What is the main conflict of the novel The Red Pony?

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The Red Pony is a coming of age story about ten-year-old Jody Tiflin. A major conflict in the novel is that between life and death.

In each of the four stories that comprise the text, Jody learns some new complex feature about the nature of death and its relation to...

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The Red Pony is a coming of age story about ten-year-old Jody Tiflin. A major conflict in the novel is that between life and death.

In each of the four stories that comprise the text, Jody learns some new complex feature about the nature of death and its relation to people or animals in his life. Most notably, in the first story, his horse, Gabilan, dies after being left in the rain one afternoon. No matter what his role model, farmhand Billy Buck, does to save Gabilan, it does not make a difference and the horse dies. In this story, Jody realizes that death inevitably comes to all things, even things you care for and love and even when people you trust lead you to believe otherwise. The inescapable, sometimes heartbreaking, force of death is therefore established early on, and the stories that follow build on this general awakening of Jody's to add layers and depth to the question of how to live.

The traveler Gitano and Jody's grandfather are each either old or dying, speak of faraway adventures that encourage Jody's sense of adventure, while his own father, Carl Tiflin, behaves with gruffness and loyalty to ranch life that Jody realizes he may not desire for himself. In each scenario, the tension between life—how to live with intention and meaning for yourself and death—the ever-present reality every creature one-day faces—infuses the story. Although the main character of The Red Pony is a child, the conflict in the text is deep and mature, dealing with one of the most philosophical questions: the nature of life and death.

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There are strong arguments to be made for two different kinds of central conflict in John Steinbeck’s novel. The Red Pony is primarily a coming-of-age story, chronicling the changes that the protagonist, Jody Tiflin, experiences. The primary conflict is internal: the person against himself. As a boy growing up on a ranch, Jody must learn how to handle his own responsibilities and how to accept difficult changes, such as death, over which he has no control. His relationships with the horses, in particular, help him gain insights into the actions and help him process the emotional weight of those difficulties. But another key part of the maturing that Steinbeck shows is Jody’s learning to develop his own values in regard to those of the adults in his life, including those of his parents.

The other type of conflict, therefore, is person versus person. As a young child, Jody totally accepts that his family’s way of life is normal, including all the rules and daily routines. One of the hardest things he must accept is that his father, Carl, is not perfect: both that his father’s authority is not absolute and that Carl may be cruel, not just stern. More generally, his interactions with the other adult men, especially his critical analysis of their foibles, are an aspect of the external conflict.

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The main conflicts of The Red Pony are man vs. nature and man vs. man.

An external conflict is struggle with an outside force.  The main external conflict in the story is man vs. nature.  Jody is a ten year old boy living on a ranch outside Salinas.  He has to battle nature constantly.  When he gets his first pony, it dies.  When the second one is born, the mother has to be killed.  Sadness and death haunts Jody everywhere.

When Jody first meets the pony, it bites him.

Its grey nose came close, sniffing loudly, and then the lips drew back and the strong teeth closed on Jody's fingers. The pony shook its head up and down and seemed to laugh with amusement. (ch 1, p. 9)

The man vs. nature conflict continues when the pony dies, and the second one’s mother dies.

Jody also experiences some internal conflicts.  Internal conflicts are struggles within a character.  Jody struggles with fear and pain.  He is trying to determine how he feels about the pony, and about the pony’s death.  He turns his pain inward and becomes sullen.

The first buzzard sat on the pony's head and its beak had just risen dripping with dark eye fluid. Jody plunged into the circle like a cat. (ch 1, p. 34)

The pain from seeing his pony die, and watching the mother of the second one die, is too much for Jody for a while.  It is part of growing up.  He does come to terms with it, but he is not the innocent youth he was before.

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