All the Pretty Horses


Cormac McCarthy

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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.
Romanticism and Reality Theme Icon

While John Grady’s romantic notions apply most powerfully to his ideal of the American West, they also apply to other values he holds dear for much of the novel. All the Pretty Horses has been called McCarthy’s most romantic novel, and that’s not just because part of it is a romance story: it’s because John Grady believes strongly in the power of love to conquer all, from economic interests to family concerns. Other characters are more realistic. In a sweeping monologue in Part 3, Alfonsa, Alejandra’s great-aunt, attempts to show John Grady just how powerful politics, economics, gender norms, and other social values can be. They’ve impacted her own life directly, and can certainly make love impossible. Alfonsa and other characters have learned to place other values, such as stability and even happiness, above love. In fact, Alfonsa sees John Grady’s stubborn pursuit of his affair with Alejandra as proof that he couldn’t be trusted as head of the family hacienda. As John Grady remains willfully immune to such practicality, the novel portrays his denial of reality as admirable but also, ultimately, both doomed to failure and highly naïve.

Romanticism, of course, is more than just romantic love: one meaning of the term is a poetic movement emphasizing individual, subjective experience, heroic action, and the primacy of emotion. Such elements are evident in the way John Grady thinks of Mexico and its citizens, as well as his notions about justice. John Grady feels a deep, personal, and emotional connection to horses—much of the book is taken up simply with lavishly drawn scenes of riding across the mesas and plains of the country. His relationship to horses gives him a perhaps unique understanding of ownership, based less on laws and property rights than on one’s subjective relationship with other living creature. This way of thinking is most intensely depicted in John Grady’s attempt to get his, Blevins’, and Rawlins’ horses back at the end of the novel. The world, John Grady learns little by little, may support Romantic ideals in theory, but in practice a brute pragmatism tends to prevail.

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Romanticism and Reality ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in All the Pretty Horses related to the theme of Romanticism and Reality.
Part 1 Quotes

They heard somewhere in that tenantless night a bell that tolled and ceased where no bell was and they rode out on the round dais of the earth which alone was dark and no light to it and which carried their figures and bore them up into the swarming stars so that they rode not under but among them and they rode at once jaunty and circumspect, like thieves newly loosed in that dark electric, like young thieves in a glowing orchard, loosely jacketed against the cold and ten thousand worlds for the choosing.

Related Characters: John Grady Cole, Lacey Rawlins
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Don Hector Rocha y Villarreal (the hacendado) (speaker), Gustavo Madero
Page Number: 145-146
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3 Quotes

We can make the truth here. Or we can lose it. but when you leave here it will be too late. Too late for truth. Then you will be in the hands of other parties. Who can say what the truth will be then? At that time?

Related Characters: The captain (speaker), John Grady Cole
Page Number: 168
Explanation and Analysis:

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:

Yet the captain inhabited another space and it was a space of his own election and outside the common world of men. A space privileged to men of the irreclaimable act which while it contained all lesser worlds within it contained no access to them. For the terms of election were of a piece with its office and once chosen that world could not be quit.

Related Characters: The captain
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Emilio Pérez (speaker), John Grady Cole, Lacey Rawlins
Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: John Grady Cole (speaker), Lacey Rawlins (speaker)
Page Number: 215
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 4 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Alfonsa (speaker), John Grady Cole
Page Number: 238
Explanation and Analysis:

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:

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.

Related Characters: John Grady Cole
Page Number: 254
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: John Grady Cole
Related Symbols: Horses, Blood
Page Number: 280
Explanation and Analysis: