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Free Study Guide-The Red Pony by John Steinbeck-Free Online Book Notes
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CHAPTER 4: The Leader of the People


The fourth chapter of the novel deals with the arrival of the grandfather at the ranch. It is a summer afternoon, and everything is calm and quiet. Billy Buck is busy raking the haystack, and Jody watches a flock of pigeons being harassed by a cat. He throws a stone and startles the pigeons. He finds Billy and learns that mice have lived and multiplied in the haystack; therefore, Jody plans to attack the mice, who have grown plump and smug in their security. Billy warns Jody to ask his father's permission before hunting the mice.

Jody spies his father coming from the ridge towards home with a letter in his hand. Jody runs and tells the news to his mother, who teasingly calls him "Big Britches." When Mr. Tiflin arrives, he chides his son for minding everybody's business but his own. Jody feels a bit embarrassed. Mrs. Tiflin reads the letter, which is from her father; he is coming to the ranch for a visit. Jody is excited at the news, but his father does not look forward to his father-in-law's visit, for the old man always tells the same stories about the Indians and crossing the plains. Mrs. Tiflin asks her husband to be patient with her father and to pretend to listen to his tales.

Jody goes up the hill with his two dogs to meet his grandfather. When he arrives and learns that Jody has been waiting for him, he is filled with happiness. Jody immediately asks his grandfather to join in the mice hunt, but the old man declines. At the ranch he is greeted by Mr. and Mrs. Tiflin and Billy Buck. Almost immediately, he starts telling his stories of the Indians, the wagon trains, and the fighting. Although his father seems almost angry about the stories, Jody listens to them intensely. In bed that night, he thinks about the Indians, the wagons, and the fearless men.

The next morning Mr. Tiflin speaks of his irritation about grandfather's tales; he just wishes the old man would forget all about having come West. Jody's grandfather overhears his son-in- law's comments and feels hurt. On the other hand, Jody is eager to hear more stories. Since his grandfather is not interested in hunting mice, Jody sits and listens patiently. Grandfather tells the boy of his being the leader of the wagon train and of the people's courage and enthusiasm.

Jody offers his grandfather a glass of lemonade. When the old man accepts the offer, Jody goes inside and asks his mother for a lemon. She is pleased when she learns the lemonade being made by Jody is for her father, and the boy does not even want any of it. As she hands him a squeezer for the lemon, Mrs. Tiflin thinks about how much Jody has matured, and she feels pleased.


This final chapter presents the climax of the plot and completes the thematic structure of the novel. The chapter also highlights Jody in his maturity. The chapter is really about Jody's grandfather, who arrives at the ranch in his old age. Steinbeck, through the structure and theme of the entire book, hints that the old man has come to the ranch to live out his last days, much like Gitano in the chapter entitled 'The Great Mountains'. Unfortunately, the insensitive Mr. Tiflin resents his father-in-law's presence because of his constant talk about his past. When grandfather came West, it was the most important event of his life. The trip was demanding and dangerous, but as the leader of his wagon train, he braved the hardships and encouraged the others. The memories of the Westward movement are all important to him, and he cannot stop telling stories about it. Jody, however, is the only one who is really interested and listens.

As the story begins on a summer afternoon, Jody is still portrayed as a boy. Out of school and bored, he throws stones at pigeons and plans a mice hunt to pass the time. He seems to think about himself rather than others. When he spies his father coming towards home, Jody notices that he carries a letter. It is from his mother's father and announces that he is coming for a visit. Jody waits for his grandfather's arrival with excitement. He looks forward to hearing his stories about wagons and Indians. Mr. Tiflin does not, however, feel the same way.

For the first time in the novel, Mrs. Tiflin makes herself heard in this last chapter. She questions her husband about his resentment towards her father. When he explains how he hates to hear his stories, she tries to explain to her husband how important the trip West was to grandfather. Just as she understood old Gitano, she also understands her old father.

Jody is out waiting for grandfather when he arrives, while Mr. and Mrs. Tiflin and Billy Buck are waiting at the ranch house. As Jody's father expected, it is not long before he starts telling his stories of coming West. Mr. Tiflin cannot hide his irritation and even comments that grandfather should just forget about the past. Unfortunately, grandfather overhears this comment and is very upset. He just cannot understand this younger generation and judges them to have less spirit and courage than the pioneers of his generation. He is at a loss as to how to communicate with this "soft" modern society.

In this final chapter, Jody proves he has matured. Unlike his father, he has compassion for his grandfather and gives up his own activities to listen to the old man's stories, proving he has become less selfish and self-centered. He also thinks about the needs of his grandfather and offers to make him a glass of lemonade. With this minor act of thoughtfulness, Steinbeck brings the four loosely held chapters to a climax. Jody has gone beyond the childhood tendency to think only one oneself; instead, he is now capable of reaching out to others. To prove that there has been a change, Mrs. Tiflin is very surprised to find Jody making the lemonade for her father when he did not even want any for himself.

It is important to notice that Black Demon, Nellie's stallion colt, has vigor and determination. He is a reflection of Jody, who has become the symbol of the new generation. But unlike his father, Jody has no desire to leave the past behind; instead, he wants to understand the older generation and learn from it in order to be prepared for life. He shows that the past and present can co-exist.

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