant his request, and Gitano rides off the next morning on an old horse called Easter, but not before Jody sees...
(The entire section is 589 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Steinbeck, in Baja California in 1937, let it be known that he was writing a children’s book, referring to what was to grow into The Red Pony. The first three of the four interconnected stories that make up The Red Pony were published in The Long Valley (1938). In 1945, Steinbeck added the final story, “The Leader of the People,” to make the collection long enough to be published as a separate entity. The novella is not a children’s book in the conventional sense; it is more accurately described as a Bildungsroman, a book that chronicles the education of a boy growing to manhood.
Jody Tiflin is about eleven years old. Although living on his parents’ farm in the warm Salinas Valley provides him with an idyllic childhood, he learns some harsh lessons in life. Jody’s first disillusionment comes in “The Gift,” when the horse he has been given—the fulfillment of any boy’s dream—is drenched in a rainstorm that Billy Buck, the family’s farmhand, has assured the boy will not come. The horse, Gabilan, catches cold and, despite all efforts to save it, dies. Billy Buck, who had been Jody’s hero, is now diminished in his eyes, first because he promised fair weather when Jody took the horse out and then because Billy could not save the stricken animal.
Jody comes face-to-face with a second harsh reality relating to death in “The Great Mountains,” the second story in the cycle. Gitano, an...
(The entire section is 638 words.)
Section 1 Summary
The story begins with a long description, focused on everyone who lives on the ranch getting up in the early morning. First to appear is Billy Buck, the only help on the ranch, who is presented as a very meticulous man, who rises from his bed in the bunkhouse. When he hears Mrs. Tiflin ringing the triangle, he walks slowly toward the house, not entering until he hears the sounds of Mr. Tiflin's boots on the kitchen floor. It would be impolite for him to sit down at the breakfast table before Mr. Tiflin, his boss.
Jody Tiflin, the young protagonist of the story, is the last one to get out of bed. He is portrayed as an obedient and somewhat shy son. Jody's father, Carl Tiflin, is described as stern. He is a man of few words. Jody does not bother to ask his father where he is going that morning, but because his father has boots on, Jody knows that his father and Billy will be riding their horses somewhere that day. Later, when he watches his father and Billy round up a bunch of old milk cows, Jody knows that they are driving the cattle to the butcher's.
Jody spends most of his day alone, playing with his dogs, wandering around the ranch. As he roams the land, he senses change in the air. He also notices two big black buzzards, a sure portent of death.
Mrs. Tiflin is always busy in the kitchen, cooking, cleaning, guiding Jody through his chores. When Jody's chores are finished, he heads outside with a...
(The entire section is 395 words.)
Section 2 Summary
The Great Mountains
This section begins with Jody in a foul mood. He's looking for trouble and does not stop until he has killed a bird with his slingshot. He does not appear remorseful about the death and only hides the evidence because he does not want "older people" to find out what he has done. He knows they would not approve.
Jody stares at the mountain range in the distance and wonders who lives there. He asks his mother and father and Billy, but no one can tell him much about what exists in the far ranges. As Jody makes up stories in his head about who might live there, he notices the figure of a man walking toward the ranch. It turns out to be an old man, who tells Jody that his name is Gitano. The man has come back to his home to die. Gitano used to live on the same property where the Tiflins now live. As a matter of fact, Gitano's family claim to this land goes far back into history.
Mrs. Tiflin is surprised by the appearance of this old man. She remembers the old adobe house that used to exist on the property, but she knows nothing of this man or his family. Soon Mr. Tiflin and Billy come to Mrs. Tiflin's rescue and tell the man that he cannot stay there. There is no work available, and Mr. Tiflin cannot afford to feed anyone else. He does, however, invite Gitano to stay for dinner, sleep overnight in the bunkhouse, and have breakfast with them in the morning. That is the best he can do. Gitano accepts. Jody...
(The entire section is 529 words.)
Section 3 Summary
Carl's father decides to give Jody another chance at having a pony. He makes arrangements for one of his mares to be mated. Jody must take the horse to a neighbor, who owns a stallion. Just before arriving at the neighbor's, the stallion sees Jody bringing the mare and breaks free as Jody is walking the mare up the road. Jody hides, as the stallion is very big and acting strangely. He watches the two horses and fears that the stallion will kill his mare. Jess Taylor, the owner of the stallion, tries to convince Jody to go away, but Jody insists on watching the mating.
Much later, Jody becomes impatient while waiting for signs that his mare has been impregnated. Billy warns him that it will take a long time before they will see any signs. Jody asks a lot of questions of what it will be like to watch the birthing, and Billy explains a lot of the details. After they talk, Jody asks, "Billy, you won't let anything happen to the colt, will you?" Billy knows that Jody blames him for the loss of the red pony and tries to assure Jody that everything will be all right, but he says he cannot promise anything.
A year passes, and Jody almost gives up hope. One morning, his mother shows Jody how to make a warm mash for the mare. This signals that the mare is showing signs of pregnancy. From then on, Jody is ever watchful of the mare as she goes through her changes, growing wider with every day. When the time comes, Jody...
(The entire section is 430 words.)
Section 4 Summary
The Leader of the People
Mrs. Tiflin receives a letter from her father stating that he will be visiting her soon. When Carl finds out that his father-in-law is coming, he immediately begins complaining. When Mrs. Tiflin asks what it is about her father that irritates him so, Carl states that he talks too much. Mrs. Tiflin tells Carl that he talks a lot, too, but Carl says that the real problem with his father-in-law is that he only talks about one thing. At this point, Jody breaks into the conversation with "Indians and crossing the plains!" These are the two topics that Mrs. Tiflin's father continually refers to. He craves telling stories about how he led a caravan of people across the plains and how they had to deal with the Native-American populations that they encountered. Carl is tired of the stories because he has heard them so many times.
When Grandfather finally arrives, every topic that someone else brings up seems to remind him of a story from his past. Soon, he is lost, recounting his own history and his adventures, telling stories that they all know by heart. Carl is the most impatient and most rude, interrupting his father-in-law, telling him that he'd already heard that story. Jody, contrary to his father, encourages his grandfather to tell more stories.
In the morning, everyone sits down at the breakfast table and wonders where Grandfather is. Mrs. Tiflin assures them that Grandfather will be coming soon....
(The entire section is 508 words.)