The Summer of the Beautiful White Horse

by William Saroyan

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The Summer of the Beautiful White Horse Themes

The two main themes in “The Summer of the Beautiful White Horse” are the conflict between feelings and reason, and the importance of character and reputation.

  • The conflict between feelings and reason: Throughout the short story, Aram and Mourad are caught between what they feel and what they know.
  • The importance of character and reputation: Though they live in extreme poverty, the Garoghlanians do not steal, valuing honesty over wealth and their reputation over whatever they might gain through stealing.


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Last Updated November 3, 2023.

The Conflict Between Feelings and Reason

Throughout the short story, Aram and Mourad are caught between what they feel and what they know. When Aram first sees Mourad riding the white horse, he knows that Mourad must have stolen it, as his family is too poor to afford a horse. Yet he feels that this cannot be the case, for his family is always honest. As Aram greatly desires to ride the horse, he begins to make justifications for why they are not stealing, knowing that he cannot go against his family’s honest reputation. Aram and Mourad continue to make decisions based on feelings rather than reason, such as when Mourad decides that keeping the horse for six months isn’t stealing, whereas keeping it a year would be.

When the boys meet John Byro near the end of the story, Byro refuses to accuse them of theft and decides to “believe with his eyes instead of his heart.” He chooses faith over reason and lets the boys go. The fact that Mourad tells Byro that the horse’s name is “My Heart” is symbolic: the boys justify their keeping and riding the horse with their hearts and not with reason. In the end, Byro’s comments to the boys prevent their desires from clouding their reasoning any longer, and they return the horse the next day.

The Importance of Character and Reputation

The Garoghlanians pride themselves on and are well known for their honesty. Though they live in extreme poverty, they do not steal, valuing honesty over wealth and their reputation over whatever they might gain through stealing. Aram says,

Most important of all . . . 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.

Aram and Mourad, for the most part, remain loyal to this reputation: while they do temporarily take a horse that doesn’t belong to them, they are unwilling to “steal” it outright, and they make justifications for their actions. When their guilt from John Byro’s comments about their family’s honest reputation causes them to rethink their justifications, they immediately return the horse, not willing to be labeled as thieves or to harm their family’s legacy.

In the end, the Garoghlanian family’s honesty saves Aram and Mourad. Byro observes that the horse they are riding looks exactly like his own, but he chooses to believe that it is not his horse based on the honest reputation of their family. Whether he knows the horse is his or not, Byro trusts the boys and does not go to their parents about the matter. Aram and Mourad’s honesty in returning the horse is rewarded; if Byro knew that they stole it, he doesn’t say so and instead remarks that his horse is better-tempered and healthier than ever. In a way, Byro’s own gentleness of character pays off too: he is slow to accuse the boys and trusts their integrity, and his horse is returned the very next day.

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