Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Ortiz makes effective use of the first-person point of view in this story. His style is appropriate to the young boy whose experience is the subject, and who, like Ortiz himself, is an Acoma Indian. His diction is simple, his sentences short and clear. However, within these restrictions Ortiz creates subtle and perceptive effects, as in the following passage: “Gilly was pretty silent, and I knew he was either crying or about to. I tried to take a sneak look, but I knew he’d notice and be angry with me, so I didn’t.” The diction in phrases such as “pretty silent” and “take a sneak look” is simple, but the insight that a “man” must ignore the tears of another “man” in order to allow the other to preserve his façade of manliness is deftly presented.

Because much of the meaning of the story lies beyond the limited understanding of the inexperienced narrator, it must be implied. Therefore, Ortiz carefully establishes structural parallels and contrasts to suggest those meanings that lie beyond his narrator’s ability to verbalize. By using such a narrator, Ortiz involves the reader in the process of understanding the events of the narration, and the fact that the characters are Native Americans does not, in this story, constitute any obstacle to that understanding. The characters and events are universal and thereby emphasize commonalities rather than the differences that are often emphasized in fiction by Native American writers.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Ortiz was born and raised in the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico, about 65 miles west of Albuquerque. For centuries, the Acoma Pueblo existed at the top of a mesa, 7000 feet above sea level, in what is now referred to as “Sky City.” The Acoma people first came to the attention of Europeans in 1598, when the Spanish governor of New Mexico, Juan de Onate, sent troops to conquer the indigenous people of the area. Because of their location at the top of the mesa, the Acoma were able to hold off against the Spanish for a while, but a returning force the following year wiped out much of the population and burned many of the buildings. A truce with the Spanish was achieved in 1628, when the construction of the Catholic San Esteban del Rey mission was begun in Sky City. The church, a national landmark, remains to this day, making it the oldest Spanish mission in the United States.

As of 2005, only about fifty members of the Acoma tribe live at the ancestral location in Sky City, on top of the mesa. The rest live in the surrounding areas and only go to Sky City on holidays. The Acoma reservation consists of 378,114 acres around Sky City: the tribe owns most of that area, with 320 acres owned by individual tribal members.

Commerce has never been easy for the Acoma, since they are situated in the desert with just the barest hope of sustainable agriculture. Starting in the early 1900s, the chief commercial enterprise has been the tourist trade. For one...

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Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)


One aspect that is particularly notable about “The End of Old Horse” is the story’s lack of a general conflict. There are times when tension is raised, as when the narrator accuses Tony of being negligent and Tony shoves him or when Gilly curses at the family supper table and readers expect trouble to ensue. None of these problems develop into conflict, however: the story cannot be said to be “about” the conflict between Tony and the narrator or Gilly and his parents. Instead, Ortiz uses these tense moments to hold the reader’s interest while pursuing a larger, less explicitly defined idea. The story is more about the characters’ attitudes than it is about their interactions with each other: if one were intent on defining it in terms of conflict, it would be more accurate to say that it is about a series of internal conflicts.


Describing what the boys do at the creek, the narrator gives more attention to Gilly scrubbing his jeans than he does to their fishing project, which is supposedly their reason for being there. He mentions the mud on Gilly’s jeans several times over the course of three paragraphs then returns to the matter again when they arrive home. The mud is given almost as much focus as the obscene language that Gilly uses, and, in fact, can be seen as a symbol of Gilly’s language: he fears his parents’ reaction to seeing his Levis muddied just as much as...

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Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1970s: The Indian unemployment rate is 10 times the national average, and 40 percent of the Native-American population live below the poverty line.

Today: Half the total Native-American workforce remains unemployed, and nearly one-third live in poverty compared to 13 percent of the total U.S. population.

1970s: Native-American life expectancy is just 44 years, a third less than that of the average American.

Today: Life expectancy for Native Americans remains virtually unchanged.

1970s: The American Indian Movement leads urban Indians, traditionalists, and young Indians along the “Trail of Broken Treaties’’ to Washington, D.C., seizes the offices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., and occupies them for a week in order to dramatize Indian grievances.

Today: Most Native Americans maintain an uneasy relationship with the BIA, which is responsible for managing Indian affairs, claiming that the BIA restricts their freedom and continues to demonstrate a paternalistic attitude towards Native Americans.

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Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Research the newest technological restraining devices for dogs, and explain why they are safe.

The narrator mentions gathering good presents at the tribe’s “Grab Days” festivity. Research Grab Days and their significance to Indian culture.

The obscenities that Gilly uses in this story are mild compared to things that are considered acceptable for television in the early 2000s. Do you think that his language is obscene if he thinks it is? Explain what you think the rules should be for standards of obscenity.

Tony performs the function of a big brother to the boys in this story. Look through other stories that you have read for similar big brother figures, and compare them to Ortiz’s portrait of Tony.

Ortiz is strongly associated with his Acoma heritage. Explore what religious significance the Pueblo Indians give to dogs and animals in general. Then decide what lasting effect the death of Old Horse may have on Gilly and his brother.

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Media Adaptations

(Short Stories for Students)

Ortiz discusses American Indian identity in literature with David Barsamian in an interview titled Simon Ortiz, available on audiocassette from Pacifica Radio Archives, 1986.

Ortiz and five other writers from the American southwest are included on Voices of the Southwest, 2003, a six-disc recording of a conference that took place at University of New Mexico from June 9 to July 24, 2003. The recording is available from University of New Mexico Press.

Ortiz’s home page at is rich with information about his life and his writings.

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What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Ortiz’s short story “To Change in a Good Way” is about a suburban Indian man coping with the death of his youngest brother. The story is included in Growing Up Ethnic in America, a collection of contemporary fiction, edited by Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Jennifer Gillan.

Ortiz is just one of fourteen writers included in Writing the Southwest by David King Dunaway. The book profiles each writer with a brief biography, bibliography, interview, and sample works.

Leslie Marmon Silko is a writer from the Laguna Pueblo, born and raised in Albuquerque, not far from Ortiz’s home territory. Her collection Storyteller is considered groundbreaking for the way that its pieces weave poetry,...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)


Pifer, Matt, Review of Men on the Moon: Collected Short Stories, in World Literature Today, Vol. 74, No. 1, Winter 2000, pp. 215–16.

Review of Men on the Moon: Collected Short Stories, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 246, No. 32, August 9, 1999, p. 345.


Bruchac, Joseph, “The Story Never Ends: An Interview with Simon Oritz,” in Survival This Way, University of Arizona Press, 1987, pp. 211–29.

Bruchac focuses on the tension between tradition and Western culture in Ortiz’s work.

Ortiz, Simon J., “The Historical Matrix towards a National Indian Literature: Cultural...

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