All the Pretty Horses

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Religion Symbol Analysis

Religion Symbol Icon
At several points in the novel, John Grady and Rawlins discuss faith, religion, and God. These conversations often center around God’s will, and how that will meshes with or diverges from human will. Mexico is an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country, and reminders of Christianity can be found scattered throughout the novel’s setting—the statue of Jesus Christ in the hacienda’s billiards room, the children in the street who tell John Grady to ask God to intercede for his affair with Alejandra, and the farmworker who prays at the end of a long table when John Grady joins them for dinner. In many of these cases, people turn to religion and God as a result of their own sense of helplessness, powerlessness, or lack of understanding. Faced with the mystery of death, unable to affect the success of the crops for a certain season, or confused as to why people act the way they do, the novel’s characters find solace in religion—which, in this book, seems to have less to do with the catechism and authority of the Church than with people’s daily lives. Religion, then, symbolizes the search for understanding amidst a surfeit of unknowns.

Religion Quotes in All the Pretty Horses

The All the Pretty Horses quotes below all refer to the symbol of Religion. 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

Way the world is. Somebody can wake up and sneeze somewhere in Arkansas or some damn place and before you’re done there’s wars and ruination and all hell. You dont know what’s goin to happen. I’d say He’s just about got to. I don’t believe we’d make it a day otherwise.

Related Characters: Lacey Rawlins (speaker)
Related Symbols: Religion
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:

Rawlins and John Grady have narrowly escaped being caught by ranchers as Blevins was trying to get "his" horse back. They've lost Blevins, and Rawlins has expressed some concern about the boy's safety, even though both he and John Grady have been exasperated at Blevins's naiveté when he was tagging along. 

Rawlins has a greater tendency to voice his religious thoughts and doubts than John Grady, and several times over the course of this book he treats his friend as a sounding board for such questions. His suggestion here is about the interrelation of seemingly disjointed events. These connections can be so obscure and so complex, he says, that mere human beings do not stand a chance at unraveling the true causes of events; there must be a God, then, who is beyond it. The existence of a God who has written a script backing up all the causes and consequences of worldly affairs would be comforting, at least, as it would mean that Rawlins would not have to imagine himself in a meaningless void. But if all human actions are ultimately directed by a divine force, it is unclear to what extent human beings are responsible for their own actions. This is a problem that the book will return to again and again, as John Grady and Rawlins consider the consequences of their own actions, and their own responsibility for other people. 

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Part 2 Quotes

Finally he said that among men there was no such communion as among horses and the notion that men can be understood at all was probably an illusion. […] Finally John Grady asked him if it were not true that should all horses vanish from the face of the earth the soul of the horse would not also perish for there would be nothing out of which to replenish it but the old man only said that it was pointless to speak of there being no horses in the world for God would not permit such a thing.

Related Characters: John Grady Cole, Luis
Related Symbols: Horses, Religion
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

Luis, in the same conversation with John Grady and Rawlins as above, has already suggested that there is something shared between the souls of human beings and of horses. Here he qualifies that view, expressing an even more pessimistic outlook on the fate of humans. Even if there is something shared in these beings' souls, Luis suggests, humans fail to understand that unity. Luis also continues to use his age and lived experience not to convince John Grady and Rawlins of certain truths, but rather to show how, according to what he has learned over the years, so little about human beings can be understood at all.

John Grady is fascinated by Luis and by his knowledge of horses. He takes the opportunity to run his own theories on the souls of horses past the elderly man. However, Luis is skeptical about this desire to construct theories or play hypothetical, "what-if?" games. For Luis, the world is the way it is because of what God has ordained. God has filled the world with horses, so it will remain with horses as part of his larger plan, and it is pointless to speculate on what things would be like otherwise. The book seems to privilege Luis's point of view as someone who has slowly and painfully gained knowledge and humility over the years; but it also underlines how difficult this same process will be for John Grady, who still has the innocence of youth. 

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.

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