All the Pretty Horses

All the Pretty Horses Part 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As Part 2 begins, we learn some background about the ranch where John Grady and Rawlins have arrived, the Hacienda de Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción, an 11,000-hectare ranch in the state of Coahuila. It’s full of natural springs and streams packed with wildlife and surrounded by desert. The owner Don Héctor Rocha y Villareal is one of the few hacendados (ranch owners) to actually live on his land, which has been in his family for 170 years. He’s the first in his family to reach the age of 47. His wife lives in his house in Mexico City. Don Héctor owns an airplane, but he also loves horses. That morning he rides up to the gerente’s house with four friends accompanied by pack animals and greyhound dogs. John Grady and Rawlins stand in the bunkhouse doorway and watch him ride upcountry on the road. John Grady speculates that they’re going to run coyotes, although they only have ropes and no guns.
The description of the hacienda establishes it as a kind of oasis within the country, lusher and greener than the rough terrain John Grady and Rawlins have come to know since they left the States. We learn that Don Hector has not abandoned rustic ranch life like other families of hacendados seem to have done. Instead, he’s embraced country life and his role as owner, participating actively in the ranch. This choice contrasts starkly with the disintegration of John Grady’s family’s ranch—indeed, it appears that this hacienda is exactly what John Grady’s been looking for by idealizing the American West.
Themes
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
For two days, John Grady and Rawlins brand, castrate, dehorn and inoculate the cattle in the holding pens. On the third day the vaqueros bring a herd of wild colts into the pen. That evening Rawlins and John Grady look them over. As they open the gate the animals get spooked and climb over one another frantically. But John Grady says that some of them have potential—he points out two that he claims are good horses, though Rawlins is skeptical, suggesting that John Grady has lost his touch. John Grady wonders if they could break all sixteen in four days—train them enough to stop and stand to be saddled. Rawlins doubts whether four days is enough, and says John Grady will surely be worn out, if he ever manages. John Grady says that the hacendado apparently has four hundred horses all over the mountain, having started a breeding program for quarterhorses. He points out one of the horses, who, like the others, comes from a horse called José Chiquito. It comes from the Traveler-Ronda line of horses of Sheeran’s that was sold in Mexico, he says.
The boys’ first few days at the hacienda are taken up with ceaseless manual labor, a chance for them to prove that they are worthy of the jobs they’ve been given. But John Grady, in particular, can’t help but be drawn to a distinct aspect of ranch work: capturing wild horses to breed them. John Grady evinces a mix of shrewdness, skill, and bravado in setting an arbitrary deadline before which he thinks he could tame the horses. It’s clear that John Grady pays close attention to his surroundings, especially where horses are concerned—he seems to have absorbed a number of facts about the hacendado’s breeding program that Rawlins hasn’t, though they’ve been doing the same work for days. This attention for detail makes him appear far more knowledgeable to the reader.
Themes
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Rawlins and John Grady walk over to the kitchen, where they tell the gerente that they are amansadores, or horse-breakers. John Grady says they can tame the horses in four days. The gerente doesn’t believe them, but he’ll let them try. They begin at daybreak Sunday morning, first looking at the horses and stacks of rope outside the gate. Rawlins opens the gate and they bring in a handful of ropes, which they roll into loops. Rawlins says that his father always told him the purpose of breaking a horse was to ride it, so they may as well begin by saddling up and mounting them. Rawlins asks if they should break the horses twice—the first time they don’t believe it—but John Grady says he’ll make them believe it.
It’s a testament to the special, romantic aura that horses retain for many on the ranch—not just John Grady—that the gerente gives in to his curiosity and allows the duo to take off from work for several days to accomplish their improbable goal. Rawlins, a relatively skilled horseman himself, has seen John Grady in action and thus bows to his expertise. Even Rawlins, however, is skeptical of John Grady’s ability to break the sixteen horses all at one go, without having to repeat the task.
Themes
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Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
John Grady chooses a horse and hits it with his rope loop so that it bends down and he can grab its head. He holds it by the muzzle, noticing that the horse smells not like a horse but like a wild animal. He strokes the horse and speaks to it quietly. Meanwhile, Rawlins makes a slipnoose from the rope and hitches it around the horse’s legs. They fit a hackamore (a kind of bridle) around its head and tie it to the leg ropes. They step away, and the horse begins to struggle, attempting to kick its legs out and falling again and again. They repeat the process, so that by midmorning eight of them are tied and the others are wilder than ever. By noon all of them are tied, and the vaqueros have clustered around to watch. The horses look like they’re waiting for something unknown, with the breakers’ voices in their heads like gods.
