The Summer of the Beautiful White Horse

by William Saroyan

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Last Updated November 3, 2023.

“The Summer of the Beautiful White Horse,” by acclaimed Armenian American writer William Saroyan, was first published in Saroyan’s short story collection My Name Is Aram in 1940. The stories in the collection trace the coming of age of Aram Garoghlanian, an Armenian American boy growing up in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

In “The Summer of the Beautiful White Horse,” the first story in the collection, William Saroyan tells the story of Aram and his cousin Mourad, who both dream of riding a horse. When the opportunity arises to do so, however, it is under morally ambiguous circumstances. Mourad shows up at Aram’s house early in the morning riding a beautiful white horse and offers him a ride. Though he knows Mourad stole the horse, Aram lets his desire to ride the horse override his reason and makes justifications for why they aren’t technically stealing. Aram admires his older cousin Mourad, though he is aware that Mourad has a reputation for being “crazy.” Aram longs to be able to ride the white horse as his older cousin does, which leads him to ask Mourad to keep the horse long enough for him to learn to ride it.

Mourad’s irrational nature is emphasized through both his resemblance in spirit to his “crazy” uncle Khosrove and his connections with nature: he is said repeatedly to “have a way with” animals, whether horses, birds, or dogs. Like these animals, Mourad tends to rely on feelings and impulses as opposed to reason. Though Aram does not “have a way with” animals, as exemplified by his inability to ride the horse by himself, he is drawn into Mourad’s reliance on feeling instead of rationality.

The cousins come from a life of extreme poverty, and Aram has dreamed of riding a horse all his life. They allow their desire to ride the horse to cloud their judgment: though Mourad has had the horse for a full month and its owner needs it, they don’t consider themselves to be stealing. Knowing that they must remain honest because of their family’s reputation, they justify their actions through faulty logic. Aram and Mourad’s actions are repeatedly shaped by beliefs that seem absurd to the reader: Aram, for example, believes that they are only stealing if they try to sell the horse, and Mourad believes that keeping the horse for a year is stealing, while keeping it for six months is permissible.

Saroyan emphasizes the importance of character and community harmony through the attitude and actions of John Byro, the horse’s real owner. The Garoghlanian family’s honest reputation saves the boys in the end: whether he knows the boys have stolen his horse or not, Byro doesn’t force them to return it by taking the case up with their parents and instead gives them the opportunity to make the decision themselves. Though they initially misstepped and “borrowed” the horse for many weeks, the boys feel guilty when Byro expresses his faith in them. They ultimately prove the Garoghlanian honesty to be true and return the horse.

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