All the Pretty Horses

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The captain Character Analysis

A Mexican official of ambiguous authority, he is brutal and unforgiving. After being laughed at as a boy, he is haunted by the memory and acts viciously and pitilessly as a result. He is the one to kill Blevins, and he tortures John Grady and Rawlins as well. It turns out that the captain is weak and cowardly, as John Grady learns when he travels with him as a hostage on horseback.

The captain Quotes in All the Pretty Horses

The All the Pretty Horses quotes below are all either spoken by The captain or refer to The captain. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of All the Pretty Horses published in 1993.
Part 3 Quotes

We can make the truth here. Or we can lose it. but when you leave here it will be too late. Too late for truth. Then you will be in the hands of other parties. Who can say what the truth will be then? At that time?

Related Characters: The captain (speaker), John Grady Cole
Page Number: 168
Explanation and Analysis:

John Grady and Rawlins have been thrown in prison, where they encounter Blevins. Now the prison guards bring John Grady and Rawlins, separately, into the office of the "captain," most likely a police chief, who is attempting to get them to corroborate his story about Blevins's career stealing horses. Rawlins and John Grady both tell the truth, but that doesn't seem to satisfy the captain, as he orders the guards to whip them both.

The captain's words reveal a frightening cynicism about the very nature of the truth, and destroy any kind of idealized concept of objectivity. The way he employs the term suggests that the truth can be whatever he and John Grady decide that it is. He dangles the word "truth" in front of John Grady as a kind of bait, proposing that John Grady choose one version of the truth now, which will be better for both of them. In some ways, the captain is merely maximizing his own chances to get what he wants. But the narrative also wants to show how, in an unfamiliar world, all values that one might believe to be eternal and unchangeable are actually subject to being challenged. The captain's threat suggests that the "other parties" that have their own version of the truth could be even more dangerous to John Grady.

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John Grady watched the small ragged figure vanish limping among the trees with his keepers. There seemed insufficient substance to him to be the object of men’s wrath. There seemed nothing about him sufficient to fuel any enterprise at all.

Related Characters: John Grady Cole, Lacey Rawlins, Jimmy Blevins, The captain
Page Number: 177
Explanation and Analysis:

The prison guards have loaded John Grady, Rawlins, and Blevins into a truck to carry them to some unknown place. They pause somewhere far from any civilization, and the captain takes one of the guard's guns and leads Blevins away into the woods, where he will shoot the boy. Meanwhile, John Grady and Rawlins remain in the truck, knowing that there is nothing that they can do, and until the last moment imagining that something else will happen.

This is the first moment in the book where John Grady and Rawlins are made to confront seemingly meaningless violence, spurred by rules and customs that they cannot understand, rather than merely hearing about such violence from other people. The brute force of Blevins's murder is so incomprehensible to John Grady, as shown in this passage, because it clashes with how small and unthreatening he knows Blevins to be. It is not that John Grady will mourn the loss of Blevins as a friend—Blevins is not like Rawlins to him—but he cannot understand why such an effort has been mounted to hurt and kill someone so harmless. John Grady is brought face-to-face here with the tragic gap between powerful institutions and fragile human beings, as well as the gap between his idealistic view of Mexico and the reality of the situation in which he finds himself.

Yet the captain inhabited another space and it was a space of his own election and outside the common world of men. A space privileged to men of the irreclaimable act which while it contained all lesser worlds within it contained no access to them. For the terms of election were of a piece with its office and once chosen that world could not be quit.

Related Characters: The captain
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:

John Grady is attempting to grapple with the captain's killing of Blevins, especially since the captain seems to consider it as merely a business transaction, an opportunity for him to fulfill the desire of the brother of the man Blevins killed, though outside the official legal system. This passage is quite obscure, but its very obscurity underlines the confusion that John Grady feels as he attempts to draw meaning out from an action (murder, or "the irreclaimable act") that can only seem meaningless.

Through John Grady's eyes, the captain is portrayed as someone who willing chose or "elected" to murder, a choice which assigns him irrevocably to a certain class of fellow murderers. This class of people are still tied to the world—the world includes, of course, those who are murdered—and yet murderers still stand apart from them, fated to always be identified as such. This requirement of assuming responsibility for such a choice has something awe-inducing, almost admirable in it for John Grady, even as he cannot at this point imagine joining the ranks of this class. Still, he is beginning to recognize that a space where violence always seemed a weak background threat is actually full of stark choices concerning decisions of life and death.

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The captain Character Timeline in All the Pretty Horses

The timeline below shows where the character The captain appears in All the Pretty Horses. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 3
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
In the morning two guards handcuff Rawlins and lead him away to the captain, who’s reading a three-day-old newspaper. He asks for identification, and Rawlins gives him his billfold... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
The captain insists Rawlins tell him his real name. He says Blevins is Rawlins’ brother, and asks... (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
The captain tells John Grady that his friend told them everything, and it would be best for... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
The captain leans back, taking a cigarette from his shirt pocket, and his posture seems artificial with... (full context)
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
...later John Grady, Blevins, and Rawlins are led from their cell onto a truck. The captain and guards exchange words they can’t hear. The two young girls from earlier stand on... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
Loyalty and Belonging Theme Icon
The captain takes one guard’s rifle, and that guard says “Vámonos” (Let’s go), but “just the boy.”... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
...and they reach Saltillo by ten that night. The square opposite the cathedral, where the captain stops to get out, is vibrant and busy. They finally make it to the massive... (full context)
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
The captain says they’re not the first Americans in this prison. He has friends there, and they’ll... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
...why no one’s looked after them better, if they think they’re rich Americans, as the captain had intimated. He says he never imagined there was such a place as this, but... (full context)
Part 4
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
...through the streets to the old school, where he breaks in to sit at the captain’s desk and take out the handcuffs. The captain enters to see John Grady aiming his... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Loyalty and Belonging Theme Icon
...at him. Suddenly a man steps into a doorway, and John Grady whispers at the captain to say they have a thief and need to see the American horse. The man... (full context)
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
...charro and tells him to bridle Blevins’ horse. He snaps the handcuffs back onto the captain, tells the charro to wait there, and pushes the captain toward the door. John Grady... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
...the charro to bring a saddle and bridle for his horse or he’ll kill the captain. He speaks slowly to Redbo as the charro obeys, and then looks down at his... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
They set out back toward Encantada, the captain complaining about his dislocated shoulder, which John Grady ignores. Ten minutes later four riders appear... (full context)
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
They ride through the brush and stop to rest by a creek. The captain asks why John Grady won’t leave him here, and John Grady replies that the captain... (full context)
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
...side in agony. He pours water on his leg, gasping. When he turns around the captain is standing over him with the rifle. He demands the handcuff keys, but John Grady... (full context)
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
At dawn they rest and drink water. The captain says he can go no farther, but John Grady says they will. They rest again... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
...a rifle tells him to give him his keys, and he continues on to the captain, handcuffing him. He asks which of the horses are John Grady’s. They all are, he... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
...again, but doesn’t feel good about it. John Grady says he almost killed someone again—the captain. But he didn’t: he doesn’t know why he wanted to. The judge says that’s between... (full context)