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SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)
The Red Pony is a short novel divided into four chapters. It is the coming of age story of Jody Tiflin, a youth who enters into manhood due to the experiences recorded in the novel.
In the first chapter, entitled "The Red Pony," Billy Buck, the ranch-hand, has influenced Carl Tiflin, Jody's father, to give the boy a pony in order to teach him responsibility. Jody is delighted with the gift and quickly becomes attached to and overprotective of the pony. One day the pony gets wet in the rain; it then falls sick, and despite all the efforts made by Jody and Billy Buck, the pony dies. Jody is crushed and blames Billy Buck. The death of the pony makes Jody believe that he should not have absolute trust in any human being, for he had trusted Billy Buck and had been disappointed; it also teaches him the pain of loss.
The second chapter, "The Great Mountains." takes place in midsummer. Without his pony, Jody feels lost, lonely, and bored. He spends time with Gitano, an old paisano who has come to the ranch to die. Gitano tries to answer Jody's questions and explains the mystery of the mountains to the west. When the old man secretly leaves the ranch with the old horse, Easter, Jody feels a 'nameless sorrow.' He is sorry to have lost a friend and sad that the old man has left the ranch to die alone.
The third chapter of the novel, "The Promise," occurs the following spring. Carl Tiflin has decided that Jody needs another horse. Billy Buck suggests that he be given a colt to raise on his own; he feels the work involved with a colt will make Jody into a good ranch hand that handles horses well. In order to earn the colt, Jody is given a pregnant mare, Nellie, to tend. Billy Buck, trying to win back Jody's trust, spends time with Jody and helps him understand how to care for Nellie. He also assures Jody that Nellie will have a good colt, for she is a good mare.
To fulfill this promise and deliver the colt, Billy Buck has to kill Nellie, for the position of the colt is not right in the womb. This incident brings about a drastic change in Jody. He grows to understand the importance of a relationship between two human beings; he also learns that selfishness causes guilt and blames himself for Nellie's death.
The fourth chapter, "The Leader of the People," introduces Jody's grandfather, who reminisces to his grandson about travelling to and living in the Wild West. Jody is always willing to listen to Grandfather;
however, Carl Tiflin, Grandfather's son-in-law, tires of hearing these stories and tells his father to forget about the past. Grandfather is hurt to hear his son's words and claims that the second generation in the West has gone soft and lost its zeal and courage.
Through his experiences with his Grandfather, Jody becomes less self-centered and grows into his final stage of his maturity. He feels compassion for his Grandfather and willingly gives up doing what he would lie in order to spend time with him.