The Red Pony

by John Steinbeck

Hardcover, 1989

Call number



Viking Juvenile (1989), Edition: Reprint, 128 pages


Classic Literature. Fiction. Literature. Raised on a ranch in northern California, Jody is well-schooled in the hard work and demands of a rancher's life. He is used to the way of horses, too; but nothing has prepared him for the special connection he will forge with Gabilan, the hot-tempered pony his father gives him. With Billy Buck, the hired hand, Jody tends and trains his horse, restlessly anticipating the moment he will sit high upon Gabilan's saddle. But when Gabilan falls ill, Jody discovers there are still lessons he must learn about the ways of nature and, particularly, the ways of man.

User reviews

LibraryThing member rainpebble
In this small but mighty Steinbeck book of short stories we get to meet Jody, his ma and pa and the ranch hand, Billy Buck. All four stories are coming of age stories about Jody as he learns life's harsh lessons about the weather, his world, his beloved animals and how life can so cruelly take away
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from one what is dear to one; but also we see him learn how to appreciate his life and the world around him and what truly matters.
This is a wonderful book; full of hopes, and dreams (some come true and some crushed).
I liked the character of the father. He rang so true for those days and times. I loved Billy Budd and Jody. I even loved the dogs and the horses, for they were characters in this book as well. The mother was just kind of there doing what mothers did in those days and it seemed right that she have not much of an impact on me, but she did on her son.
An awesome little book that I very highly recommend.
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LibraryThing member AshRyan
I hated The Red Pony when I had to read it for school when I was a kid. But that was also true of some other books that I later came to love (such as Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter) and I have since enjoyed some (though not many) of Steinbeck's other books (particularly Of Mice and Men and East of
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Eden), so I decided to give it another chance.

Now I *loathe* it.

My major complaint when I was younger was that the story was disconnected---what happens in one chapter seems to have little or no bearing on the others, or even contradicts them. The eponymous red pony is gone after the first chapter; another pony is born at the end of the third, but makes no appearance in the fourth. It turns out that this is because this isn't really so much a novel as a collection of short stories, which were originally published separately though they feature the same characters.

But there is a deeper, thematic, unity to these stories, and that is what I detest about them now. They are all about death. Not just any natural death, either, but particularly horrible deaths. And this is in the context of stories about a young boy on the cusp of manhood; according to Steinbeck, growing up is largely (if not entirely) about learning about death. For Steinbeck, death defines life.

Only the fourth story doesn't contain a gleeful depiction of a disgusting death. It centers on a visit from the boy's grandfather, much to the chagrin of the boy's father, who hates his father-in-law's visits because of the old man's tiresomely repeated stories. This is the basis for what could be an amusing story or even a meaningful one, but it is itself incredibly tedious---though it does almost manage to convey an interesting meaning when the boy's grandfather tells him, "I tell those stories, but they're not what I want to tell. I only know how I want people to feel when I tell them." But what he goes on to say isn't nearly as profound or interesting as Steinbeck apparently intended it to be, and even if it were it probably wouldn't be enough to redeem the rest of this worthless book. Even Frank Muller's narration of this audio edition couldn't much improve it.

Not that death isn't a part of life...but there is more to life than death. But you wouldn't know it by reading The Red Pony.
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LibraryThing member Alexandria_annex
In John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony, we are transported to another time and place, a simpler time. This is a story about growing up and about family. The story is told from the prospective of a young boy named Jody Tiflin. He lives on a ranch in California with his mother and father and a ranch hand
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that he idolizes named Bill Buck. We see their lives in four sub-stores; the boys first pony, the visit of an old man who grew up near their ranch, the breeding of the family horse, and the visit of Jody’s grandfather.

Steinbeck’s simple clear writing style paints a picture so clear and strong, it is hard to believe you are not there in the story with his characters. One of the recurring themes of the book is change and loss. We experience this as Jody grows up, gets more responsibility, and as his idealized feelings about Billy change. We also see this in the life of the paisano in story two. He grew up on the families ranch before they lived there. His life is over; his childhood home lies in ruins. Most powerfully we see it in the last story, where Jody’s grandfather revels in a bygone age. He was part of the great crossing of the continent, but no one seams to care anymore.

This is a sad story, it reminds us that our lives change, evolve, over time. Those things we cherish pass away; leaving an emptiness that yearns to be filled. The Red Pony is a timeless story, even though it is set in the distant past its message is familiar to readers of any time.
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LibraryThing member DebbieMcCauley
John Steinbeck’s ‘The Red Pony’ is about ten-year-old Jody Tiflin who is an only child and his journey from childhood to adolescent. ‘The Red Pony is a classic story of a boy’s initiation into manhood’, (Kilpatrick, W., et al., 1994, p. 161). It is divided into four distinct chapters;
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The Gift (p. 1); The Great Mountains (p. 41); The Promise (p. 61) and The Leader of the People (p. 87).

