Dan Sandman

46: The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

In Books, Fiction on 14/11/2014 at 12:00 pm

The Red Pony by John SteinbeckThe Red Pony (1937) contains four short stories, and is set on a farm in California. The stories are autobiographically inspired, and were written whilst John Steinbeck was relying on his parents to support him and his wife. It is possible to imagine Steinbeck reflecting on his own childhood, as he tells the story of ten year-old boy Jody. It is a childhood full with the promise of new things and adventures, but also one where violence and disappointment are present. Steinbeck uses his analytic eye to examine the contradictions which most children face.

Like many boys his age, somewhat disturbingly, Jody enjoys killing helpless creatures, and is interested in displaying dominance over in the natural world. Yet at the same time, because he is a farm boy, he has learnt to love and respect horses, eagerly learning about them from farmhand Billy Buck. So when his father says he can have a red pony, Jody is eager to inform his school friends, who are impressed by the news. But, as Jody has to learn throughout these stories, nothing is given without conditions, and sometimes sickness or old age take their toll on life.

This is a short book, at just under one hundred pages, and I read each story on various London buses and tube trains, as well as at my favourite spot in Morrison’s supermarket cafe. As always, Steinbeck has a wonderful eye for detail and realism, painting memorable scenes and drawing characters who speak the way people really speak. Like life, these stories have no definitive structure to them, feeling as though they have suddenly sprung up from the ground, where they will soon recede. And there is something earthly about these stories; the beautiful place, somewhere near the Gabilan Mountains; the tough people who farm the land; and the animals who work and graze above the soil.

Takes me away from myself.

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