What is it about humans and horses? From Seabiscuit to Black Beauty to Mr. Ed, we've always had a thing for these steeds. And young Jody Tiflin, star of John Steinbeck's The Red Pony, is no exception.
When he's given the gift of a red pony, you might think he's living the childhood dream. But Steinbeck fans out there know well that his stories aren't for the faint of heart. So this can't possibly be a simple tale of a kid, his horse, and their fun-filled, innocent adventures, right? Right.
In four parts, The Red Pony gives us glimpses into Jody's sometimes fun, but more often tragic childhood, which he spends on his father's ranch near Salinas, California. And as we'll find out, being a kid in a home on the range ain't easy, though it does come with its gifts—like equine pets.
Published in 1937, the same year Of Mice and Men came out, this book is shorter than a full-fledged novel. But what the Nobel Laureate Steinbeck lacks in word count, he certainly makes up for with a good story. So take a ride on The Red Pony, and take it from Shmoop: you'll want to pack tissues.
If you've ever had a pet that you loved more than life itself, read this book. If you've ever known the glory of a dog's happy panting, marveled at a kitten's playful curiosity, respected a pony's tender goodness, basked in a bunny's fluffy warmth, giggled at a gerbil's eagerness to exercise, relaxed near a turtle's lazy nonchalance, or stared hypnotically at a beta fish as it swims endlessly and pointlessly around its bowl on your desk—if you've ever looked into an animal's eyes and wondered, "What are you thinking in there, old friend? What's it all mean?"—read this book.
Pets are the perfect companions for lonely kiddos, looking for friends. And Steinbeck's Jody is definitely one of those kiddos. He is an only child, after all, and he lives out on an isolated ranch. Plus, pets teach kids responsibility, which seems to be one of the main reasons Carl Tiflin thinks his son should get a pony in the first place.
But here's the thing, with all that companionship and responsibility, it can be easy to forget that pets are also living, breathing creatures. They're not just there to serve their human masters and make everyone smile. Shocking, we know.
They're just as vulnerable as the rest of us. And when they die, it's a cruel reminder that life is, well, fleeting as the cliché goes. That can be a tough pill to swallow for a youngster, and in Jody's case, facing up to his pony's shaky hold on life is his first taste of the bitter pill that is adulthood. But hey, learning to swallow bitter pills is just as important as having a furry friend, if you ask Shmoop. It's just a lot less fun.