All the Pretty Horses: Part 4
John Grady arrives at Don Hector’s ranch. He speaks with Alfonsa, who tells him that Don Hector is away but would not speak to him even if he were there. Alfonsa says that after the police visited the ranch for the first time, Don Hector had conducted his own investigation and concluded that John Grady was a liar and a horse thief and that his friend Blevins was a murderer. He had then turned John Grady and Rawlins over to the police. Alfonsa too thinks that John Grady is a criminal. She says that she paid John Grady’s way out of jail in return for Alejandra’s promise never to see him again. John Grady says he would rather have died in the jail than be freed at such a price. Alfonsa says that many women in her family have suffered as a result of disastrous relationships with disreputable men. She is determined that Alejandra will not follow in their footsteps.
Alfonsa describes how she sees the world: as a puppet show, with men being controlled by forces outside their knowledge, their lives ending in violence and madness. She had grown up, a girl of privileged background amidst great poverty, as an idealist and a freethinker. When she was seventeen she had fallen in love with Gustavo Madero, the brother of Francisco Madero, a revolutionary. Francisco devoted his life to improving the lot of the poor. Alfonsa lost two fingers in a shooting accident and felt she had no chance of making a good marriage. But Gustavo, who had himself lost an eye in an accident, treated her with affection and respect. Her family, however, opposed any relationship between them and kept her in Europe, far away from him. Eventually, Gustavo married someone else. Francisco became Mexico’s first elected president. Gustavo ended up being attacked by a mob, which tortured and killed him. Alfonsa’s experience has taught her only that “What is constant in history is greed and foolishness and a love of blood and this is a thing that even God – who knows all that can be known – seems powerless to change.”
Alfonsa concludes that John Grady is at best a victim of circumstance, a person “to whom things happen,” and she has no intention of allowing Alejandra to marry such a man. John Grady says that he means to meet Alejandra. Alfonsa is certain that the girl will not break her word to her.
John Grady reclaims Rawlins’s horse and rides toward Mexico City, where Alejandra is staying. On the way he shares his lunch with some Mexican children, who ask him to tell his story. When they hear that Alejandra is from a rich family and that John Grady is poor, they are not hopeful about his chances of marrying her. They suggest that John Grady should bring Blevins to tell Alfonsa that he was the one at fault, but John Grady points out that Blevins is dead.
John Grady calls Alejandra and asks her to meet him. At first she refuses, but eventually she agrees that she will leave school a day early and meet him in a town called Zacatecas.
John Grady and Alejandra have a sad final meeting. Alejandra confesses that it was she who told Don Hector that she and John Grady were lovers. She did this because Alfonsa threatened that otherwise, she would tell him. Alejandra says, “She tells me I must be my own person and with every breath she tries to make me her person.” Alejandra feels that her father has stopped loving her since he found out about the affair.
John Grady and Alejandra spend the night together. He asks her to marry him and to come with him to America. Alejandra says she loves him, but cannot bring herself to leave with him.
John Grady sees Alejandra to her train and she leaves. He goes to a bar, gets drunk, and gets into a fight. He wakes in an unknown room, bloodstained and in pain. He rides to Encantada, where Blevins retrieved his stolen horse and where he, Blevins, and Rawlins were thrown in jail. He walks into the office of the captain of police, holds the captain at gunpoint, and demands the return of his horse. The captain takes him to the house of the charro who bribed the captain to kill Blevins. The two men show John Grady the horses belonging to John Grady, Rawlins, and Blevins. As John Grady leads his horse out, he is shot in the leg from behind.He manages to ride away on his horse, driving the other horses before him. The handcuffed captain rides in front of him as a hostage.
When the stop for the night, John Grady cauterizes his gunshot wound by heating the barrel of his pistol in the fire and jamming it into the hole. He also replaces the captain’s shoulder, which has become painfully dislocated, in its socket. The captain is exhausted, but John Grady forces him to continue with him on his journey. The next night, he handcuffs the captain to the saddle and sleeps. He is awakened by three men standing over him. They ask for the keys to the handcuffs and free the captain from the saddle, but then cuff his hands behind him. They ride off, taking the captain with them.
