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The Red Pony

The Red Pony


by John Steinbeck

The Red Pony The Leader of The People Summary

  • It is now March and Jody walks to the wire fence to find Billy Buck feeding "mildly interested cattle" (4.1) the last of the old year's haystack.
  • Jody asks if there will be any mice and if he can hunt them down with the dogs. Billy thinks that would be fine and, to prove the point, he lifts another forkful of hay and three mice scurry out and run away. Jody's pumped—he gets to murder some rodents. What fun.
  • But then Billy takes back his permission and tells Jody to ask his father about the plan first. Carl will be home soon.
  • Looking up at the sky, Jody wonders if it will rain. Then he curses the mice and looks away.
  • Jody sees his dog, Doubletree Mutt, digging in a squirrel hole on the side-hill. The dog stops digging suddenly and looks up the hill. Jody follows his gaze and sees that his father has arrived. And he has a letter. Huge news in the olden days.
  • Jody runs back to the house shouting, "We got a letter!" (4.21) to his mother. You'd think, from the level of his excitement, he'd just found out Disneyland exists. But nope. Just some dumb mail.
  • Carl comes into the house and shows off the letter. It is from Mrs. Tiflin's father. Mrs. Tiflin opens it up and reads out loud that her father is coming to visit on Saturday. Wait a second… that's today.
  • Mrs. Tiflin catches a disapproving look on her husband's face and she automatically defends her father.
  • Carl says that her father "only talks about one thing" (4.36). We like to imagine his eyes rolling.
  • Jody finishes the thought and chimes in that his g-pop talks only about "Indians and crossing the plains!" (4.37). For this contribution to the conversation, the boy is shooed out of the house.
  • He sits under the kitchen window playing with a rock and eavesdropping.
  • Still, his father totally agrees: "He just goes on and on, and he never changes a word in the things he tells" (4.40).
  • Fair enough, says Mrs. Tiflin, but look at it this way: crossing the plains was the biggest thing her father ever did in his life. "He led a wagon train clear across the plains to the coast, and when it was finished, his life was done" (4.41). Her father would have kept going too, if only the ocean hadn't stopped him. In other words, cut the old guy some slack.
  • All right, all right, Carl agrees. And hey, if it gets too bad, he can always hang out with Billy at the bunkhouse.
  • Having heard enough, Jody goes off to do his chores. When he's finished he asks his mother if he can go wait for their visitor. Mrs. Tiflin agrees it's a good idea and Jody wanders up the road to meet him.
  • Soon, Jody sees a horse and cart coming up from Salinas. Jody gives a "glad cry" (4.54) and rushes to meet his Grandfather.
  • They're all smiles and happy greetings and finally Jody asks his Gramps to go mouse hunting with him.
  • Gramps just laughs and jokes in response, and tells Jody he's grown nearly an inch since the last time he saw him.
  • Jody says they might kill a pig in honor of his Grandfather's visit but the old man won't have it. Not on his account.
  • Together, Grandfather and grandson walk to the Tiflin ranch. When they arrive, Carl, Billy Buck and Mrs. Tiflin come out to greet her dear old dad at the front gate. Billy Buck takes hold of his horse to put in the barn.
  • The family goes inside and the old man eats a steak. As he does, he begins to talk about how hungry he is, which reminds him of—you guessed it—the crossing. He goes on to tell stories they have all heard a billion times before. He also tells Billy Buck that he knew his father.
  • The old man tells about the time when they ran out of meat during the crossing. He was the leader of the people so it was his job to hunt and kill some animals before the people broke down and started killing their oxen.
  • A big moth flies into the room as Grandfather is telling his story. He cups it in his hand and drops it out the window.
  • After dinner, Jody watches as his Grandfather starts to doze off. His head falls to his chest and the old man startles himself awake by the fire.
  • Which means it's time for another story. This one time, at band camp, some Indians stole their horses and…
  • Carl interrupts him, saying they'd heard it before… lots of times, in fact. Jody says he'd like to hear it again but the old man looks totally bummed by Carl's interjection.