John Grady treats horses not so much as an owner treats property but rather as if the horse is a sentient being to be met on its own terms, though still a creature able to be understood by and to work with humans. In this first step of the taming process, John Grady and Rawlins walk a fine line between getting the horses to trust them and asserting their mastery over them. The style of the prose emphasizes this tension, highlighting the emotional subjectivity of the horses by showing how their relationship to their “breakers” is like humans’ relationship to gods.
Themes
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Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
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At lunch, the vaqueros seem to treat the two with deference, but no one talks about their horse-breaking methods. That afternoon, twenty people, including women and young children, are waiting for them back at the trap. John Grady walks up to the wildest-looking horse and ties a rope to the hackamore. He leads it into the corral, talking softly to it. For fifteen minutes he rubs a sack all over the animal’s skin to calm it. Then he places a saddle on it, as Rawlins unties the ropes and steps away. John Grady mounts, and the horse seems relatively tame, obeying his reins. Rawlins spits and says that people haven’t gathered to see so boring a show. But by dark John Grady has ridden 11 horses, many of which put up a greater fight. By this time, a hundred people have come from various towns: they build a fire to light John Grady’s last five runs. It’s impossible to believe that the horses were wild, frantic colts just that morning.
As the group eats lunch, the vaqueros seem to be withholding judgment from the pair’s goal, though they are all respectful of the attempt. Again we see that John Grady seems to have a certain way with horses. He knows exactly what to do and how to act in order to calm them enough to accept the unknown taming process that’s awaiting them. This innate skill is part of what makes John Grady an object of increasing admiration among the townspeople. Besides this natural gift, he also has a dogged commitment to continue to ride and tame the horses, however violent they may become. His unwillingness to give up is a different kind of skill altogether.
Themes
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Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
John Grady and Rawlins walk down to the bunkhouse, and several people offer them mescal (an alcoholic drink) on the way. Rawlins asks if he’s tired, and John Grady says no, he was tired five hours ago. When they wake up at daybreak, there are still several men sleeping on the ground. By that evening, John Grady has ridden all sixteen horses and Rawlins has ridden each one a second time. They ride them again the next two days.
The offering of mescal suggests that John Grady and Rawlins have successfully completed a kind of test, and now, despite their status as foreigners, belong more fully to the group of other vaqueros. The pair makes sure this will remain the case by riding the horses over and over again, ensuring they’re really tamed.
Themes
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Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
On the fourth day, Rawlins stays in the trap and John Grady rides one of the horses away from the ranch. Two miles above it, the girl on the Arabian rides past him, five feet away, and looks at him, lowering her head to see what kind of horse he’s riding. He looks into her blue eyes. She speeds up her gait and, though John Grady meant to speak, he thinks that her eyes have changed everything.
Until now, John Grady hasn’t exchanged any words with the girl on the Arabian: instead, vision and the gaze seems to substitute for conversation. It’s a cliché to say that eyes are the window to one’s soul, but John Grady appears to fully believe that he’s learned something important about the girl just by gazing at her.
Themes
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That evening, Antonio (a vaquero) and the gerente come to the trap to inspect the horses. Antonio rides two of the horses. He nods; he and the gerente look over the other horses before leaving. John Grady and Rawlins look at each other, then unsaddle the horses and head to dinner. When John Grady asks for someone to pass the tortillas, everyone extends their hands to pass it to him like a ceremonial bowl.
While John Grady’s emphasis on the girl’s eyes might seem romantic, it’s also the case that speech is generally valued far less than other things—like action or proof of character—on the ranch. The vaqueros’ eagerness to honor John Grady by passing food quickly to him is another example of this hierarchy of values.
Themes
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Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Three days later, John Grady and Rawlins are sent into the mountains with three young vaqueros from the country. A mozo (server) comes along to cook, an old man with a bad leg named Luis who has fought at various important Mexican battles. They hunt wild horses in the forests and near the arroyos (streams) where John Grady and Rawlins had hidden before. At night, Luis tells them tales of the country, and of his father and brothers who all fought in the cavalry, and of the evilness of Victoriano Huerta. War had destroyed the country, Luis says, and people believe that the only cure is more cure, as serpent’s flesh is used as an antidote for its bite. He tells of horses killed under him, saying that the souls of horses mirror those of men, and that horses love war as well. He says it is a terrible thing to see the souls of horses: they share a common soul that can be glimpsed at a horse’s death.
