The Red Pony
by John Steinbeck
Full disclosure? The Red Pony is not what you might call a happily-ever-after story. It throws Jody into a relentless pit of woe (can you find that on Google Maps?) and makes no apologies for trying to toughen up the boy.
This is, after all, the Wild West. On the ranch, men should be men, you can learn from everything life hands you, and there is no use complaining when things don't go your way. Because tomorrow is another day and there are always chores to be done.
Jody's on the brink of adolescence. He's taking on some adult responsibilities (like keeping a pony), but he's also just a kid who wants to hit rodents with a stick. Needless to say, it's an awkward time for the kid.
Life throws him more than his fair share of curveballs, and each one nudges him just a bit closer to adulthood. It doesn't necessarily mean he's wiser, or better. Just older, and a bit more seasoned.
We know you're wondering where all the gunslingers and stagecoaches went, but alas, Shmoop can't help you. This ain't that type-a western, pardner.
It's the new kind—the kind that was written after the west was won, when the frontier was settled, but the land was still just as rough. What does this mean for our characters? They've got all the hard work that comes with living in the west, and none of the fun of exploring it. Jody's got nowhere to go—there's no frontier to pioneer—but he and his family are still eking out a life from a land. And hey, isn't that why everyone moved west in the first place?