(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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 ailing old Chicano who was born on the Tiflin ranch before they owned it, walks onto the property...

(The entire section is 638 words.)