The Summer of the Beautiful White Horse

by William Saroyan

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Most important of all, though, we were famous for our honesty. We had been famous for our honesty for something like eleven centuries, even when we had been the wealthiest family in what we liked to think was the world. We were proud first, honest next, and after that we believed in right and wrong. None of us would take advantage of anybody in the world, let alone steal.

Consequently . . . I couldn’t believe the horse had anything to do with my cousin Mourad or with me or with any of the other members of our family, asleep or awake, because I knew my cousin Mourad couldn’t have bought the horse, and if he couldn’t have bought it he must have stolen it, and I refused to believe he had stolen it.

Aram and his cousin Mourad come from the Garoghlanian family, a poor yet honest Armenian family in the San Joaquin Valley in California. These characteristics, in the context of the horse Mourad is riding, are contradictory, as the Garoghlanians are too poor to afford a horse yet too honest to steal one. This contradiction forms the conflict of the plot: Aram and Mourad are caught between their desire to keep and ride a horse that they could never afford and the honesty that the members of their family are supposed to exhibit. 

Well, it seemed to me stealing a horse for a ride was not the same thing as stealing something else, such as money. For all I knew, maybe it wasn’t stealing at all. If you were crazy about horses the way my cousin Mourad and I were, it wasn’t stealing. It wouldn’t become stealing until we offered to sell the horse, which of course I knew we would never do.

Aram finds a way to justify Mourad’s actions because of his own desire to ride the horse. Throughout the story, Aram continues to make justifications like this for his cousin’s behavior. Though he discovers that Mourad has already had the horse a month, Aram expresses his desire to keep it for a year so that he can learn to ride it like Mourad. They decide to keep it for six months before returning it. This still isn’t stealing, according to Mourad (though keeping it for a year would be, he implies).

I could swear [this horse] is the horse that was stolen from me many weeks ago. May I look into its mouth?

Of course, Mourad said.

The farmer looked into the mouth of the horse.

Tooth for tooth, he said. I would swear it is my horse if I didn’t know your parents. The fame of your family for honesty is well known to me. Yet the horse is the twin of my horse. A suspicious man would believe his eyes instead of his heart. Good day, my young friends.

When John Byro, the horse’s real owner, meets the boys on the road, he is surprised as he examines the white horse. He sees that it looks the same as the one he lost; even its teeth are the same. Yet he refuses to believe the boys stole the horse because of the reputation their family has for honesty. Whether he knows the boys stole the horse from him or not, he goes on his way, pointing to the honesty of their family and filling the boys with guilt. Ultimately the boys return the horse and help maintain their family’s reputation, feeling that the right thing to do is to maintain their honor and that of their family.

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