The Gift
In this chapter the characters and setting are introduced to the reader. The main characters include Jody, his father Carl Tiflin, his mother and ranch hand Billy Buck. Carl is stern and at times quite cold while Billy is warm and understanding and spends time teaching Jody about horses. Carl gives Jody a red pony which he names Gabilan after the mountains that surround the ranch. Jody takes very good care of the pony, but just as Billy is about to teach him to ride, the pony is mistakenly left out in the rain and develops a bad cold. He becomes extremely sick and Billy has to cut open a lump of puss and carve a hole in the pony’s throat so it can breathe. Unfortunately the pony leaves the barn one night and Jody follows a group of circling buzzards which lead him to the pony’s dead body. On finding the pony Jody kills one of the buzzards.

The Great Mountains
An old Mexican man, Gitano, appears on the ranch, claiming he was born there and wants to stay until he dies. Carl Tiflin says he can stay one night but must leave the next morning. Jody visits him that night and sees him polishing an old sword and asks him if he has been in the great mountains that so fascinate Jody. The next morning the old man and an old horse of Carl’s have gone, Jody assumes, into the mountains.

The Promise
Carl and Billy decide Jody should have a colt as he took such good care of the red pony. He is sent with a mare called Nellie to a neighbouring ranch to have her bred. The cost is $5 and Jody has to work hard for his father to pay for the colt. There is unease in Jody’s mind that something will go wrong because of the red pony’s death which Billy feel responsible for. It is almost a year before Nellie is ready to give birth. Complications lead to Billy killing Nellie and cutting the colt out of her stomach in his desperation not to disappoint Jody again.

The Leader of the People
A letter comes for Jody’s mother, from his grandfather saying that he is coming to visit. Carl is annoyed because he is sick of rehearing stories from him about crossing the Great Plains as the head of a wagon train. Jody goes and meets his grandfather on the road and that night he tells his usual stories. The next morning Jody’s father openly complains about him. The grandfather walks in to breakfast, having overheard and Jody’s father apologises. Later, as Jody sits with his grandfather on the porch he talks about how he really feels, wondering if it was really worth it to cross the plains and how frustrating it was to be stopped by the ocean. He says that what was important was not crossing the plains, but the act of leading people across it.

This is not the sort of book that I would normally pick up to read but having read and really enjoyed ‘East of Eden’ by Steinbeck recently I thought I would try it. I have a vague recollection of seeing the movie on TV when I was much younger and of the pony dying horribly and how sad it was. This didn’t appeal to me in any way which is why I hadn’t read the book. The cover is quite unappealing and in sepia tones featuring a pony’s neck and head. I found the first chapter pretty gruesome and unappealing. Jody has a dysfunctional relationship with his father and Billy sometimes seems more of a father to him even though Jody feels let down by Billy through Gabilan’s death. I find Steinbeck’s writing richly descriptive, but feel that in this novel nothing is resolved. The chapters feel very disjointed and don’t seem to flow. I was confused as to why the colt is born and then not mentioned again in the third chapter. Surely it would be one of the things that Jody would first want to show off to his grandfather. I also found that the ending left me hanging as it was so abrupt and puzzling or perhaps just too deep for me to get!
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LibraryThing member Smiler69
As I'm sure many have said before me, this little book is not an easy read, and in this coming of age story, our little boy Jody is in for some very tough life lessons. It's probably helpful to know from the outset that the four stories that make up this book are meant to explore different themes
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and are not to be read as four continuous chapters, which is how I approached the book and consequently was confused by the lack of continuity. Jody is a young boy living on a ranch around Salinas, California sometime at the beginning of the 20th century. He lives with his mother and father who are both strict with him—and in the case of his father also a stern disciplinarian—as well as Billy Buck, a ranch hand whom Joey looks up to. The red pony in question is the focus of the first story, The Gift, in which the young boy learns difficult lessons about life and death, and discovers his own capacity for killing. The themes of the Western settlers and the natives to the area are also explored. What I came away with was that Steinbeck felt he needed to establish himself as a realistic author in what was his third published work, and as such set out to break down any romantic notions a boy could have about living on a ranch, having horses, having a strong father figure, and the great adventure that was conquering the West. Rather a difficult read, especially for animal lovers like myself, but I think, an important one as it helps to see Steinbeck's ability to create a very real world with characters that breathe and have their own motivations, all the while exploring existential themes, all in a small packaging where very little, if anything at all, is wasted.
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LibraryThing member Black_samvara
I have no-one to blame but myself, I know how depressing Steinbeck is and yet I choose to read his stuff. The story of a boy on a poor farmstead who is given a pony to raise and train. It's atmospheric, vivid and awful in an "I write good about heartbreaking stuff' kind of way.
LibraryThing member avidmom
“The little boy, Jody," is growing up on an idyllic ranch in the Salinas Valley. His little world is comprised of his loving mother, his authoritarian and overbearing father and the humble ranch hand, Billy Buck. Jody’s world changes when his father brings home a red pony for Jody to raise and
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train. This is Jody’s doorway to manhood; it sets him apart from the other schoolboy friends his age: “They knew instinctively that a man on a horse is spiritually as well as physically bigger than a man on foot. They knew that Jody had been miraculously lifted out of equality with them, and had been placed over them.” Jody’s idyllic world is shattered, sadly, when the red pony is lost through some inadvertent neglect. With the loss of the pony, Jody’s childhood innocence starts slipping away. The red pony shows up in different incarnations throughout the story. Each time this happens Jody learns a lesson that is a step towards manhood. Jody is learning that life doesn’t always turn out the way we wish it too, there is loss and sorrow. He is also learning that his gods have clay feet. Billy Buck isn’t infallible and his father’s harshness is hurtful not only to Jody but to others as well and Jody has to choose between two paths: the one of pride or the one of humility.

