All the Pretty Horses would be widely considered a fairly typical western in the traditional sense. There are many of the common western tropes that exist explicitly and implicitly within the novel. While much of the idealistic “western” characteristics appear in a blatant manner, the novel is laced with incidents and dialogue of seemingly little consequence or significance at first glance. There are many occurrences which are overlooked in the story that represent and support a common and major idea that is stated in a more major or explicit form at other times.
The role of gender is one such idea. In the early stages of the novel, the conflict which sets the entire story in motion takes place as Cole’s mother has decided to sell the ranch now that his grandfather has died. Cole is distraught over this as the ranch is his desired lot in life. He attempts to talk to the family’s attorney after attempts at persuasion with his mother fail only to reach similar end. The reasoning the attorney postulates for his mother’s decision is a minute detail of the scene but brings about an interesting and potentially underlying idea throughout the story.
His rationalizes her motives on the basis that, “she’s a young woman and my guess is that she’s like to have a little more social life than what she’s used to” (McCarthy 17). This determination does not come off as explicitly judgmental but simply a plausibly suggestion for her actions. Upon closer examination however, it proves to be more meaningful. The attorney is asserting Cole’s mother’s social life as a legitimate reason for her to forfeit the ranch her father had built from the ground up and worked so hard for.
There is no such concern mentioned for the sixteen year old John Grady whom is interested in not only keeping the ranch, but running it himself. The adolescent stage of life in generally considered the pinnacle of social importance in society as adult relationships begin to form and develop. This is a very biased judgment on the attorney’s part based on a very glaring difference between Cole and his mother which is their gender. Mrs. Cole’s social obligations appear to him as a legitimate reason for her to back out of the hard work, and presumably things considered “man’s work” necessary to run the ranch which she had inherited.
It appears through his acceptance about Cole’s mother and her decision, reaction to Cole’s request, and lack of concern for his social needs that the attorney is convinced of his mother’s inability to run the ranch without much displeasure because of her gender inferiority. There is no question of the ability and willingness to struggle by both Cole and his grandfather but there is a quick dismissal of the lack of drive and ambition to keep the ranch by the female entity.
Such a characteristic of women as playing an inferior role to males is shown elsewhere in the novel. Examples of this ideal being maintained in the story came also in more explicit form. One such an example is in an exchange between Rawlins and Blevins as they discuss the riding skills of Cole. Rawlins is fishing for a positive response from Blevins to support his highly held esteem of Cole so asks he poses a clearly untrue and negative statement that, “ suppose I was to tell you he’s never been on a horse a girl couldn’t ride” (McCarthy 58).
This assertion is intended to draw a clear reaction to me being false due to the absurdity of a male, let alone the John Grady Cole, be of a lesser ability of riding a horse than a female. The reference to the female gender inferiority in that statement is understood by Blevins despite not being in close relations previously with Rawlins which shows an encompassing ideal that women are inferior to men. The male superiority trope surfaces again later in the novel as Rawlins and Cole come across the ranch which they work for. Rawlins observes the use of female horses as work horses and is surprised by such an act. Well… I can see why they’re hard on a horse. Putting up with them bitches” (McCarthy 102). Rawlins is suggesting by his surprise in the use of female horses to perform work as opposed to males that the females are incapable, whatever the species, of performing the tasks and duties that are expected of and within the ability of a male. Along with their inadequacy he also sympathizes with the ranchers having to deal with the less desirable temperament of the females and promotes the subsequent assertion of physical dominance over the animals do to their supposed inferior gender.
Such dominance would be easy to gain due to the lack of supposed equality between rider and horse as the riders are male and therefore more capable according to the ideology. Gender inadequacy is even given as verbally explicit presence in the eyes of the novel as possible when Alfonsa. Her concern for the relationship between Alejandra and Cole rests in the unfair but concrete views of society on the morals of women compared to that of men “There is no forgiveness. For women. A man may lose his honor and regain it again. But a woman cannot. She cannot” (McCarthy 137).
Alfonsa’s extremely blunt but realistic views on how people perceive and forgive actions committed by men and women paints a black and white picture of the glaring inadequacy the novel’s ideals carry for gender. Essentially she is saying that males lay above reproach or at least may atone for their sins or supposed sins but females are held to a much harsher standard with a greater punishment in that they cannot regain the positive image society has initially placed upon them no matter what action that take to rectify simply because of their sex alone.
The implicit and roundabout assertion of the attorney to Cole lay the foundation for a very prominent ideal of the story. Female inferiority to males is illustrated explicitly and has no bounds in terms of the realm of inadequacy or even the species as it appears to be universal. Such flaws of women can’t even be atoned for in the eyes of the story as forgiveness is only available to those fortunate enough to be seen in society as forgivable because of their superiority.