Thanks to their successful exploit at taming the horses, John Grady and Rawlins have graduated from their task of branding cattle to more important obligations, such as finding the horses to be tamed in the outback in and around the ranch’s territory. For the first time, the novel explicitly mentions the Mexican Revolution: Huerta was a notoriously brutal general who plotted a coup to overthrow Mexico’s president. Luis continues to develop the novel’s underlying theory of horses—how they differ from humans in their common soul, but can teach people something about what it means to be alive.
Themes
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Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
Meaningful and Gratuitous Violence Theme Icon
Luis says that if someone can understand one horse’s soul he can understand all horses. And men’s souls? John Grady asks. Luis says that there is not communion among men like there is among horses, and it is an illusion to think that men can be understood. Rawlins asks about heaven for horses, and Luis says they have no need of one. John Grady says that if this is so, then if horses should all disappear from earth the soul of the horse would also die. Luis says it is pointless to speak of this, however, since God would not permit that all horses vanish.
John Grady cares deeply about horses on their own terms, but he is also hoping to learn more from Luis (an expert) about what he’s already intuited—the apparent community among horses, and the potential (though it may prove overly idealistic) for humans to learn from such communion. Again the conversation turns to fate, with Luis pointing to God as the ultimate explanation for the order of things.
Themes
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Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Fate and Responsibility Theme Icon
They work for three weeks until, by the end of April, they’ve brought over 80 mares into the trap. On May second, the hacendado returns from Mexico City in his red plane. John Grady comes to the ranch house, and Don Héctor, a thin gray-haired man, enters the kitchen to introduce himself. They walk through the cool, quiet house to sit at a long walnut table in the dining room. They smoke over a china ashtray.
The hacendado may be immersed in ranch and country life, but he also has ties to the modern, urban lifestyle of Mexico City, and to technology like the prop plane that allows him to move easily between these worlds. Despite his absences, he still seems well aware of the ranch affairs.
Themes
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Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Don Héctor asks why John Grady has come to Mexico from Texas. He replies that he and his friend just wanted to see the country. Don Héctor asks if John Grady is the leader, but he says they’re just friends. Asked his opinion about the new batch of mares, John Grady says there are some good ones. The hacendado asks about a thoroughbred horse named Three Bars, whose owner and races John Grady can name. The hacendado says the horse is on its way from “Mexico,” meaning Mexico City, to be bred with the mares. John Grady says some good cowhorses have come from thoroughbreds, and that the mare is as important as the sire. Most people place more importance on the male, but Don Héctor happens to agree with John Grady. Asked to tell Don Héctor about the other horses on the mesa, John Grady divides them into a few good ones, possible cowhorses, and “scrubs,” though he stops and says he’s not saying anything the hacendado doesn’t know.
Don Héctor’s questions could show simple curiosity about how an American so adept at training horses made his way down to Mexico and the hacienda, but his questions also seem oriented towards probing John Grady’s past and discerning whether he’s a threat. Eventually John Grady is able to prove himself, based not on where he’s come from or why he’s come there, but on his knowledge of horses and his opinions about breeding them. John Grady’s embarrassment at the end of this passage underlines how easily it is for him to slip into the language used to talk about horses, language that allows him to feel a sense of kinship with anyone else who shares his feelings for the creatures.
Themes
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Don Héctor asks where John Grady is from, and he seems to studies John Grady. He asks if John Grady has read The Horse of America by Wallace: he has, front to back. He asks if John Grady and Rawlins rode to Mexico, just the two of them: John Grady looks down and says yes, just the two. The hacendado stands up, saying he’ll show him some horses.
Don Héctor may not know who John Grady and Rawlins are, but he surely must have heard of Americans escaping on horseback after having stolen a horse from Encantada. This is the first lie, a moral compromise, that John Grady makes to preserve his idyllic opportunity at the hacienda.
Themes
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Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Theme Icon
In the next scene, John Grady and Rawlins are sitting on the bunkhouse bed, and Rawlins tells John Grady it’s a good opportunity to work more directly with the horses. The next morning Rawlins goes to work at the pens alone, while John Grady gets to work on one of the new mares in the corral outside the barn. At one point Don Héctor comes outside to watch him. When John Grady is finished, he finds the hacendado in the barn pulling a strap onto the black Arabian of his daughter, who greets John Grady in Spanish. He watches her mount the horse and ride out the door. That night John Grady dreams of open country and of wild horses who had never seen a man and knew nothing about him, but would let him into their souls.