Although I liked this story, The Red Pony is my least favorite of all Steinbeck’s works I’ve read so far. Steinbeck’s ability to paint a vivid picture of place, character, and his ability to simply drop the reader in the middle of the story are all there but the subtlety that marks his other works is missing. I felt like Steinbeck was trying too hard to be metaphorical and profound. The Red Pony was one of his first published works so for that alone, this was an interesting read, but still a so/so one for me.
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LibraryThing member MrsLee
I was completely shocked when I read this book. I can't tell you why because it would be a spoiler for you, but just let me say that the thing which shocked me also ruined the book for me. I suppose this is a book about a boy growing up in the early 1900s, learning about life in a non-sugar coated
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story. I keep it because of the illustrations.
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LibraryThing member TakeItOrLeaveIt
had to read this in 6th grade. despised it. deplorable novel. was never a huge horse fan.
LibraryThing member baconandeggs
A young boy named Jody gets a little red colt and is over joyed. But when the pony becomes sick he figures out the key to living life sucessfully. I didn't like this book because Steinback was very negative in his writing.
LibraryThing member ljspear
John Steinbeck's The Red Pony is divided into four separate sections, unlike standard chapters. The sections are held together by common characters, location, and themes, and they follow a similar time line, but the continuation of story line is not as smooth as the transition between normal
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chapters of a novel. They all follow the trials of Jody Tiflin, however, as he progresses through the rites of passage from young boy to young man. Themes are rural life, horses, death and loss, fathers and sons, youth and age, and growing up.
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LibraryThing member supermanlver
This book almost made me cry. I highly recommend it. It is very sad though. This child goes through some really hard times throughout this book. THis is a great coming of age story.
LibraryThing member crazy4reading
John Steinbeck's book about a boy and his first pony. I was truly drawn into this book from the beginning when Jody is given a red pony. He takes wonderful care of the pony, Gabilan, and is worried when ever anything could possibly hurt Gabilan.
Jody's father is a man that does not like to show
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weakness or emotions. Billy Buck is the worker that helps on their farm. Billy teaches Jody how to train the pony with the bridle, halter etc.
I love horses and enjoyed reading about the boy training his horse, and the birth of a colt. In the first chapter I was surprised as to the loss the boy had to deal with after just a short time with Gabilan.
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LibraryThing member Jim53
In four brief sections, we see young Jody Tiflin growing up on a ranch in the American west. He learns some harsh lessons about the lives and deaths of animals, fantasizes about travelling, and learns that his ranch-hand hero is fallible. Steinbeck does a nice job of economically giving us a pretty
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vivid picture of Jody's world. We don't really see the effects of Jody's experience on him, so it's more a vignette than a coming-of-age story. There is some linkage among the four sections, but it's not a continuing story. It was particularly disorienting to read the fourth section with no indication of events following the third.
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LibraryThing member andyray
this short nouvella is exquisitely written. I became part of the picture as I watched 10-year-old Jody get his first pony and hired hand Billy Buck make three mistakes in a row, i.e., he said it wouldn't rain and it'd be all right to leave the pony outside while Jody was in school and that
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it rained a chilly storm. Then the pony got sick and Billy said it woiuld get well. Then he said it wouldn't die and it did. If you get the standard book, there is a short story at the end titled "Junius Maltbie" that is a wonderful portrait of how people who enjoy life and don't try to get position, power, or things can be changed for the worse by societal "norms."
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LibraryThing member prettypinkpony2
I got lost to much. I had no idea what was going on. I read it over again but still didn't know. It definitely a challenge book/
LibraryThing member DanielMH
"The Red Pony" tells us four small story about the little boy Jody Tiflin in the 1900's. He grows up in a poor, hard-working farmer family in Montery County, California, right next to the most unexplored mountains in the US.

