The Red Pony
by John Steinbeck
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
This is the goriest novella we've come upon in a long, long time. For the most part, the oodles of blood we see in The Red Pony symbolizes pain and suffering and death. Blood tends to do that.
But it's not that way at first. The first time we see blood, it's harmless, painless, and kind of delicious:
Jody took three eggs on his plate and followed with three thick slices of crisp bacon. He carefully scraped a spot of blood from one of the egg yolks.
Billy Buck clumped in. "That won't hurt you," Billy explained. "That's only a sign the rooster leaves." (1.4-1.5)
Hold it right there, misters and misses. If you've learned anything in your English classes to date, we're sure you've heard of the term foreshadowing. Well, this tiny spot of blood that Jody sees in his eggs is a textbook example of the literary term.
Yep, let's face facts. There's more blood coming down the pike. Otherwise, why draw attention to the fact that Jody seems a little bugged by this blood in his eggs? And notice how Billy just brushes it off? Well, he would, wouldn't he? After all, he's seen his fair share of blood in his work, and he's about to see a lot more:
Jody sobbed once as the bright knife point disappeared in [Gabilan's] throat. […] The blood ran thickly out and up the knife across Billy's hand and into his shirtsleeve. The square hand sawed a round hole in the flesh, and the breath came bursting out of the hole, throwing a spray of blood. (1.168)
First, let's just get this out of the way: yuck. This scene must have been majorly traumatizing for poor Jody. And the worst part is, this makeshift surgery of sorts totally doesn't achieve its goal. Gabilan doesn't get better, so all this gruesome gore was for, well, nothing.
You'd think that, after a scene like this, Jody might have a fear of blood. But nope. He draws it himself, just a few pages later, when he attacks the buzzard that's chowing down on poor, dead Gabilan:
His fingers found the neck of the struggling bird. The red eyes looked into his face, calm and fearless and fierce; the naked head turned from side to side. Then the beak opened up and vomited a putrefied fluid. He held the neck to the ground with one hand while his other found a piece of sharp white quartz. The first blow broke the beak sideways and black blood spurted from the twisted, leathery mouth corners. (1.184)
Shmoopers, it doesn't get much bloodier than that. That's the stuff of nightmares right there. A few lines later, we find out that Jody's got blood all over his face, which his father has to wipe off. Apparently, this kid is so hurt by Gabilan's death that he wants to hurt the world back. The buzzard just happens to be the first thing that comes along.
You thought we were done, didn't you? Ah, but this just wouldn't be a section on blood if we didn't tackle what just might be the most horrifying, bloody scene of all: Nellie's death, and the birth of the colt.
After he smashes Nellie's head in with a hammer and cuts the colt out of her (yep, you read that right), "Billy's face and arms and chest were dripping red" (3.172). Say it with Shmoop: gross.
Jody's colt is delivered in what could very well be the most violent and bloody way possible. Does this affect the boy? Well, he never says as much, but we take the fact that he never mentions the colt again to mean that he wasn't exactly thrilled with the way the animal came into the world.
Still, Jody's learned an important lesson. Life is messy—things are born and die very quickly, and often it's more than a little unpleasant. It's something Billy knows well, working on a ranch, and it's something poor Jody's just gonna have to get used to.