John Steinbeck’s "The Red Pony". The Moral Maturation of the Boy Jody

Term Paper, 2005
9 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction

2. 1 “The Gift”
2. 2 “The Great Mountains”
2. 3 “The Promise”
2. 4 “The Leader of the People”

3. Conclusion

4. Works cited

1. Introduction

The cycle of short stories entitled The Red Pony (published completely for the first time in 1938) stands as a landmark in John Steinbeck’s career as a professional writer. When the first two stories of that cycle, “The Gift” and “The Great Mountains” were included in the North American Review in 1933, they were his earliest contributions to a major literary journal.[1] They, and the other two stories, “The Promise” and “The Leader of the People”, which were written shortly afterwards[2], depict episodes of California farm life of the Tiflin family in the 1930s. Although they were only published altogether five years after the first two had been printed for the first time,[3] they are held together not only by corresponding characters and scene, but also by a strong unity of theme and topics. All four stories mostly focus on the little boy Jody and the events in his surroundings. Through the course of the cycle, Jody can turn the important experiences of the events occurring in the stories into something useful – this is the process of his maturation[4]. The interesting thing in this process is that Jody not only learns to cope with new situations, but also loses his childish innocence and obtains an awareness for the people around him – this is his moral maturation, so to speak.[5]

This essay will take a closer look on how the events of the stories change Jody’s worldly and ethical knowledge. This will be done story by story, for Steinbeck uses a very subtle technique here: the changes that take place in Jody because of the events of one story are always clearly visible in the one that follows.[6] Although it has to be kept in mind that the Red Pony stories are short stories that can stand alone, this technique makes the cycle of stories resemble a novel with loosely connected chapters.

2. 1 “The Gift”

The first of the four stories is a sad one. The little boy Jody Tiflin, ten years old, is given a pony by his father. Jody is shown as an ordinary boy of his age at the beginning of the story: He does some damage in the garden and annoys the dog; “[t]hese are the actions of a small boy who has not learned how to handle either his boredom or his emotions”[7] and serve to establish Jody’s state of development at that point. With the pony, his father intends that Jody becomes more responsible and serious.[8] Unfortunately, the animal catches a cold due to the fault of Billy Buck, the ranch hand. Even though he promises to Jody that his pony will get well soon, it eventually dies. At the place of the pony’s demise, Jody can get hold of a buzzard that is about to eat the remains of the small horse and kills it, an action which Carl Tiflin, his father, cannot understand.

Jody learns some obvious experiences by those events: On the one hand, intended by his father, he learns to care and have responsibility for an animal – a helpful and important experience for a boy living on a farm. On the other hand, he probably loses a loved one for the first time in his life; the fact that this one is only an animal does, of course, not count for a boy of ten.

Below the surface, there are even more things that are new and upsetting for the boy: Billy Buck, the reliable adult, is wrong about the state of health of the pony. This creates a trauma, one that “is caused by the fact that a boy lost faith in a man, and his whole secure world has been jerked from under his feet”[9]. There is an unspoken understanding between the boy and the man, which the text expresses: Billy Buck “had no right to be fallible, and he knew it”[10]. Jody’s violent killing of the buzzard can be understood as a furious reaction to his realization of Billy’s fallibility. Warren French even believes that Jody’s action shows that the boy “has learned that one cannot always hit back directly at the source of suffering; […] he has learned that nature is impersonal, no respecter of human wishes”[11], although it seems a little bit doubtful whether it is possible to ascribe such a capacity for abstraction to a ten-year-old boy.


[1] Cf. French, Warren. John Steinbeck’s Fiction Revisited. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994, p. 50.

[2] Cf. ibid.

[3] Cf. ibid.

[4] Cf. Burkhead, Cynthia. Student Companion to John Steinbeck. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002, p. 149.

[5] Cf. French, p. 54.

[6] Cf. Jain, Sunita. John Steinbeck’s Concept of Man. A Critical Study of His Novels. New Delhi: New Statesman Publishing Company, 1979, p. 53.

[7] Burkhead, p. 143.

[8] Cf. French, Warren. John Steinbeck’s Fiction Revisited. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994, p. 51.

[9] Jain, 1979, p. 54.

[10] Steinbeck, John. The Red Pony. Introd. by John Seelye. London: Penguin, 2000, p. 23.

[11] French, p, 52.

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John Steinbeck’s "The Red Pony". The Moral Maturation of the Boy Jody
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Ole Wagner (Author), 2005, John Steinbeck’s "The Red Pony". The Moral Maturation of the Boy Jody, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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