In several ways, John Grady seems older than his sixteen years. Throughout his time in Mexico, John Grady is able to draw on the skills he learned growing up on a ranch, where he was responsible for many of the ranch’s daily activities. John Grady gains respect and admiration for his skill with horses: the hacendado is impressed by this expertise and gives him a special job at the hacienda taking care of them. In addition, John Grady’s knowledge of Spanish is a key skill that enables him and Rawlins to manage in Mexico—and at times ensures their survival. The novel is full of Spanish phrases, even short conversations that aren’t translated. This can be disorienting for a reader who doesn’t speak Spanish, though such disorientation reflects what must be Rawlins’s own experience. It also helps to situate John Grady in a position of expertise, forcing Rawlins (and the reader) to trust him.
At the same time, John Grady’s Spanish skills belie his ignorance of many aspects of Mexican life—a point that is underlined when Pérez at the prison tells him he doesn’t “speak the language” of Mexican prison life. Further, while John Grady has remarkable expertise in specialized skills such as horse-breaking, his real-world choices often appear astonishingly naïve to other characters, as well as to the reader. Rawlins begs John Grady not to get them mixed up with Blevins, who has most likely stolen his horse. Likewise, Alfonsa reminds John Grady of his greater ignorance, stressing several times that he hasn’t lived as long as she has and lacks her wisdom about life. The scene near the end of the novel where John Grady shows up at the Texas judge’s home to ask him for advice similarly highlights how lost he can feel when faced with new experiences, realities, and choices. There are different kinds of knowledge, the novel seems to be saying, and expertise at a skill is not the same as wisdom gained from life.
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge ThemeTracker
Innocence, Expertise, and Knowledge Quotes in All the Pretty Horses
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.
They went to France for their education. He and Gustavo. And others. All these young people. They all returned full of ideas. Full of ideas, and yet there seemed to be no agreement among them. How do you account for that? Their parents sent them for these ideas, no? and they went there and received them. Yet when they returned and opened their valises, so to speak, no two contained the same thing. […] People of my generation are more cautious. I think we dont believe that people can be improved in their character by reason. That seems a very french idea.
You dont understand the life here. You think the struggle is for these things. Some shoelaces or some cigarettes or something like that. The lucha. This is a naïve view. You know what is naïve? A naïve view. The real facts are always otherwise. You cannot stay in this place and be independent peoples. You dont know what is the situation here. You dont speak the language.
The Mexican does not believe that a car can be good or evil. If there is evil in the car he knows that to destroy the car is to accomplish nothing. Because he knows where good and evil have their home. The anglo thinks in his rare way that the Mexican is superstitious. But who is the one? We know there are qualities to a thing. This car is green. Or it has a certain motor inside. But it cannot be tainted you see. Or a man. Even a man. There can be in a man some evil. But we dont think it is his own evil. Where did he get it? how did he come to claim it? no. Evil is a true thing in Mexico. It goes about on its own legs. Maybe some day it will come to visit you. Maybe it already has.
I never thought I’d do that.
You didnt have no choice.
I still never thought it.
He’d of done it to you.
He drew on the cigarette and blew the smoke unseen into the darkness. You dont need to try to make it right. It is what it is.
He said that those who have endured some misfortune will always be set apart but that it is just that misfortune which is their gift and which is their strength and that they must make their way back into the common enterprise of man for without they do so it cannot go forward and they themselves will wither in bitterness.
The world is quite ruthless in selecting between the dream and the reality, even where we will not. Between the wish and the thing the world lies waiting.
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.
He saw very clearly how all his life led only to this moment and all after led nowhere at all. He felt something cold and soulless enter him like another being and he imagined that it smiled malignly and he had no reason to believe that it would ever leave.
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.