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Posted on June 1st, 2012, by

Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses is considered to be one of the best novels written by the author. At the same time, the popularity and recognition of this book by readers and critics in the US are, to a significant extent, determined by the fact that the novel largely exalts American spirit. It seems as if the author reminds readers about traditional American spirit which gradually becomes weaker and loses its place in modern literature.

In fact, Cormac McCarthy refers to American spirit from the beginning of the novel. Even the first look at the title of the book makes a reader think about the US, American history and traditions. The reason is quite obvious since horses traditionally accompanied American people and actually they symbolize the US. Unquestionably, horses are often associated with American pioneers who were the first whites who attempted to explore the Wild West and whose life was practically unimaginable without horses.

It should be said that horses are incorporation of traditional American spirit of the past epochs which still persists and survives throughout centuries. In this respect, it is quite noteworthy that the author pays a particular attention to horses. He simply admires them, to the extent that his seems to be even more skeptical in relation to men than horses. For instance, on the hacienda, an old man, Luis, tells the main characters about horses: the horse shares a common soul and its separate life only forms it out of all horses and makes it mortal that if a person understood the soul of a horse than he would understand all the horses that ever were and than he contrasts horses to men: along men, there was no such communion as among horses and the notion that men could be understood at all, was probably an illusion (McCarthy 111). It is worthy of mention that the long passages describing the main character’s method of gentling horses as he prepares them for the saddle are among the finest in the book. In such a way, it is obvious that the author admires horses which symbolize American spirit. Consequently, it is possible to presuppose that, to a certain extent, McCarthy idealize the American spirit of the past and, at the present moment, he seems to be a bit disappointed with the modern life and Americans who have probably lost this traditional American spirit of the past. This is probably why he is so skeptical about men and admired by horses.

Furthermore, the main characters of the novel are also typical Americans who symbolize American spirit. To put it more precisely, John Gradey Cole and his friend, Lacey Rawlins are cowboys who were associated with traditional American ideals, such as freedom, independence, and courage. Despite personal problems, such as the death of the grandfather, parents’ divorce, the loss of the family ranch by John Grady Cole, the main character is still strong enough to face all the challenges of the life.

It should be said that the main characters behave and act in a purely American way, in correspondence to what is traditionally called American spirit. For instance, they appreciate freedom, they like independence and do not want to obey to other people or give in to challenges of their fate. Basically, it is possible to estimate that the two cowboys correspond to traditional Wild West clichés that is particularly obvious when they ride the range together, eat beans and tortillas beside the campfire, and bed down in their saddle blankets under the open sky.

However, the authors exaltation seems to be accompanied about some uncertainty about American spirit and, notably about its survival and future, to the extent, that sometimes it is even possible to speak that such exaltation rather resembles a kind of nostalgia about the past epoch when American spirit was particularly strongly felt.

In fact, Cormac McCarthy’s questioning concerning American spirit begins along with the development of romantic and, at the same time, dramatic events in the novel. To put it more precisely, at the beginning, the cowboys lead a traditional lifestyle that is a bit idealized by the author but as soon as they face the reality of life the troubles begins.

At first, when they meet Blevins and later when John Grady falls in love with Alejandra, the daughter of the owner of the hacienda where the main character work. At first glance, it seems as John Grady act in accordance with traditional American spirit this brave cowboy seduces the women he loves regardless the possible social prejudices and opposition of her family. In fact, he violates the existing social norms obeying to one of the basic principles of American spirit be free and happy regardless any obstacles.

However, such devotedness to American spirit leads the main character and his friend to tragic outcome. They are arrested and sentenced to a long term on trumped-up charges simply because the father of Alejandra wants to punish John Grade who has violated local traditions and social norms and has stolen the purity of Rocha’s daughter.

In such a way, it seems that American spirit has led the main characters practically to the dead end.

At the end of the story, such a conclusion becomes even more evident. When John Grade is released from the prison he goes to Alejandra and offers her to ride off with him, but she rejects his offer under the pressure of her responsibility in face of her family and social norms. As a result, the main character turns to be alone again as at the beginning of the novel and, even though he is not totally broken, his future is vague. In such a way, it seems as if the author question whether the main character, being American spirit personified, has any perspectives in the future or probably his time has gone.

Thus, it is possible to conclude that Cormac McCarthy is basically exalting American spirit throughout his book but, nonetheless, his certain idealization of American spirit is rather nostalgic since it is possible to presuppose that he doubts that American spirit of the past can survive and persist to the deep social and cultural changes of the new epoch.

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