It seems that John Grady has passed whatever test Don Héctor set out for him. He’s now directly responsible for the wild mares that will be bred, as they discussed previously. This is the first time the “girl,” Don Héctor’s daughter, speaks to John Grady, but again he prefers to watch her rather than respond, keeping her at a romantic distance. His dream helps to flesh out John Grady’s understanding of horses as emblematic of human wildness as well—though theirs is a wildness that can be tamed to some degree.
Themes
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Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
A week later, John Grady, Rawlins, Luis the mozo, and two vaqueros go up into the mountains. After the others are asleep, John Grady and Rawlins smoke cigarettes and talk about the girl, Alejandra, who goes to a fancy prep school in Mexico City. Rawlins says she’s a fancy girl, though John Grady says she isn’t, and Rawlins tells him he doesn’t have a chance.
This is the first time we learn the girl’s name, and more about her, including her sophisticated urban lifestyle, though John Grady seems to think that she is a simple rancher’s daughter at heart. He hasn’t told Rawlins about his feelings, but his friend is well aware of them.
Themes
The Idea of the American West Theme Icon
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon
Loyalty and Belonging Theme Icon
On Sunday they ride into the town of La Vega, placing fifty-cent bets to race horses. John Grady wins, even when they switch horses. Wide-eyed country peasants watch the boys race and yell in English. In a tienda (shop) they sort through the clothes and buy socks and boots for Rawlins, who says he always wanted to be a “badman.”
On this Sunday outing, the two act like the carefree boys they were at the novel’s start: joking, goofing around, and generally reviving the ideal of the Wild West they had initially been pursuing on their journey south.
Themes
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That night, they walk into the open double doors of a grange (a country farm house) in La Vega, buy tickets, and walk into an old adobe hall lit by a string of electric bulbs covered by painted paper bags, which strew colored light over the floor. There’s a stage laced with fruit cans holding lights and colored crepe, casting shadows on the floor and walls. John Grady, Rawlins, and another boy from the ranch toast their bottles of mescal to the “chicas,” or girls. Then they stand along the wall with other young men and watch the dancers and then the girls at the other end of the wall. Alejandra, her hair tied in a blue ribbon, is dancing with a boy from the San Pablo ranch, and she smiles at John Grady when she passes him.
The social life in the area seems to happen not on the hacienda as much as in the small towns around it. Here the grange is host to a rustic, quaint country dance. This time, though, John Grady and Rawlins are attracted less to how much the event coincides with legends about the West than to the appearance of “chicas,” who can be rare specimens in ranch life. John Grady seems to have an even more concrete goal in Alejandra, and he’s not intimidated by evidence of possible competition.
Themes
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John Grady asks Alejandra to dance, and for the first time he touches her on her small hand and slight waist. She speaks in a schoolbook English, saying she’s happy he came, though she knew he would. At the intermission he buys them lemonades and they walk outside. He tells her about life in Texas, and she tells him about life with her mother in the city. Her mother gets angry with her because she always wants to come to the hacienda. They return to the dance. Alejandra says she will introduce him to her friends.
Alejandra is probably the first girl whose hand John Grady has held since Mary Catherine Bennett—and he’d also remarked on the smallness of her hand back in San Angelo. It’s perhaps this parallel that allows him to open up to Alejandra as he hasn’t done to others. We haven’t seen John Grady talking this much at all thus far in the book.
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John Grady rides back alone, since he doesn’t see Rawlins at the barn. A mile from town a car full of young men passes and they throw an empty beer can at him. Redbo grows nervous and rears, but John Grady calms the horse and says it handled itself well.
Once again John Grady shows a special affinity for horses, as he’s able to speak to the horse in a way that calms and soothes it.
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In the next scene, the vaquero Antonio returns from picking up a horse the hacendado had bought unseen from the sales in Lexington, Kentucky. He’d left two months earlier with a truck and homemade trailer, along with letters signed by Don Héctor, for Antonio is illiterate and speaks no English. Along the way, he’d been jailed 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 go to see the horse, which is a beautiful, heavy chestnut.
We learn more about how the journey north from Mexico is often fraught with greater and more real danger than the equivalent journey down south, like the one taken by John Grady and Rawlins. Rather than an adventure, Antonio’s trip is both a grim reminder of the unequal economic situations of the two countries and an example of Antonio’s steadfast loyalty to the hacendado.
