The Red Pony
by John Steinbeck
In a book filled with sad people experiencing sad things, Grandfather just might be the saddest of them all.
He was once a Big Deal—a Leader of the People, no less. He was in charge of a long convoy westward to California, which meant that he was an important man whom a lot of folks looked up to. That is, until they got to California. When they reached the Pacific, everyone just kind of settled. You know, because they were settlers.
Here's the problem. Grandfather was really good at the whole moving westward thing. He was really good at being on the road. But now that everyone's out in California, doing their thing, he doesn't know what to do with himself besides relive the glory days and tell dozens of stories dozens of times, much to Carl and Ruth's annoyance.
But what is it about those days that makes the old codger so nostalgic? As luck would have it, he answers that question for us:
"It wasn't Indians that were important, nor adventures, nor even getting out here. It was a whole bunch of people made into one big crawling beast. And I was the head. It was westering and westering. Every man wanted something for himself, but the big beast that was all of them wanted only westering. I was the leader, but if I hadn't been there, someone else would have been the head. The thing had to have a head.
"Then we came down to the sea, and it was done." He stopped and wiped his eyes until the rims were red. "That's what I should be telling instead of stories." (4.156,159)
See, ol' Gramps really does know what's up. He knows people are sick of the stories, and that that history is long gone. But he misses the feeling of being part of something big, something that explored new territory. Maybe he tells those stories to cling to that feeling.
And maybe, just maybe, the reason he gets so glum in the end is because he knows Carl's right: "It is finished" (4.163). The stories don't mean much anymore. Might as well drink some lemonade.