All the Pretty Horses

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Themes and Colors
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
Loyalty and Belonging Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in All the Pretty Horses, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Loyalty and Belonging Theme Icon

One way John Grady escapes from the constant, uncertain loop of fate and responsibility is by clinging to the value of loyalty above all else. We know from early on that John Grady is fiercely loyal to his ranch—he makes various attempts to prevent it from being sold, and finally decides that he himself must leave rather than see the ranch leave his family’s possession. For the rest of the novel, loyalty directs his actions and serves as a means for him to choose between difficult options. Another way to look at John Grady’s and Rawlins’ relationship to Jimmy Blevins, for instance, is to understand it as not just one of responsibility, but also of loyalty. Having established a kind of friendship, the boys are now obligated to do what they can to protect him. If there’s a hierarchy of loyalty for John Grady, though, Rawlins remains at the top: they’ve been friends from childhood and partners in their escape to Mexico. Rawlins feels similarly, even refusing to entertain the possibility of escaping from the prison’s hospital ward if it means leaving John Grady behind. John Grady’s loyalty to Rawlins also lasts beyond Rawlins’s own departure from Mexico, as Rawlins is the first person he returns to see back home. Their relationship seems irrevocably changed by their time in Mexico, however, particularly by their time in prison. The novel seems to say that loyalty doesn’t have to mean complete understanding, and it doesn’t imply that to be loyal to someone is to be his or her soul mate: instead, loyalty is both weaker and more powerful than this.

The importance of loyalty in the novel is underlined in a more striking way through John Grady’s relationship to horses. After escaping from prison and managing to see Alejandra one last time, he risks his life again (and nearly loses it) in his attempt to take back his, Blevins’, and Rawlins’ horses. This attempt is tied to John Grady’s loyalty to Blevins and Rawlins, but it’s more than that. He feels loyal to the animals themselves. John Grady feels comfortable around horses as he does around few other people. With his parents divorced and his ranch sold, Texas is no longer a true home for him—even at the end of the novel, he tells Rawlins that it’s “alien country” for him. But Mexico is equally foreign, and once Alejandra refuses to stay with him, there is no one place where he can belong there either. Instead, by remaining loyal to his friends and to his horse, John Grady stakes out a space of belonging. In establishing bonds between living things, then, loyalty makes it easier for John Grady to find other ways of belonging than a specific home or country.

Loyalty and Belonging ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Loyalty and Belonging appears in each part of All the Pretty Horses. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Loyalty and Belonging Quotes in All the Pretty Horses

Below you will find the important quotes in All the Pretty Horses related to the theme of Loyalty and Belonging.
Part 3 Quotes

But some things aint reasonable. Be that as it may I’m the same man you crossed that river with. How I was is how I am and all I know to do is stick. I never even promised you you wouldnt die down here. Never asked your word on it either. I dont believe in signing on just till it quits suitin you.

Related Characters: John Grady Cole (speaker), Lacey Rawlins
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:

John Grady and Rawlins have been captured by guards and led away from Don Hector's hacienda, quite possibly at Don Hector's command (because of John Grady's budding relationship with Alejandra). They have reached the town of Encantada, and neither of the boys knows what is going to happen to them, or even what they may be charged for. Rawlins is sulking, angry at John Grady for having gotten them both into this mess. Here John Grady attempts to defend himself through two arguments. First, he says that he hasn't changed, and indeed wouldn't know how to change if he wanted to. All they can do is accept what the world has in store for them, and react to it the best way that they know how. Second, John Grady appeals to Rawlins's sense of loyalty, which he knows is strong in his friend, and to the value of determination in refusing to "quit" each other when things become difficult.


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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.

Part 4 Quotes

They were saddened that he was not coming back but they said that a man leaves much when he leaves his own country. They said that it was no accident of circumstance that a man be born in a certain country and not some other and they said that the weathers and seasons that form a land form also the inner fortunes of men in their generations and are passed on to their children and are not so easily come by otherwise.

Related Characters: Lacey Rawlins
Page Number: 226
Explanation and Analysis:

John Grady has returned to Don Hector's ranch, this time without Rawlins, and he shares everything that has happened with the other vaqueros. As they express sorrow for not being able to see Rawlins again, the vaqueros simultaneously seem to understand his desire to return home. In general, this group has throughout the book seemed confident that there is an underlying order to human affairs. It makes sense to them that a person could be so tied to his or her native land because fate dictated that connection: indeed, much of their belief seems to rest on the deep intertwining of the human and the natural, the seasons and the "inner fortunes" of people. Americans or Mexicans, they imply, bear within them the actions of their ancestors and the things that happened on their land, and must take on that burden as they choose how to act themselves.