People of the West: A Character Study

Lisa Stevens

John Grady Cole:  John Grady grew up on a ranch in southern Texas.  After his grandfather dies, his mother inherits the ranch and decides to sell it. John Grady desperately tries to save the ranch by buying it himself, but he is refused because he is still a minor. Both his parents are very dysfunctional. His father has long struggled with drinking and drugs and his mother is flirtatious and promiscuous and is dating a man nearly John’s age.  Knowing that he has nothing to hold him down, he leaves his home in Texas for the Mexican plains. Grady is a cowboy in every sense of the word. He is a mature boy of only 16. He is referred to as “the boy” frequently in the novel. He knows horses and knows how to ride, and is passionate about both.  He is extremely moral and holds a strict code of ethics. From growing up on the ranch, he knows how to speak Spanish. This is a great aid to John and his companions during their travels in Mexico. John is a quick thinker and knows how to keep a cool head in stressful situations. He is rather paternal in his mannerisms and a loyal friend.  John Grady seems to be the last of a dying race of cowboys or “the desperados.”  The pride of the West seems to be disappearing in Texas, but John Grady still embodies and respects the ideals. McCarthy describes John and his character several times. “The boy who rode on slightly before him sat a horse not only as if he’d been born to it which he was but as if were he begot by malice or mischance into some queer land where horses never were he would have found them anyway. Would have known that there was something missing for the world to be right or he right in it and would have set forth to wander wherever it was needed for as long as it took until he came upon one and he would have known that that was what he sought and it would have been.”  John Grady has a somewhat romanticized vision of the West.

Mrs. Cole: Not much is revealed about John Grady’s mother, although he goes to watch her in a play in the novel. After John’s grandfather dies she sells the ranch. John is bitter because of the history the ranch holds and tries to keep his mother from selling it. John’s father tells him how important it is to have a relationship with her, to put aside their disputes:

“…your mother and me never agreed on a whole lot. She liked horses. I thought that was enough. That’s how dumb I was. She was young and I thought she’d outgrow some of the notions she had but she didn’t. Maybe they were just notions to me. It wasn’t just the war. We were married ten years before the war come along she left out of here. She was gone from the time you were six months old till you were about three. I know you know something about that and it was a mistake not to of told you. We separated. She was in California. Luisa looked after you. Her and Abuela.

Mr. Cole: John Grady’s father has the same mannerisms as his son. He doesn’t over speak but when he talks the things he says are meaningful. He is very frail and skinny. He is often coughing in the novel, possibly a result of his chain smoking. Cole frequently mentions his fragility and his limited time to his son. The West is a theme that seems to link John Grady to his father. John Grady seems to get his attitude from his father. Mr. Cole has the same western manners and pride that embody the “men of the west.”

McCarthy demonstrates this using the dialogue.
“She’s in San Antonio, the boy said. Don’t call her she. Mama. I know it.”  Cole seems very noble. He and his wife are apart but he is very accepting. He doesn’t hold anything against her. “His father rode sitting slightly forward in the saddle, holding the reins in one hand about two inches above the saddlehorn. So thin and frail, lost in his clothes. Looking over the country with sunken eyes as if the world out there had been altered or made suspect by what he’d seen of it elsewhere. As if he might never see it right again. Or worse did see it right at last. See it as I always had been, would forever be.”

He looked at the boy and he looked out the window again.

She wanted me to go out there, he said why didn’t you? I did. I didn’t last long at it.

The boy nodded.

She came back because of you, not me. I guess that’s what I wanted to say. … She’s goin to be around a long longer me. I’d like to see you all make up you differences.”

We can gather from Mr. Cole’s talk that John is a lot closer to him then to his mother. I think the fact that she is not mentioned as frequently is merit to that.

Lacey Rawlins: Rawlins is John Grady’s best friend and partner for most of the journey through Mexico. He is seventeen years old yet he has the same mature nature as John. Although they are good friends, Rawlins is very different from John. He is a bit uncouth. He cusses often and is blunt in his speech. Rawlins also has a talent and love for horses and riding. It seems to be a bond that the two boys share. Rawlins is very witty. The two often joke:
“The Mexican came over to look at the horses. He was not much older that Rawlins.

Where you headed? he said.


For what?

Rawlins looked at John Grady. You think he can be trusted?

Yeah. He looks all right.

We’re runnin from the law, Rawlins said.

The Mexican looked them over.

We robbed a bank.

He stood looking at the horses. You aint robbed no bank, he said.”

Rawlins is not as quick on his feet as John Grady and is quick to resort to guns and violence. Rawlins also lacks John Grady’s moral code. His impatient attitude and fowl language makes him sound cruel at times. He also does not seem to have the drive to find something of meaning in the West that John Grady possesses. The travels are more like an adventure to him. He tends to ignore sentimental feelings or attachment, though is frequently asking and pondering questions:

 “You think God looks out for people? Said Rawlins. 

Yeah. I guess he does. You? 

Yeah I do the way the world is. Somebody can wake up and sneeze somewhere in Arkansas or some damn place and before you’re done there’s are wars and ruination and all hell. You don’t know what’s goin to happen.

I’d say he’s just about got to I don’t believe we’d make it another day otherwise.”