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The Red Pony

The Red Pony


by John Steinbeck

Analysis: Plot Analysis

Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.

"The Gift"

Exposition (Initial Situation)

The Gift that (Doesn't) Keep on Giving

Young, impressionable Jody Tiflin receives a present from his father that, for all intents and purposes, blows the boy's mind. The gift is a beautiful red pony and Jody goes totally Lady Gaga over it. Jody will hug him and squeeze him and call him Gabilan.

Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)

How To Train Your Pony

With the help of the ranch hand, Billy Buck, Jody trains his beloved pony and learns how to best care for him. After a bunch of rainy days, the sun finally comes out, and Jody can let Gabilan out to romp around. Jody decides to leave his pony out in the corral while he goes to school, with assurances from Billy that it won't rain.

Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)

The Rain Cometh and the Rain Taketh Away

Billy is, it turns out, one terrible meteorologist. It rains. And it pours. And old men everywhere snore. Beside himself with worry, Jody can only sit helpless behind his desk at school, waiting for the end of the day to come. When it finally does, Jody runs straight home in the torrential downpour and carefully walks his soaking wet and shivering pony back into the stable.

Falling Action

The Saddest Words You'll Ever Read

The pony gets very sick and, despite Billy Buck's best efforts, dies.

Resolution (Denouement)

Jody Gets Revenge… Sort Of

In a brilliant, fiery rage, Jody takes out all his grief on a buzzard whose beak is literally dripping with the pony's eyeball mucus. Jody destroys the bird and never looks back. It's gruesome and horrifying, and not recommended for the little tykes.

"The Great Mountains"

Exposition (Initial Situation)

Who Dat?

An old Mexican named Gitano appears from the Gabilan Mountains. He comes to the Tiflin ranch and makes himself at home. He says he was born on this land, long ago.

Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)

Say What?

Gitano says he's gonna stay there… on the Tiflin ranch… 'til he dies. Everyone is kinda like, "Whaaaa?" But Gitano insists. He's not going anywhere anytime soon.

Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)

Horse Pucky

Jody takes Gitano down to the stables and introduces him to Easter, a very old horse. Gitano's old, too, so he hits it off with the horse right off the bat. Things get awkward when Carl says that when a horse gets really old, he should be put out of his misery. Billy Buck defends Easter, Gitano, and old souls everywhere.

Falling Action

That's Not a Knife… This Is a Knife

At dinner, Carl relents and allows Gitano to sleep the night in the bunkhouse. Curious about Gitano, Jody goes to visit the old Mexican, and bombards him with questions about the mountains. But the old guy's not exactly brimming with answers. Still, he does have one thing up his sleeve: a cool old rapier that Jody admires.

Resolution (Dénouement)

Much Ado About Nothing

In the morning, Gitano is gone and so is Easter. The old Mexican has stolen Carl's old horse and the ranch owner doesn't seem to care. Good riddance to both of 'em.

"The Promise"

Exposition (Initial Situation)

Gift Horse 2.0

Carl tells his boy it's time he had himself a new colt. So Jody takes a mare to a neighboring ranch to be bred. After months of waiting, Billy Buck announces to Jody that the mare is in fact preggers. Mazel tov, mare.

Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)

Billy's Bedside Manner

Billy Buck explains to Jody that his own mother died in childbirth and he (Billy) was raised on mare's milk. Just another reason why Billy is so good with horses. But being great with horses doesn't stop tragedy from happening sometimes (as Jody knows full well from the red pony disaster).

Billy tells Jody that sometimes a baby colt gets all twisted up inside the mare and it has to be cut to pieces and cut out to save the mare's life. This of course is gut-wrenching stuff to hear and Jody becomes worried this may happen with his own colt. It's also a major dose of foreshadowing.

Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)

Tragedy, Part Deux

One awful night, Jody wakes up suddenly, worried about the pregnant mare. Billy reassures Jody that everything is fine and that the boy should go back to bed. But soon enough, Billy comes running in and grabs Jody to come back to the stable. To make a long story short, the colt is coming, and the mare might not make it through.

Falling Action

You Win Some…

After a few nail-biting moments, Billy decides the mare's gotta go, and he'll cut the colt out of her dead body. Yeah, it's as awful as it sounds, and Jody seems pretty traumatized.

Resolution (Dénouement)

Poor Billy

Billy pulls the colt from the dead mother's body and rips open the sac covering with his teeth. The colt emerges and breathes. With blood and entrails lying about everywhere in the hay, Billy Buck screams at Jody to go get some water. Yep. Water. He can do that.

"The Leader of the People"

Exposition (Initial Situation)

Old School Snail Mail

The Tiflins receive a letter. Mrs. Tiflin's daddy-o is headed their way. Hooray for visitors! Jody's so pumped, he runs up the hill to be the first to greet Gramps when he arrives. The stage is set for a little family reunion.

Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)

Must We Hear It Again?

Carl begins to badmouth Mrs. Tiflin's father for all his repetitive stories. Basically, he thinks the old guy's a blowhard and a nuisance, because all he can talk about is that one time he took a wagon train out west. Big whoop. Shmoop did that every day in computer class in third grade.

Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)

Hold Your Tongue!

Sure enough, no sooner has Gramps arrived on the ranch then he launches into story after story about his trip. Guys? Did you know that a long time ago, I was a leader of a great people who traveled west to California to settle down? Yes, Gramps, we knew. Carl holds his tongue and quietly rolls his eyes for as long as he can stand it. Then, when he thinks the old man is not around, Carl complains to his wife while Jody eavesdrops. And, of course, Grandfather happens to pop his head in and overhears as well. Awkward.

Falling Action

Taking Back the Bad Talk

Eesh. Gramps is really bummed, and Carl feels terrible. He apologizes in a way that Jody has never witnessed before. Then Grandfather starts to see that maybe Carl is right. Maybe he is just a washed up old man reliving his glory days (Springsteen would approve). Maybe he kind of isn't a big deal.

Resolution (Dénouement)

When Life Gives You Lemons…

Well Jody for one is all for hearing more stories about the days of the Old West. Plus he feels kind of bad about the awkward exchange between his pop and g-pop. So he decides to forgo killing rodents for the day (good on you, dude), and sits on the porch with Gramps, encouraging the old man to continue telling tales. Then, he goes to make his Grandfather some refreshing lemonade.

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