. Robert V. Kidd, Jr.
ENGL 4300, 01
Spring 2000

On the Speech of John Grady Cole

 "Evocal to the intelligent alone--for the rest they need interpreters." 
--Motto Pindar, Olympian Odes, 2:85-6

All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy, is, among other things, an exploration of its main character, John Grady Cole. The author chooses words carefully and sparingly when creating dialogue for Cole. In doing so, McCarthy creates poetic effects and rich meaning from limited verbiage. This novelist lets his readers get to know his main character largely through dialogue instead of through direct description. In this way, readers find the techniques used by McCarthy similar to those used by Ernest Hemingway in many of his books and short stories. Like the dialogue of Hemingway's protagonists, Cole's speech is sparse, but it is indicative of a great deal of meaning. 

In Cole's brief discourse, wise readers can find many individuality indicators that help us to understand this stoic character.

The first verbal exchange of this novel only requires 17 words of Cole. The first twelve words tell us a great deal considering the limited number of words used: 

I appreciate you lighting the candle, he said. 
La candela. La vela. (4)

On the first line of Cole's dialogue, he shows his appreciation of a kindness done for him. This act suggests some goodness in his character. This sentence is in English. The person speaking with Cole in this scene replies in Spanish, and we find that our protagonist is at least bilingual in the next line when he replies to the other speaker in Spanish. The fact that Cole knows two different Spanish words for candle suggests a more extensive understanding of his second language.

Readers will find that this is not the only example of individuality indicators expressed in Cole's speech. McCarthy, like many good writers, chooses to show us who his main character is instead of just telling us. He shows us through the words of John Grady Cole. The author both foreshadows the major conflict in this novel and gives us a better understanding of Cole's character in just three words when he replies to a comment from his sidekick, Rawlins. Rawlins has failed to win the affection of a girl he likes, and claims that "She ain't worth it," and that "None of em are" (10). John Grady replies simply, "Yes they are" (10). In this line, readers learn several things. Included are the facts that Cole likes women, and that he is willing to endure greater challenges than some men would for love. One can infer from these facts that John Grady is a romantic because of this attitude--for Cole, love is worth some suffering. Some readers may also deduce, from these three words, that our protagonist is not afraid to speak his mind in the face of a differing opinion--Cole is a character who means what he says and says what he means. These three words presage the coming conflict in this novel which involves his great suffering over his love for a woman. These three words set John Grady up as a romantic or tragic hero.

The long journey south provides us with some time to get to know these horsemen better. Blevins, John Grady, and Rawlins sit around the fire one morning, having just finished breakfast, and we find out some fundamental facts about Cole in just a few words. Rawlins asks his partner-in-crime if he thinks "there'll be a day when the sun won't rise," and Cole responds, "Yeah--Judgment Day" (60). When Rawlins asks when he thinks that will be, Cole responds, saying, "Whenever He decides to hold it" (60). The author could have chosen to initiate some intense and long-winded internal dialogue to let us know about John Grady's spiritual beliefs, but McCarthy chooses instead to allow a very few words from his protagonist to speak for themselves. Readers can clearly discern from these lines that the protagonist of this novel believes in God. Thoughtful readers will also note that, more specifically, John Grady believes in a God who exists and works in the present day--Cole is not a member of the "God is dead" school of thought. God is the one who will choose the date for Judgment Day in John Grady's eyes. John Grady's God has an all-powerful will that can not be resisted because Cole says that the end will come "Whenever He decides" (60). John Grady Cole clearly does not state that the end of the world, or anything about the end of the world, will be effected by anything he does. Cole's God is in charge.

Some readers may judge by word-count that Cole doesn't say very much in this novel, but such is not the case. Cormac McCarthy's protagonist, John Grady Cole, tells us a great deal about himself through his dialogue. The author of this book, like many contemporary writers, expects a lot of his readers, and rewards close examinations of his work with deep insights about his characters. The near-poetic density of the language of John Grady Cole helps the author to speak volumes without having to beat the reader over the head with obvious conclusions. 


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Copyright © 2000 by Robert V. Kidd, Jr.  All rights reserved.