Themes
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John Grady asks Don Héctor if he might ride the horse, as he admires it. In the next days, John Grady and the hacendado walk among the mares discussing horses and questions of breeding. They agree that God had put horses on earth to work cattle, and that cattle are the only proper source of a man’s wealth.
John Grady seems to respect and admire Don Héctor, who in turn respects John Grady’s expertise regarding horses. They also both prize a certain mentality of working with one’s hands and with animals rather than embracing more modern lifestyles.
Themes
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John Grady and Antonio breed the mares daily for several weeks. Antonio too loves horses, and conspires with John Grady in telling Don Héctor that the horses are more manageable when ridden regularly—John Grady loves riding, and loves when Alejandra watches him ride. He rides up to one of the lagunas, or small lakes, whispering to the horse in almost biblical phrases. He says things like he (John Grady) is the commander of 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 eyes where John Grady thinks he can see the world burning.
John Grady ‘s love for horses seems connected to his growing feelings for Alejandra. Riding horses allows him to feel in control, comfortable and at ease, in a way that he doesn’t always feel in other parts of his life. There is a spiritual aspect to John Grady’s sense of communion with horses, as well. They seem to reveal an underlying sense of order in the world, which he at times feels tantalizingly close to accessing. This longing for order and meaning connects with the many discussions about fate.
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Sometimes John Grady wakes up early in the mornings to hear María, a house attendant at the hacienda, singing throughout the house, or to see a great mass of cats sitting on the tiles, or to watch Carlos, the cook, take a breakfast tray to Alejandra in the opposite dining room alone, before she rides up to the ciénaga (swamp) road above the marshes. John Grady hasn’t spoken to her since the La Vega dance, and there’s no one he can ask about her. But one evening he’s riding the Lexington stallion bareback when he encounters Alejandra returning down the ciénaga road. He takes off his hat and waves at her to pass, but she stops and says she wants to ride him. John Grady says he doesn’t know if her father would like that, but she smiles at him with pity and tells him to get off. She loops the reins over, steps into the stirrup he makes with his hands, and rides out of view.
Life at the hacienda is beginning to take on a comforting, cyclical normalcy. The daily rituals and tasks become more familiar to John Grady, so that he starts to think he might belong here. In the earlier passage, John Grady had wanted Alejandra to watch him horseback riding so that she might see how in control and assured he is. That hope no longer seems so feasible in this scene: instead it’s Alejandra who seems most at ease and controlled, as she dismisses John Grady’s concerns and makes clear that she is in charge of her own decisions—or at least claims to be.
Themes
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John Grady rides back slowly on the Arabian, hoping Alejandra will come back so they can switch horses again, but she doesn’t. As he walks back from the stable the light comes on in the kitchen and he hears the door open, but doesn’t look back to see who it is. The last time he sees Alejandra before she returns to Mexico City, she is riding down from the mountains with her hat pulled down in front, seemingly unaware of her surroundings. John Grady sees the scene as a real horse, rider, land, and sky, but still like a dream.
Unlike Alejandra, John Grady feels like he must be more cautious with Don Héctor’s wishes. It’s important to note that this scene is where someone else in the household apparently learns that John Grady and Alejandra have been spending time together. He’s now spoken with her, not just looked at her, but she is still an inaccessible, ‘dreamlike’ ideal.
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The hacienda is full of old books, a piano, a pair of Greener guns, and other belongings of the dueña (madame) Alfonsa, Alejandra’s grandaunt and godmother. There are pictures of her taken in front of European cathedrals, and oil portraits of her ancestors. John Grady had never seen her until the week after Alejandra returns from Mexico City, when, upon returning to the kitchen one evening, María says that Alfonsa is waiting for him.
The objects belonging to Alfonsa that are scattered throughout the hacienda bear witness to an aspect of Mexico that John Grady and Rawlins are probably less familiar with: the close connections of many wealthy Mexican families to European culture and history, rather than to indigenous culture alone.
Themes
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Alfonsa invites John Grady into the dining room, speaking with an English accent. They play chess, and John Grady notices that her last two fingers are missing. She makes several clever moves, but he beats her twice (realizing she’s wondering if he will throw the game), before she wins the third time. She pours tea, and he declines cake and crackers, saying he’ll have strange dreams. Alfonsa says she now has dreams that she had as a young girl. Unlike John Grady, who says dreams are just in your head, Alfonsa believes they mean something. She asks how he learned chess, and he tells her about learning it from his father, before he lost interest after the war.
