The Red Pony by author John Steinbeck is a very notable book for young adults. The central and recurring theme of the four stories told within this short novel is life and death. The stories also deal with conflict between old and new. Unlike most novels for young adults this book is different because John Steinbeck does not try to soften or hide old age and death, but instead presents these themes as they are in reality.
The stories tell how the main character, Jody Tiflin, becomes more responsible as he deals with the disappointments and sadness, as well as the successes of real life. This novel and the stories within take place on a ranch that is in the high mountains of Salinas, California in the early 1930’s. The house of the Tiflin Family stands in the middle of the ranch with a bunkhouse, a chicken yard, and a large vegetable patch nearby. The house is surrounded by the brush line, where there is round green tub from which the animals can drink water. The major characters in the Red Pony are Jody Tiflin, who is the main character.
He undergoes many experiences in the novel that help him mature. Next is Carl Tiflin, Jody’s father, who is very strict and practical and Billy Buck, the ranch cowhand, who understands Jody and answers all of his questions. There is also Mrs. Tiflin, Jody’s mom, who is always busy in the kitchen but still is understanding. Gitano, an old man who was born on the ranch and who has returned to die and Jody’s grandfather, Mrs.
Tiflin’s dad, who loves to tell stories of the old west. The Red Pony is actually divided into four chapters. In the first chapter, Jody has been given a red pony by his father to teach him responsibility. Jody becomes very attached to the pony and very protective.
One day the pony gets wet in the rain, becomes very sick and dies. Jody is crushed and blames Billy Buck. The death of the pony makes Jody believe that he should not really trust anyone completely. It also teaches him the pain of loss. The second chapter tells the story of Gitano, an old man who has returned to the ranch to die where he was born. He leaves to go into the mountains and takes Easter, an old horse that is also close to death.
Jody is sad to lose a friend and sad that Gitano has left to die alone. In the third chapter, Jody is given a second chance at a pony when Nellie the mare becomes pregnant and he gets to tend to her. Billy Buck, trying to win back Jody’s trust, spends time with Jody and shows him how to care for Nellie. However, Billy Buck has to kill Nellie during delivery because the colt is in the wrong position. Jody seems to blame himself for Nellie’s death because he wanted another colt so badly.
In the final chapter Jody’s grandfather comes for a visit. Jody loves to listen to his grandfather’s stories of the old west; however Carl Tiflin is tired of his stories and loudly complains one morning. Jody’s grandfather overhears and feels badly and is very hurt. Jody feels compassion for his Grandfather and willingly gives up doing what he would like in order to spend time with him. In the final chapter of this novel, Jody gives up his own activities and choses to spend time with his Grandfather. He wants to listen to his stories and we see how he has matured from the self centered boy of the first chapter into a caring and responsible young man.
The Red Pony is a coming of age story, and the plot is developed around the growth of Jody Tiflin. As a result, the main theme of the story is that life and experience are great teachers. During the course of the four chapters in the short novel, Jody learns to accept responsibility and to face the harsher truths of life, including death. By the end of the novel, Jody has successfully matured into a compassionate, independent, and responsible young man.