John Grady rides on. He reflects on Alejandra and the sadness he saw in the slope of her shoulders. He knows that he understood nothing of her inner life. He feels that even a glimpse of beauty in the world must be paid for in huge suffering.
He reaches Texas and asks a man what date it is. It is Thanksgiving. He rides for weeks through the border country, looking for the person who owns Blevins’s horse. Three men put in a claim for the horse, and the case goes to court. The judge invites John Grady to tell his story. It takes him an hour. When he finishes, there is a stunned silence. The judge awards the horse to John Grady.That night, John Grady calls at the judge’s house. John Grady confesses that he feels guilty about driving Don Hector into a fury about Alejandra. He also feels bad about killing the assassin in the jail, and about wanting to kill the Mexican captain. The judge tells John Grady that there is nothing wrong with him. John Grady says he is determined to find the true owner of Blevins’s horse.
One day John Grady is sitting in a café when he hears a voice on the radio mention the Jimmy Blevins Gospel Hour. He finds out that Jimmy Blevins is an evangelist preacher who lives in Del Rio. He rides to Jimmy Blevins’s house and meets the reverend Blevins, who insists that the horse is not his.
John Grady visits Rawlins to return his horse to him. Rawlins tells him that his father has died and that Luisa’s mother, Abuela, is dying. Rawlins asks John Grady where he will go next. John Grady says that Texas is not his country; he does not know where his country is.
John Grady attends Abuela’s funeral. She had worked for his family for fifty years. The novel ends with him riding off into the sunset.
Analysis of Part IV
Alejandra’s refusal to marry John Grady goes against the convention of romantic fiction and traditional Westerns (where true love wins through and the hero gets the girl). It is arguably realistic in its portrayal of conflicting emotions and loyalties. Alejandra does love John Grady, but she is also heartbroken at the loss of her father’s love, which she sees as a result of her affair with John Grady. Finally, she cannot break with her family in order to be with John Grady. In making her decision, she remains a creature of Don Hector and Alfonsa.
John Grady’s reflections on Alejandra’s desertion are also a triumph of realism over romanticism. He realizes how little he knows or understands her. In this tale of alienation and loneliness, even the hero’s beloved remains essentially unknowable.
John Grady distils the following philosophy from the events of his life so far:
“He thought the world’s heart beat at some terrible cost and that the world’s pain and its beauty moved in a relationship of diverging equity and that in this headlong deficit the blood of multitudes might ultimately be exacted for the vision of a single flower.”
This passage could stand as a motto or summary for the entire novel, which suggests that beauty and suffering are inextricably linked, but not in an equal way: a mere glimpse of beauty exacts the terrible price of massive bloodshed and pain.
The episode in which John Grady confesses what he sees as his sins to the kindly judge, like much else in the novel, has religious overtones. It can be read as symbolic of the hero’s facing God at the final judgment and accounting for his sins. The judge’s verdict that John Grady is too hard on himself and has nothing to worry about comes as a relief to the reader, reinforcing what is likely to be the reader’s verdict also. John Grady is vindicated as a good and honest man, but one to whom terrible things have happened. His goodness has not brought him any benefits in life except the fact that his integrity has survived. He has, so to speak, maintained the status quo of his pure soul. It is a modest outcome known only to himself and his God – and the judge, who symbolically stands as the voice of God. As such, it suits John Grady’s stoical and understated heroism.
Just as the novel began with a funeral, it also ends with one. Abuela’s funeral marks the end of the old way of life on John Grady’s family’s ranch. It reinforces the elegiac tone of the novel, which is in part about the dying of the Old West.
The final scene recalls the theme of blood and pays tribute to the Western movie cliché ending of the hero riding off into the sunset. But the ending is neither happy nor triumphant. John Grady is alone and alienated, feeling that he no longer knows where his country is. Like the Comanches who are invoked in the opening scenes of the novel, the cowboy lifestyle embodied in John Grady is a disappearing, seemingly redundant, phenomenon in the onward march of time. Far from being illuminated and spotlit by the sunset, the figure of John Grady has “passed and paled into a darkening land.”