Book Review: The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

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Title: The Red Pony

Author: John Steinbeck

Number of Pages: 100

Genre: Classic Literature

Rating: B

Recommended?: Yes


From the title The Red Pony sounds like it might be pretty upbeat and innocuous, but in reality it’s dark and disturbing, with very little hope or happiness for any of it’s characters. The book’s protagonist is 10-year-old Jody, who lives on a ranch with his parents and Billy Buck, who is hired to help Jody’s dad. The story begins when Jody’s father, Carl, gives his son a colt to raise in hopes that it’ll teach him responsibility. Jody names the colt (the red pony of the title)  Gabilan, and jumps passionately into caring for the animal. When Jody’s pony gets terribly sick, his dreams regarding his pet’s future quickly fall apart.


I didn’t like Jody, I thought he was a pretty shitty kid. I know he was sad about what happened with Gabilan, but he copes with that sorrow by killing and tormenting animals. That in of itself made me want to smack him silly. Jody’s dad was horrible too, his mother seemed all right but we didn’t get to know her all that well. Even though I didn’t like either Jody or his father, I thought Billy Buck seemed like a decent enough guy.


John Steinbeck seemed to have a thing for writing characters who were assholes, I personally don’t mind unlikable characters as long as the book is well-written. Luckily, The Red Pony is very well-written, like the other books I’ve read by this author. It has a lot of rich descriptive detail without overdoing it, and the relationships between the characters seem very real. I expected the majority of this book to revolve around Jody’s developing relationship with Galiban, and I certainly didn’t expect the pony to die in the very first chapter.


I didn’t think The Red Pony was as plot-driven as the other books I’ve read by Steinbeck (Of Mice and Men and The Pearl), It seemed like each chapter was kind of like a different story, albeit connected and featuring the same setting and characters. The chapters didn’t seem to form a traditional narrative and I found it difficult to figure out how they fit together thematically. There were a lot of bad things happening to animals in this book, so if you’re sensitive about that kind of thing, you might want to avoid reading it altogether.


The pony getting really sick in the first chapter was hard to read about, but I think Billy Buck killing the mother horse so he can cut the foal out of her body was even more disturbing. The last chapter wasn’t that disturbing, but it was probably the saddest out the four segments. John Steinbeck has a way of conveying a lot through a very limited amount of pages. His books seem like they would be dry (probably because they’re the type of literature that are probably very popular to assign to high school students) but his writing style is surprisingly compelling and easy to read.


This book is definitely not for everybody because of it’s depressing and bleak tone, but even though I disliked most of the characters I enjoyed the writing and in particular how vividly the setting was conveyed. I think this was a book where the prose was the biggest strength, and the plot and characters seemed secondary. I generally prefer books that have stronger character development, but I still enjoyed this and would recommend it to others (although Of Mice and Men is still my favorite book by Steinbeck.)

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