All the Pretty Horses

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Blood Symbol Icon
In a narrative punctured with pistol shots and thrusts of a knife, it is little surprise that we hear so much about blood in the novel. Human blood is, of course, tied to the theme of violence, and also to the idea that for many Mexicans, nothing can be proven if it is not made to bleed, as Alfonsa says about her fellow citizens. But blood also symbolizes the attempt to prove oneself, to embrace courage and carve out one’s own identity. Rawlins worries that his infusion of blood might make him part Mexican—a humorous moment, but one that also emphasizes how easy it is for the characters to link blood to national and personal identity. In this framework, blood must be spilled for blood—this is why the charro hires the captain to kill Blevins in revenge. In the prison, John Grady realizes that someone’s blood must be spilled, and that his only choice is to kill or be killed. The novel supplements this symbolism with imagery of blood-red sunsets and dust—all symbols of violence that take a personal turn when tied to the choices John Grady and other characters have made.

Blood Quotes in All the Pretty Horses

The All the Pretty Horses quotes below all refer to the symbol of Blood. 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 1 Quotes

What he loved in horses was what he loved in men, the blood and the heat of the blood that ran them.

Related Characters: John Grady Cole (speaker)
Related Symbols: Horses, Blood
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

John Grady has just found an old skull of a horse lying in the grass on his family's ranch, and as he looks at it he is reminded of what is so appealing to him about riding and taking care of horses. Interestingly, it is an inert, bloodless skeleton that reminds John Grady of the blood coursing through horses' veins, blood that for him symbolizes the ardent desires and courage that one needs to succeed in the American West. John Grady identifies with horses in many ways, as he measures horses so too does he measure his fellow human beings: in terms of how strong and intensely alive they are. The skull is certainly a powerful image, but it is largely important in terms of what John Grady reads into it—his romanticized view of the West colors much of what he experiences.

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Part 4 Quotes

In history there are no control groups. There is no one to tell us what might have been. We weep over the might have been, but there is no might have been. There never was. It is supposed to be true that those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it. I dont believe knowing can save us. What is constant in history is greed and foolishness and a love of blood and this is a thing that even God—who knows all that can be known—seems powerless to change.

Related Characters: Alfonsa (speaker), John Grady Cole
Related Symbols: Religion, Blood
Page Number: 239
Explanation and Analysis:

Alfonsa was once a student of biology, which taught her that the way to best decide on causes and effects, and distinguish between them, was to put one set in an experiment aside to use as a control group: that is, a group that the experimenters never touch, so that they can compare it to what happens to the other sets that they do modify. This scientific method, Alfonsa argues, is useless for history, because there is never any group that remains outside historical forces: there is thus no way to know how things could have been different if certain events had never occurred. 

Again, Alfonsa expresses her deep skepticism that experience and knowledge are positive goods. She has certainly gained wisdom, but those she loved were still violently killed, and Mexican history has only grown uglier—there is no redemptive power to that experience, as she sees it. Rather than understand God as the author of a pattern lying behind everything, she sees even God as implicated in the irrational, bloody forces of human desires. The law of violence, as Alfonsa understands it, seems to be the only way that she can make sense out of human affairs—and even this law has nothing inherently meaningful behind it.

In his sleep he dreamt of horses and the horses in his dream moved gravely among the tilted stones like horses come upon an antique site where some ordering of the world had failed and if anything had been written on the stone the weathers had taken it away again and the horses were wary and moved with great circumspection carrying in their blood as they did the recollection of this and other places where horses once had been and would be again. Finally what he saw in his dream was that the order in the horse’s heart was more durable for it was written in a place where no rain could erase it.

Related Characters: John Grady Cole
Related Symbols: Horses, Blood
Page Number: 280
Explanation and Analysis:

John Grady has taken the captain prisoner and the two of them are riding through the Mexican hills. He has told the captain that he will not kill him: John Grady is not like the captain. John Grady has dreamt of horses before, and here his dream becomes a kind of allegory for the ideas of destiny and order that have concerned so much of the novel. The "antique site" he dreams of is full of stones on which are written a meaning and pattern to the world, but now time and history have made that meaning unclear. The horses bear within them not any explicit meaning and purpose, but rather the memory of former times and places. For John Grady, however, this means that they do reflect a kind of order to the world. Even if he does not embrace a "solution" to the problems of violence, loss, and heartbreak that he must confront, having been fully disabused of his romantic innocence, horses present a way to accept the overwhelming nature of the world, and to trace some kind of an order through what might otherwise seem mere chaos. 

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Blood Symbol Timeline in All the Pretty Horses

The timeline below shows where the symbol Blood appears in All the Pretty Horses. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
...loves in horses the same thing that he loves in men: “the heat of the blood that ran them,” that is, the ardent side of living. He rides back home, still... (full context)
Part 2
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Loyalty and Belonging Theme Icon
...several times, and the letters he carried were dog-eared and stained with coffee and possibly blood. He gives his receipts and the papers for the horse to Don Héctor, and they... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
...the mares, and without the charity of his hands they’ll have nothing. He feels the blood pumping inside the horse’s ribs and through its body, to the globes of the horse’s... (full context)
Part 3
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
...“cuchillero” (knife-bearer) John Grady knows the boy is a hired assassin. As John Grady tastes blood from a cut, it occurs that he’s going to die here. The other prisoners have... (full context)
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
John Grady accidentally drops his tray and, touching his shirt, realizes it’s sticky with blood. He backs away and sinks to the floor. The cuchillero leans in and grabs John... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
...still watching John Grady, but no one follows as he walks to his room with blood sloshing in his boots. He flings away his knife. A tall man tells him to... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
Loyalty and Belonging Theme Icon
...says dying isn’t in people’s plans, is it. Rawlins says they put a liter of blood into him, and asks if that means he’s part Mexican. John Grady jokes that he’s... (full context)
Part 4
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
...but not substance. They are convinced nothing can be proven unless it is made to bleed. (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
...believe knowing can save us. Instead the only constants are greed, foolishness, and love of blood. (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
...as the charro obeys, and then looks down at his leg, his pants dark with blood. John Grady tells the charro to bring him the other two horses. He looks at... (full context)
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
...He takes off his pants and looks at his thigh wound. He wipes away the blood, seeing discolored skin around the wound. He drags the pistol from the coals and quickly... (full context)
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
...world’s pain counts for more than its beauty: that one flower becomes equivalent to the blood of many. (full context)