In the hacendado’s family, there seem to be various tests and games that John Grady must go through before he can be accepted as an equal. It’s not yet clear what Alfonsa wants from John Grady, or why she’s arranged this meeting, but she seems to be attempting to read him in some way. Surprisingly, John Grady confides in Alfonsa. In this Alfonsa is like Alejandra, the only other person to whom John Grady has told personal stories.
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Alfonsa says she lost her fingers in a shooting accident when she was seventeen, Alejandra’s age. She says Alejandra will be at the hacienda for the summer. Alfonsa says she isn’t old-fashioned, though she and her niece disagree on many things, and Alejandra reminds her of her own past self. But Alfonsa had no one to advise her, growing up in a world of men. She wants Alejandra to be happy, but won’t have her gossiped about. She says Alejandra just tosses her head and doesn’t understand the grave real-world consequences of her actions. It’s not proper for her and John Grady to be seen riding together. Alfonsa says a woman has only her reputation here, and there is no forgiveness for women. John Grady says that doesn’t seem right, and Alfonsa says it’s not a matter of right, but of who gets to say. He says she didn’t need to invite him just to tell him that, and she says yes, she nearly didn’t invite him.
Given that John Grady himself seems to have picked up on parallels between Alfonsa and Alejandra, it’s not too surprising that Alejandra is the reason for the meeting. Recall the figure inside the house that John Grady briefly noticed watching him as he returned from giving Alejandra his horse to ride. Whether it was Alfonsa herself or someone else who told her, Alfonsa seems to understand John Grady’s feelings towards her grand-niece, and is quick to counsel John Grady that there is an entire reality of obligations and social mores that are far more complex—and, she believes, far more powerful—than his own emotions.
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John Grady and Rawlins sit on the mesa (plateau) watching a storm from the north, and John Grady tells him about his conversation with Alfonsa. John Grady says she’s easy to talk to. Then he looks at Rawlins and asks if he regrets coming down here. Rawlins says no, but he doesn’t see any advantages in John Grady continuing to pursue Alejandra. It’s more likely they’ll both be fired instead.
Though John Grady doesn’t agree with Alfonsa’s points on the real-life difficulties of being with Alejandra, he still respects her. Rawlins too is more practical than John Grady, simply intuiting that little good can come from his friend’s romantic sentiments.
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Several nights later, Alejandra knocks at John Grady’s bunk. She asks what Alfonsa said to him, and John Grady tells her. She says she won’t be treated in such a way. Alejandra looks theatrical in the night. John Grady says he’ll do anything she says.
If Rawlins and Alfonsa embody the sober reality of romance, Alejandra joins John Grady in putting emotion first. In her case, she also can’t stand her independence being challenged.
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They begin spending nights riding horses up the ciénaga road bareback, sometimes stopping two hours from the ranch to build a fire. She tells him stories of her father’s family and of Mexico. One night he swims out into a lake, and Alejandra follows him, her hair floating in the water. John Grady feels that the betrayal makes the moment sweeter, and when she asks if he loves her, he says yes.
Ironically, Alfonsa’s strictures have only hastened the beginning of John Grady’s relationship with Alejandra. The Mexican landscape is an idyllic backdrop to their time together, and the thoughts on betrayal highlight John Grady’s romantic view of the relationship, in which peril can only strengthen it.
Themes
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One day John Grady and Rawlins are sitting in the bunkhouse smoking and waiting for supper when, suddenly, they see five Mexican rangers riding down the road from the north, dressed in khaki uniforms. When John Grady returns to the barn from the working, the five horses are tied to one side of the house, but the next morning they’re gone. For the next nine nights, Alejandra comes to his bed, telling him she doesn’t care and sleeping against his chest, before rising early in the morning.
We don’t learn here what the Mexican rangers have been doing, and so must intuit along with John Grady why officials have arrived at the hacienda to meet with someone and then leave. This ominous reminder of reality clashes with John Grady and Alejandra’s irrationality and risk-taking in continuing to spend their nights together, even in the packed bunkhouse.