In these stories, Jody sees deaths and old man appearing at their farm
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At the age of ten, Jody's first beloved pony dies, in the third story, it's his new mare during the birth of a new pony. In the second story, an old Mexican man, Gitano, appears, in the fourth story, it's Jody's grandfather.

You see and understand how he gets responsible page after page by the first and third story best, while the other two stories are more based on imagening what else you can find in the world.

My rating:
The first 25 pages of the book were really boring, but then it turned better.
This book didn't become too intoxicated by me because I'm not into horses at all. But it was pretty entertaining though.
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LibraryThing member msf59
Jody Tiflin is ten years old. He lives on a ranch in Northern California and one day he is presented with a red pony, he names Gabilan. With the guidance of the old ranch-hand Billy Buck, he raises and trains this young horse.
This is four related stories, touching on responsibility and mortality.
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Steinbeck describes these subjects in a harsh, unflinching light. Despite, some potent prose, this is not one of my favorite books by this revered author. Something seems to be missing from the center of these tales…heart or some soul, maybe? I’m glad I reread it but it will be one I won’t be going back to, anytime soon.
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LibraryThing member es135
Growing up in rural south Texas, I can relate to the life of the main character. I have experienced the vastness of a rural landscape and have cared for livestock. Perhaps this is why I didn't respond as well to the novel as others have. It is no easy task to tell this story, but Steinbeck did a
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fine job.
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LibraryThing member Vivl
It's a long while since I've read any Steinbeck. I can't even remember exactly when I devoured East of Eden and Grapes of Wrath, but it was probably in my mid-teens, spurred on by James Dean fetishism. I remember liking their grim, social commentary/realism.

This is a kids book (although, being
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Steinbeck, that doesn't mean it's much less grim) but a glance at patches made me think the quality of the writing would carry it off for me. It doesn't really. As others have said, it's really three brief short stories more than a novel, each one pretty much disconnected from the others apart from involving the same charaters.

I'll have a go at another, "adult" Steinbeck in the future, but this one's on the op shop pile.
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LibraryThing member gypsysmom
This tiny book is really four connected short stories. The edition I had was for a literature course but I don’t know what age it was intended for. I would presume maybe Junior High or High School students would be the target audience for this edition but I don’t think Steinbeck meant that. I
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think young adults and those older would get a lot out of the book. I certainly did.
The stories all are about a young boy named Jody who lives on a ranch in California near Salinas (which is where Steinbeck grew up). In the first story Jody is given a red pony by his father who rarely gives him anything even praise. Jody is thrilled and looks after and trains the pony until he is almost ready to ride it. Then the pony gets sick and, despite the best efforts of the hired man, the pony dies. It is a sad ending and I suspect young adults might not be ready for that. However, the writing is so evocative that with the right teacher it would be a great learning experience.
The rest of the stories all have an element of sadness and loss in them but they do show how Jody matures. They also show a slice of bygone life. I read it as we were travelling through western Nevada in country similar to the place Steinbeck was describing. Electricity and motor vehicles and other modern amenities mean ranching is not as isolated as it was but it still involves lots of hard work and heartbreak.
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LibraryThing member ghimbert
I read this book in 7th grade and decided to read it again, I thought that it was possibly on the cusp of Children's Literature as I had read it in middle school. It was one of my favorites then, and it is still one of my favorites. It takes on a different meaning when you are older and reading it.
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You realize it is not a story about the pony after all and that it is more about the changes Jody goes through in life and how he has to mature.
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LibraryThing member Carmenere
If I had known the layout of this book prior to reading it, I believe I would have appreciated it more than I did. You see, this book is not one story about a boy and his pony but rather a collection of stories that at first read appear to have little relationship to the first story, that of the
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red pony. It was through a second reading and invaluable information gotten from a Group Read that enlightened me as to what Steinbeck's theme for this book actually centered upon. The four short stories shich make up The Red Pony deal with a young man's emotional wakefulness. Entering his teenage years Jodie is introduced to love, death, birth, responsibility, aging and yearnings for, what is at this time, unattainable.
Again, Steinbeck artfully describes his beloved California landscape with micro details and then when that is done explodes in macro fashion to expose the entire landscape and its inhabitants.
Certainly, not my favorite Steinbeck but definitely worthy of your time and reflection.
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LibraryThing member ccookie
[The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

First line:
~ At daybreak Billy Buck emerged from the bunkhouse and stood for a moment on the porch looking up at the sky ~

Once again, wonderfully written. I love Steinbeck.

This one is 4 short stories woven together to tell the story about a young boy growing up on a
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farm and his first horse. Sad, beautiful. I have nothing more to say.
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LibraryThing member ericj.dixon
A tragic tale of friendship, love and loss, that I read in elementary school, that continues to resonate and remain vivid with me these many years later.




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