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In All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy reveals what happens when one learns the truths about the world through John Grady Cole’s journey as he leaves home and experiences the realities of the world in a country foreign to him. Unsatisfied with their lives at home, John and Rawlins leave to Mexico, believing that they have the opportunity to create their own new lives by venturing to and exploring the unknown. With idealistic views of the world, they can not imagine the difficulties they will be put through on their journey through Mexico, a world completely foreign to them. Through their difficult experiences and gradual loss of identity on John and Rawlins’ journey, McCarthy suggests that in order to discover the reality of the world, one must lose their naivet?, and, in many ways, become an entirely new person.
At the beginning of their venture into Mexico, Rawlins’ wallet is destroyed and Blevins loses his clothes, both signifying loss of their identities and becoming a new person, distinct from the people they were at home. Throughout the novel, they are continually physically changed in ways that symbolize the changes they must go through in becoming completely new people as they enter a new world and new life to them. At the beginning of their travels, when John and Rawlins meet Blevins, Rawlins pokes fun at Blevins, and out of a competitive, performative behavior, Blevins tells him to “throw your pocketbook up in the air” and says that he’ll “put a hole in it” (48). Rawlins throws his wallet in the air, and Blevins shoots a hole right through it, destroying the wallet and everything in it. Rawlins’ wallet, holding his money and his ID, is a symbol of his identity. The wallet being destroyed right after they cross the border into Mexico shows the first act of the characters losing their identities as they abandon their homes and go to this new land. Also early in their travels, Blevins hides from a thunderstorm and when John and Rawlins find him after, he has lost his clothes and his horse. John asks Blevins “Where’s your clothes at?” and Blevins replies “washed away.” John replies “your horse is gone,” and Blevins says “I know it” (71). This also symbolizes the boys losing their old identities. Blevins is literally stripped of his identity as he loses his clothes, forcing him to start off his new life in a new world symbolically naked like a baby being born, starting its life in the world. These are the first signs of the characters becoming new people. Losing Rawlins’ wallet, his only form of identification, and Blevins’ clothes as he is literally stripped of his identity, they are physically changed and forced to become new people.
As the characters continue moving through Mexico, they have many unsettling experiences that McCarthy includes to display the brutality of the world that John does not see at first. John begins the novel a very idealistic, naive character, little anticipating the harsh realities in the real world. He is optimistic, and sees the good in everything, but neglects the bad. For example, when he and Rawlins first meet Blevins, Rawlins is suspicious of Blevins’ horse and calls him out for stealing it. As Blevins continuously tells people that it is his horse, John defends him and truly believes that he is telling the truth, like when the captain interrogates him asking “Why he [Blevins] come here to steal horses?” and John replies “It was his horse” (168). John experiences and witnesses a lot of pain and brutality during his journey, revealing to him the truth about the world that he did not see before. McCarthy includes many subtle, offsetting details in describing their story. For example, when John speaks to a group of men they cross paths with and they asked him if “they wished to sell the boy,” referring to Blevins, John declines (76). Though a small occurrence, and described with little detail, this encounter reveals some darkness to John. The motive the men had for buying Blevins was unclear, it is likely that it would have been for slavery or some sort of abuse. Events like these gradually reveal to the naive John that the world is not as perfect and safe as he thought it was. And as they discover these darker truths of the world, they are forced to change themselves.
Though the characters may not mean to or even want to change, the things they go through and experience force them to grow, change, and become new people, living in this world so new to them. McCarthy shows the changes in the characters to symbolize them becoming new people as their entire lives are changed when they see the world as a completely new and unfamiliar place. In the beginning of their journey, they are stripped of their identities. As they go through more dark experiences, they change both physically and emotionally. After Rawlins is wounded on their first day in prison, he tells John that the doctors “put Mexican blood in me,” and he is worried it changes him, making him “part Mexican” (210). Now that Rawlins has this foreign blood in him, he is literally physically changed. The blood symbolizes the wound he got, and the violence he endured. McCarthy includes this to remind readers of the new aspects of life they are experiencing like violence and danger, and make clear that these are permanently changing them: physically and emotionally. Similarly, when John is attacked in prison, he took his knife and “sank it into the cuchillero’s heart,” killing him (201). John, naive at the beginning of his adventure, never thought he would have to kill someone, and the fact that he did haunts him throughout the rest of the book. A gentle and kind man, having killed someone completely changes him and symbolizes him being forced to become a new person. He has to be tough in order to survive in this new world.
When John left his home for Mexico, he knew that he was leaving to start fresh and begin a new life, free of his preexisting troubles. However, he looked at the new world before him naively, and never anticipated all of the struggles he would endure and how they would change him or affect the kind of a person the world would build him to be. Throughout his journey in Mexico, he and those traveling with him are stripped of their previous identities, see the dark things that go on in the world, and are permanently changed by it. McCarthy describes this journey and their changes to symbolize and reveal how people are deeply changed when they finally see realities of the world that they never saw before.
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