The Red Pony
by John Steinbeck
Analysis: Three-Act Plot Analysis
For a three-act plot analysis, put on your screenwriter’s hat. Moviemakers know the formula well: at the end of Act One, the main character is drawn in completely to a conflict. During Act Two, she is farthest away from her goals. At the end of Act Three, the story is resolved.
Note: Here's the thing. If we think of The Red Pony as one giant coming-of-age story in four parts, we can think of each of those parts as a stage, or act in Jody's long journey to (almost) adulthood. So in many ways, it makes sense to divide up this Steinbeck classic into four acts, not three. Here we go…
Act I: "The Gift"
A young boy named Jody Tiflin lives on his family's ranch in California. Jody receives a red pony as a gift from his father. The pony is accidentally left out in the rain, comes down with strangles, and dies, teaching Jody a little somethin' about love and loss. Oh and responsibility, too.
Act II: "The Great Mountains"
An old Mexican named Gitano comes to the Tiflin ranch. He says that he was born on this land and he has returned after many years to live out his remaining days where he grew up. After staying at the ranch for one night, Gitano steals Carl Tiflin's oldest horse and rides away, into the mountains. Jody's curiosity is clearly blooming, but he's also learning that growing up ain't all it's cracked up to be.
Act III: "The Promise"
Jody is promised a new colt. Yeah, because that last one worked out so well. The boy takes one of his father's mares, Nellie, to a nearby farm and another horse impregnates her. When the time comes for Nellie to give birth, Billy Buck realizes that the colt is turned wrong and the only way to save it is to kill the mother and cut the colt out of her. He does this, and hands the newborn colt to Jody. Can you say bittersweet?
Act IV: "The Leader of the People"
Jody's maternal Grandfather comes to the ranch. The guy is old, and maybe his memory's going, because he keeps repeating the same old tired stories about his glory days. Stories they have all heard before, over and over… and over. Carl Tiflin's so fed up with it that he sticks his foot in his mouth, causing Gramps to become more than a little mopey. Luckily, Jody's around to help cheer his g-pa up, even if it means he can't have his planned fun. So he decides to make Gramps some lemonade. It's a small gesture, sure, but it's a gesture nonetheless. Looks like this kiddo has learned a serious lesson about compassion.