‘The Red Pony’ is a beautiful novella consisting of four episodes out of the life of Jody Tiflin, a boy living on a California ranch in the first third of the 20th century. In each of the four stories, Jody experiences something that initiates adolescence in his young soul: in the first, he’s getting a red pony to take care of. He feels his responsibility and takes this very serious. When the pony is left outside in the rain for an whole afternoon, it get an infection and dies a couple of days later. Jody’s despair upon its dead is heartbreaking. Also, he learns that Billy Buck, the ranch-hand, isn’t infallible, since he had stated it would be safe to let the pony stay out - an insight that hurts Billy’s own feelings as well. The third story also has to do with horses. This time, Jody is promised to be getting the responsibility for a colt yet to be born. But when time comes, the colt is in the breech position and so Billy Buck has to kill the mare and perform a cesarean section in order to save the colt in order to keep the promise. Jody learns that birth isn’t necessarily a happy thing.
In the second and fourth story, old men are the central figures to take effect on Jody. An old Mexican man appears at the ranch, requesting to stay there to die, because he was born on those grounds. Jody’s father refuses but offers him to stay for the night. Jody is intrigued by the old man, assuming he must be full of adventurous stories, but doesn’t get much out of him. In the morning, the man has taken an old horse from the barn, of which Jody’s father Carl had said it resembled the man. Jody feels worried about the old man who has now left for the unknown mountains.
In the last story, Jody’s grandfather comes to visit, to Carl’s despair, for he can only talk about the time he led a group of people across the plains. Jody feels sorrow for his grandpa and encourages him to tell his stories when Carl makes clear he loathes them. In both of the stories, Jody is actually the one having pity and acts selfless.
Each of the stories is beautifully written. It’s amazing how Steinbeck always manages to touch me deeply using rather simple language. A great storyteller, a great talent.