All the Pretty Horses: Part 2
Don Hector’s ranch is vast, with a thousand cattle. He also owns around four hundred horses. His wife lives separately, in Mexico City.
John Grady earns Don Hector’s respect with an astonishing feat of horsemanship, breaking sixteen horses in just four days. The ranch manager, Armando, and his brother Antonio are also impressed. Don Hector summons John Grady to the ranch house and asks him to help him breed his new thoroughbred stallion with his mares. Along with John Grady’s promotion goes more luxurious sleeping accommodation: instead of sleeping in the cowboys’ bunkhouse he will now sleep in his own room in the barn.
From time to time, John Grady encounters Alejandra as she prepares to go out riding. He learns that she is seventeen years old and goes to school in Mexico City. Rawlins warns John Grady that she is above his social station, but John Grady feels he has no choice but to follow his heart.
John Grady and Rawlins get some new clothes made and go to a local dance. John Grady dances with Alejandra and talks with her. She tells him that she has been away at school in Mexico City for three years, and visits her mother on Sundays.
John Grady and Don Hector work together on Don Hector’s breeding project. John Grady forms a bond with the stallion.One evening, John Grady is out riding the stallion when he meets Alejandra, who is riding her black Arabian. She orders him to let her ride the stallion. Though John Grady is concerned about what Don Hector will think, he concedes and they swap horses, with John Grady riding her horse back to the stable. He is seen by someone at the ranch, though he does not know by whom.
Alfonsa, Alejandra’s great-aunt, summons John Grady to the ranch house. They play chess. She tells him that Alejandra is leaving to stay with her mother for two weeks. She also says that John Grady must not be seen again with Alejandra, as her reputation could be damaged.
Rawlins warns John Grady that though Don Hector likes him, he may not tolerate his romantic designs on Alejandra.
A few nights later, John Grady is asleep in his bunk when he hears a tap at the door. It is Alejandra. She is angry with Alfonsa for forbidding her to be seen with John Grady. The couple begin to ride out together secretly at night. One night they swim naked in a lake.
A few days later, five Mexican soldiers ride up to the ranch house, but they leave the next morning. The following night, and for the next nine nights, Alejandra visits John Grady in his room at night and they make love. Then she returns to Mexico City.
Don Hector invites John Grady to play billiards with him. He tells John Grady about Alfonsa’s history. She fell in love with the brother of Francisco Madero (McCarthy’s fictionalized version of a real-life politician and revolutionary who was President of Mexico from 1911 to 1913). However, Alfonsa’s family refused to allow her to marry him and she never forgave her father. In the end, both brothers were assassinated. Alfonsa shared her lover’s revolutionary ideas, which she had picked up while being educated in Europe.
Don Hector tells John Grady that Alfonsa wants to send Alejandra to France for schooling. After a sad final meeting with Alejandra, John Grady is given to understand that she will leave. He asks a cowboy in Spanish, “Which is worse: That I'm poor or I am American?” The cowboy replies, also in Spanish, “A gold key opens any door” meaning that if John Grady were rich, he would be allowed to marry Alejandra. John Grady says that when Alejandra returns, he intends to find out what is in her heart. The cowboy is puzzled: he explains that she is here now, inside the house.
John Grady rides out with Rawlins to work with the mares. While they are sitting around a campfire, Don Hector’s greyhounds appear and then vanish, as quickly as they came. Rawlins wonders if Don Hector is hunting them and intends to kill them as a result of finding out about John Grady and Alejandra’s relationship.
The next morning, two men with guns enter John Grady’s bedroom, shine a light in his eyes, and order him to get up. They take John Grady and Rawlins away as prisoners.
Analysis of Part II
On the surface, John Grady’s fortunes continue to rise as he impresses Don Hector, gains promotion and his own room, and has the opportunity to interact with Alejandra. He is living the romantic cowboy dream. However, there is an element of foreshadowing of trouble to come. Rawlins says about Alejandra: “This one of course she probably dates guys got their own airplanes let alone cars”, meaning that she is from a different social class from John Grady. But John Grady, as a romantic, cannot step back from the burgeoning romance: “You’re probably right. … It dont help nothin tho, does it?”
The narrator’s comment that Antonio “never lied” to Don Hector’s prize stallion is significant because horses, and the cowboy life that goes with them, are treated in the novel as symbolic of a kind of truth and integrity that modern life, which has become divorced from the horse, has lost.
John Grady’s riding of the stallion, and his enjoyment of Alejandra’s seeing him ride it, along with descriptions of his work in breeding the stallion to the mares, can be seen as symbolically reflecting the growing sexual interest between the young couple. It is significant that John Grady worries about how Don Hector will react to him allowing Alejandra to ride the stallion that has become John Grady’s regular mount. As it happens, he is seen returning with Alejandra’s horse, and it is probable that this episode marks the beginning of the suspicions on the part of Alejandra’s family that she is having an affair with John Grady. Alejandra’s riding this stallion is symbolic of her imminent sexual relationship with John Grady.
The chess game between Alfonsa and John Grady symbolically foreshadows the outcome of John Grady and Alejandra’s affair: “She used an opening he’d not seen before. In the end he lost his queen and conceded.” John Grady will also lose Alejandra, his “queen”, as a result of Alfonsa’s intervention.
More foreshadowing comes in the form of Rawlins’s warning to John Grady that just because Don Hector likes him, it does not mean that he will stand for a romantic relationship between John Grady and Alejandra. As so often, Rawlins is proven correct. When Don Hector invites John Grady to play billiards with him, he implies that Alejandra is to be sent away. While this is not true (Don Hector’s deceit and betrayal is set in contrast with John Grady’s truthfulness), it is true that Don Hector intends to keep Alejandra away from her lover.
Just as McCarthy uses symbolic language of a lost queen to symbolize Alfonsa’s removal of Alejandra from John Grady’s life, he notes that Don Hector, during his game of billiards with John Grady, “broke the balls” and “beat him easily.” The first of these phrases recalls the colloquial term “ball-breaker,” often used to mean a dominant woman who is perceived to emasculate men: Don Hectoris a ball-breaker in that he emasculates John Grady by putting an end to his love affair. In so doing, he conquers him, just as he beats him at billiards.
It is symbolically significant that Alfonsa plays chess and Don Hector plays billiards while they sound out John Grady’s feelings toward Alejandra. These are games both in the literal and the figurative sense. Figuratively speaking, it could be said that Alfonsa and Don Hector are playing games with John Grady in that neither tells the straight truth about why they want to keep him away from Alejandra.
In the larger and more serious sense, Alfonsa and Don Hector are also playing games with the lives of John Grady and Alejandra, perhaps denying them any chance of happiness.While games-playing suits Alfonsa and Don Hector, who are both rather devious characters, it is emphatically not the element of John Grady. His honest nature has no defense against their machinations, any more than he can beat them at their games of chess and billiards.