Steinbeck returned to the short story format with his fourth book The Red Pony. This simple story about a boy growing up on a farm in the California countryside demonstrates Steinbeck’s love for his land and a nostalgia for childhood. Although not completely autobiographical, Steinbeck does mention in one of his letters (Steinbeck A Life in Letters) that as a child he did have a horse that caught a cold. This likely is the basis for one of the four short stories.
Steinbeck’s mother was very ill while he wrote this book and much of it was written while attending her bedside. I wonder if the desire to write a book from the perspective of a child comes from a time of reflection and reminiscence.
This book is one of only a few of Steinbeck’s works that the main character is a child. In a letter to his fellow writer George Albee he describes his approach to writing this book.
The whole thing is as simply told as though it came out of the boy’s mind although there is no going into the boys’ mind. It is an attempt to make the reader create the boy’s mind for himself. An interesting experiment if nothing else.
If you haven’t read much Steinbeck, this is a good place to start. Not too heady and a nice way to become familiar with the writing style and California setting that he is known for.