The death of John Grady Cole's grandfather doesn't just open a new chapter in his life, it also represents the passing of the Old West. When John's grandfather first built his one-room hovel on the site of the ranch back in 1866, things were a whole lot different. This was a time in American history depicted—and largely romanticized—in countless books, songs, movies, and TV shows. But the Old West, with all its old ways, has changed. Ranching is no longer a profitable business in this neck of the woods. Like just about every other kind of business, it's become increasingly concentrated in relatively few hands, leaving the little guy to get squeezed out.
This crucial stage in John's life doesn't just represent the end of an historical era but also a mythical one. The death of John's grandfather is the death of the American cowboy, that great legendary figure which has captured the imagination of millions of Americans since the late 19th century.