  • "Tell me about Indians" (4.99), Jody says softly.
  • Gramps goes on to tell another story about when Indians attacked their crossing party. Jody looks around and notices that his father, mother, and Billy Buck are all bored out of their minds. Then, Jody notices that even his Grandfather seems to have lost interest in the story he is telling. Now that's a snooze.
  • When the story is finished, Billy Buck heads off to catch some z's.
  • Carl asks Grandfather how the country is from here to Monterey. It's dry, he says. And that's that.
  • Carl tells Jody he should be off to bed. Jody remembers about the mice in the old haystack and asks his father if he can kill them.
  • Why not? says Papa Tiflin. Excellent. Jody's pumped for tomorrow.
  • As he tries to doze off that night, Jody wishes he were alive during the time of the great crossing. It sounds kind of cool: "A race of giants had lived then, fearless men, men of a staunchness unknown in this day" (4.113).
  • At dawn, Jody passes through the kitchen, telling his mother he is off to find a good stick for beating mice to death with. Typical kid stuff.
  • Jackpot. He finds an old broom handle and a piece of scrap-wood and ties them together to make an über-implement of death.
  • It's time for breakfast, and Jody can't hide his excitement at the prospect of some good old fashioned rodent bludgeoning: "I'll bet they don't know what's going to happen to them today" (4.123).
  • Billy replies, rather philosophically, "No, nor you either… nor me, nor anyone" (4.124). Deep. And alarming.
  • Inside, breakfast is ready but Gramps hasn't showed. Carl and Mrs. Tiflin start to argue about the old man. Carl's still complaining about the old man's repetitive stories: "Why can't he forget it, now it's done?" (4.130) he asks.
  • The kitchen door closes. Poor Gramps is standing there, and he heard everything. Oops.
  • Carl backpedals, and how. He immediately says, "I don't know what got into me, sir. I didn't mean it" (4.135).
  • Jody's all, since when does my dad ever backpedal? He realizes that his father must be really ashamed of himself.
  • G-pop says he is not mad and that maybe Carl has a point. Carl apologizes again but the old man insists that maybe Carl's right: "The crossing is finished. Maybe it should be forgotten, now it's done" (4.139).
  • Totally embarrassed, Carl flees the room, after telling Billy to take his time before joining him for their day's work.
  • In an attempt to salvage the situation, Jody asks his Grandfather if he will tell him more stories. Grandfather agrees to tell stories to "people who want to hear them" (4.142).
  • Then Jody goes outside and grabs his mice-killing stick. He wants Gramps to join him, but the old codger just wants to stay put for a while.
  • Very sweetly, Jody tells his Grandfather that he can use his (Jody's) stick if he likes. But his Grandfather chooses to stay and sit on the porch while Jody goes off to do boyish things.
  • At the old haystack, Jody tries to "whip up his enthusiasm with thoughts of fat, juicy mice" (4.150), but he just can't shake the sadness of his Grandfather. So he walks back to the porch.
  • The two sit in silence for a spell, watching as the "porch boards grew warm in the sunshine" (4.154).
  • At length, the old man speaks up and says he shouldn't stay much longer. He seems worried that maybe the crossing didn't actually mean as much as he thought it meant.
  • Still, he's proud of that part of his life: "We carried life out here and set it down the way those ants carry eggs. And I was the leader" (4.158).
  • Jody looks up and says that maybe someday, he, too, can be a leader. But Grandfather tells the boy that there is nowhere left to go. The ocean stops people.
  • Um, hello? Boats? But Grandfather tells the boy that "Every place is taken," and "Westering isn't a hunger anymore. It's all done. Your father is right. It is finished" (4.163).
  • What a bummer, thinks Jody. Then he offers to make his Grandfather a glass of lemonade. Yum, yum, says the old guy, and Jody runs off to pour a glass.
  • In the kitchen, Jody asks his mother for a lemon to make his Grandfather a lemonade.
  • Mrs. Tiflin asks if Jody is going to have one, too. Jody says nope. His mother tells him that he is "sick!" (4.169).
  • Mrs. Tiflin tells Jody to get a lemon out of the cooler and then says she'll "reach the squeezer down" to him (4.169), so he can make his old Gramps a tall glass.

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