All the Pretty Horses


Cormac McCarthy

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All the Pretty Horses Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy was born the third of six children in Rhode Island. Raised Catholic, he studied liberal arts at the University of Tennessee for a few years before joining the U.S. Air Force. He returned to school but never graduated, and instead worked as a mechanic in Chicago while writing his first novel The Orchard Keeper, which was published in 1965. After a brief first marriage, he married a young English singer named Anne DeLisle, and in 1967 they moved to Rockford, Tennessee, though they divorced several years later and he moved to El Paso, Texas. McCarthy was awarded a Macarthur “Genius” grant in 1981. In 1985, he published Blood Meridian, the first of his so-called “westerns,” followed by Suttree. All the Pretty Horses, published in 1992, was his first book to become a New York Times bestseller and grant him a wider readership. In 1999, McCarthy married for a third time to Jennifer Winkley, and they now live in Tesque, New Mexico, with their one child, John Francis. No Country for Old Men and The Road (a Pulitzer winner) are two of McCarthy’s more recent novels, both of which have been adapted to film. McCarthy is notoriously private and has given few interviews over his long career.
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Historical Context of All the Pretty Horses

By 1949, when the novel takes place, World War II had propelled the United States out of the Great Depression and into a period of rapid economic expansion. Because of new technologies and enhanced transportation, particularly the Eisenhower interstate highway system growing to crisscross the nation, this industrialized economy was spreading across the country with great homogenizing influence. Family-owned ranches like John Grady’s were increasingly likely to be sold off. Mexico, meanwhile, was at the start of what’s known as the “Mexican Miracle,” a roughly thirty-year period of economic growth and reduced inflation that lasted until the 1970s—making it quite reasonable to believe that John Grady and Rawlins could easily have found jobs there. The novel also refers to events from the Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910. In 1911, Porfirio Díaz, who had ruled for 35 years, was ousted from power, and Francisco Madero was elected until 1913, when the General Victoriano Huerto overthrew him and ruled through 1914. The Revolution was a time of great political and social experimentation—land reform was a major part of many of the revolutionaries’ goals—but it was also full of bloodshed, with each new succession of leaders bringing about a spat of assassinations and executions.

Other Books Related to All the Pretty Horses

All the Pretty Horses is the first of McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, a series of novels taking place in the “border country” between the United States and Mexico in the decade before and after World War II. All the Pretty Horses was considered McCarthy’s first novel to be accessible to a more general audience: his prose is soaring and lavish, but it’s not as difficult as some of his earlier novels. Stripped of most punctuation and connected by a series of “and,” his sentences have often been compared to William Faulkner, whose novels probe another specific geographical setting—the American South. Like Edgar Allan Poe for an earlier era, McCarthy has proved able to mine surface material to uncover the often shocking violence and mystery beneath.
Key Facts about All the Pretty Horses
  • Full Title: All the Pretty Horses
  • When Written: 1992
  • Where Written: United States
  • When Published: 1992
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Novel
  • Setting: Texas and Mexico
  • Climax: After John Brady convinces his lover, Alejandra, to meet him before returning to her hacienda, she refuses to break her word to her great-aunt and marry him, leaving John Grady devastated.
  • Antagonist: The nameless “captain,” a Mexican prison director whose official power is questionable, but who is astonishingly cold and unforgiving, and who shoots Blevins in the woods in the middle of the novel.
  • Point of View: Third-person limited omniscient

Extra Credit for All the Pretty Horses

King’s Speech. McCarthy was originally named Charles after his father, but one story says he changed his name to Cormac after the Irish king; another says his family changed it, as “Cormac” means “son of Charles” in Gaelic.

Cómo se dice… McCarthy learned Spanish specifically to further his research for his first “Western” novel, Blood Meridian.