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PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS
The four chapters of The Red Pony are only loosely interconnected through character and theme; in reality, each chapter can stand alone as a story unto itself. Because the stories are disparate, there is no unity of time in the short novel. Instead, the stories take place over several years, for Jody is ten at the beginning of the novel and a young man in the end. The chapters are, however, unified by place and character. The entire novel takes place on the Tiflin ranch, and Jody, the protagonist, is central to all four chapters. In fact the grouping of the stories is to give a picture of Jody's coming of age, his maturing from a young boy to a young man.
There are many parallels in the stories to further unify them into a whole. The first story, entitled 'The Gift,' is very similar to the third story, entitled 'The Promise;' both of them deal with Jody receiving and raising a new colt. In a similar manner, the fourth story, 'The Leader of the People,' is a reflection of the second chapter, 'The Great Mountains;' both of these deal with an old man (Gitano and Grandfather) returning to the ranch to die. The death of Gabilan foreshadows the death of Nellie; the death of Gitano and Easter (the aged paisano and aged mare) foreshadow the impending death of grandfather.
Steinbeck has introduced the protagonist Jody Tiflin as a young boy of ten years who is childish and naive. During the four stories he leans many lessons and matures into manhood. In the first story when Gabilan, the red pony, dies, it is a great personal loss for Jody. It is the first time that he has ever seen something or someone he loves die. The death of Gabilan helps him to realize that life and death are natural phenomena over which mankind has little control. When Gitano comes to the ranch in the second story, Jody is fascinated with this mysterious man who has come back to his birthplace to die. After Gitano leaves with Easter to die alone in nature, Jody feels a 'nameless sorrow' over the old man confronting death alone. Through him, Jody becomes aware of the loneliness of man. In the third story the boy realizes his own selfishness, for Billy is "forced" to kill Nellie and save the colt because of Jody. This story teaches the boy about the cycle of life and death, the value of a close relationship between two human beings, and the importance of faith and trust. In the final chapter, Jody proves himself to be a compassionate and selfless human being as he reaches out to his grandfather. Through the four different stories, he has matured from a self-centered child into a caring and responsible young man.