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After the nine days, Alejandra returns to the city. The next evening, John Grady speaks to the hacendado in the barn, but Don Héctor responds without looking at him. That evening they make notes on the mares, and the hacendado asks him how he’s progressing on the “Guzmán,” presumably a book about horses. He asks if he’d like to play billiards, and they walk into a dark room that smells of old wood. The antique wood table lies under a large chandelier; at the other end of the room is a wooden altar with a life-sized wooden Christ. This room was a chapel until 1911, Don Héctor says. The priest was supposed to come make it unsacred, but never did: the hacendado likes to feel that God is still in the house.
Once again, John Grady is called into a room of the ranch and asked—implicitly, not explicitly—to play a game. Given the novel’s focus on fate, this emphasis is notable, because in games (like life) there is constant push and pull between pure chance or luck and one’s skill at playing. At the same time, the intimidation factor of hosting billiards in a room with a life-sized Christ seems just as relevant as Don Héctor’s apparent desire to keep the room holy, and to keep God close.
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As they play, Don Héctor, who wins easily, tells John Grady of the history of Mexico and of Alfonsa and Francisco Madero, whose brother may have been engaged to her. The families were very close, but the Madero family was politically radical and Alfonsa wasn’t allowed to make her own choice—she never forgave her father for it. Both brothers were later assassinated, and their family was ruined. Like the brothers, Alfonsa was also educated in Europe. They all returned full of ideas, Don Héctor says, and yet there was no agreement among them. His generation, he says, is more cautious, skeptical that people’s characters can be improved by reason—which is a French idea. Alfonsa thinks he is being selfish in not wanting to send Alejandra to France, Don Héctor says, but she may be right, or perhaps Alejandra will go anyway.
Francisco Madero, in addition to his appearance as a character in the novel, was a real-life historical figure. He was Mexico’s first popularly elected president and one of the instigators of the Mexican Revolution, which attempted to pass major social reforms. Don Héctor is more conservative than his predecessors, having witnessed the violence that stemmed from the rational European ideals of an earlier generation. He seems to be speaking frankly, but he also may be quite calculating in what he’s sharing, especially if he knows how John Grady would feel about Alejandra being sent away to France.
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Later, John Grady sits on his bunk and remembers what Alejandra had said the night before—I’ll do anything you say, exactly what he had said to her. She had cried against his chest, but there was nothing to be done, and she left the next morning.
Though John Grady had scorned the practical suggestions of both Alfonsa and Rawlins, here he’s aware perhaps for the first time how little control he has.
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The next Sunday, Antonio invites John Grady to his brother’s house for dinner. John Grady tells Antonio about playing billiards, and asks if it’s worse that he’s poor or that he’s American. Antonio says no one can advise him. John Grady concurs, saying that he’ll speak to Alejandra when she returns. Antonio seems confused, saying that she’s been here since yesterday.
Rather than confiding in a profound way as he’s done with Alejandra, here John Grady prefers to speak obliquely, only hinting at what has happened. His façade of nonchalance is quickly punctured when it turns out Antonio knows more than he does.
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John Grady lies awake until dawn, and in the morning Rawlins says he looks terrible: Rawlins hopes he knows what he’s doing. After working with the mares all day, in the evening he hears the plane: he can’t see who’s inside, but it’s heading southwest.
Though John Grady has been anxious and distraught, it’s not because he’s awaiting or struggling over a choice. Instead, it seems like everything is happening outside of his control.
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Two days later John Grady and Rawlins ride into the mountains again, camping in the same spot as they had before with Luis. Rawlins says they probably won’t have many more trips up here. Suddenly three greyhounds appear in the firelight, before vanishing again. Rawlins says the dogs aren’t up here by themselves—Don Héctor may be hunting them.
Until now, the mountains have been a place of safe remove from the ranch, a space to discuss broader questions than the daily functioning of the hacienda. Now, reality has intruded into this refuge, and the hints of danger are growing clearer.
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Three days later they reach the hacienda at dark with eleven young mares. The next morning, at dawn, two men enter John Grady’s bunk with pistols and flashlights and order him to get up. They tell him to dress, search his belongings, and lead him out of the bunk. They lead him into the barn, where he sees Rawlins sitting slumped in his horse’s saddles. They all ride out two by two, the vaqueros watching them head out north on the ciénaga road.
Earlier, suspicious details— the officials’ visit to the ranch, the greyhounds on the mountains—now reveal themselves belatedly to have been signs foreboding nothing good for the boys. As Part II ends, their idyllic time at the ranch, immersed in the kind of work and life they’d dreamed about, is being replaced by a time of violence and danger.
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