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The Red Pony

As I look at the TV screen, distanced but part of the demise of an era, the death of Queen Elizabeth II, I see a country swollen with people.  Queues, traffic jams, tears, sorrow, confusion in the very young.  I’m saddened by the Queen’s death, which with it brings poignant memories of my mother, a true supporter of the Queen.  I think of her passing, a year earlier.  I’m not at home.  I’m on holiday, out of the country where I shed a silent tear.  I see my mum’s face in the face of the Queen. 

I read on holiday and this holiday it’s a great distraction.  I’ve read and analysed The Red Pony, a book by Steinbeck.  One of his best a reviewer said.  I read it and agree.  The writing is wonderful.  The descriptions, the dialogue, the homestead horrors, the truth of the times.  I’ve learnt that it’s banned from schools.  The reason quoted as being because of the violence and bloodshed in it.  There is violence.  Jody’s new pony is given a very graphic tracheotomy as he’s contracted strangles, then escapes the stable and lies dying.  Jody runs to find him and sees a buzzard fly down to the pony.  The boy rages, runs forward but is too late to stop it pecking out the pony’s eye.  Jody grabs the bird by the neck, then bashes it to death with a stone.  He’s later seen throwing stones and killing another bird, struggling to deal with his grief.  Another episode where the mother of his new colt-to-be struggles at the birth, the colt is lying wrong, and the farm hand bludgeons the mare to death, to save the colt. 

There’s also a hint of prejudice.  We read of an old Mexican coming home to die where he was born.  This was in the next ranch which was no longer there.  Jody’s father gave him food and water and a bed for the night but sent him off next morning.  He couldn’t afford to keep a dying man.  Next morning the old man was seen on their old horse, the one which Jody’s dad had said was also on his way out, heading into the mountains, to die.  Then the grandfather appears, tells stories of the Oregon Trail, of fighting the Indians, sad that his job was done.  There was no more west to travel.  They were stopped by the ocean.     

These scenes would be the harsh truth of the times and while yes, the images are violent, the reader has to put it into perspective, and understand this.  After all many young people are watching worse on their Chromebooks and I-phones.  I have seen a few examples of the games they play, and these are far more violent.  Visuals of shooting, killing, bombing, shattering bodies.  In my eyes, damaging, horror fuelled digital games should be banned, not books, classics amongst them.    

The Red Pony is a simple book, written not from the interior lives of the characters but brought alive by the sparse but creative descriptions of the land, like the sense of mood every time the cypress tree is mentioned, this being where the ‘pigs were scalded,’ and the buzzards sailing close to the ground.  ‘Some animal had died in the vicinity.’  He shows the characters’ lives through dialogue and actions.  I’ve read a story of adolescence, the experience of death, and dying, and life from death.  It’s the story of another country, another era. 

We’ve travelled into another era.  What will that bring for our up and coming young?  The Queen and my mum lived through the same times, but with entirely different experiences, but for me, far from my country, I see them together in this encounter.  The harsh truth is my generation, my era, is the next to go.   

Published by Jimjan's journal

I like to write.

One thought on “The Red Pony

  1. Jan, the film has just been on tv again and from your description of the book the film (or the censors) have blunted or omitted a fair part of the more ‘extreme’ scenes. So I will try and find the book to get the original perhaps more in depth version of the story.


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