Alejandra is the beautiful seventeen-year-old daughter of Don Hector Rocha y Villareal. John Grady falls in love with her and they begin an illicit affair, but their relationship is doomed when Alfonsa and Don Hector find out about it. Although Alejandra loves John Grady, she is convinced that she has lost her father’s love due to their affair. She decides that she cannot follow John Grady to America. In giving up John Grady, she also keeps her word to Alfonsa, to whom she promised that she would not see him again in return for Alfonsa’s bribing the Mexican police to let him out of jail. Alejandra is a sad and tragic figure who denies herself happiness by trying to please her father and obeying what she sees as a moral duty to her great-aunt.
Alfonsa is Alejandra’s great aunt and lives at Don Hector’s ranch. Educated in Europe, Alfonsa is an intellectual who thinks deeply about things. She was a freethinker in her youth and fell in love with a revolutionary who helped bring about the civil war in Mexico on behalf of the oppressed people. Her family disapproved of the match and prevented her from marrying him. As a result, Alfonsa has become bitter, cynical, and manipulative. She opposes John Grady and Alejandra’s relationship, paying a bribe to get him out of jail only in return for Alejandra’s promise never to see him again.
Though Alfonsa considers herself to be a radical freethinker, she is adamantly opposed to allowing Alejandra her own choice in love. She is one of the unreliable talkers of the novel who spend much intellectual energy verbally justifying their morally dubious actions and decisions. Alfonsa’s motives seem contradictory and it is possible that she is even confused about her own motives.
Armando is the ranch manager at Don Hector’s ranch.
Blevins is a runaway boy of about thirteen years old who insists on riding to Mexico with John Grady Cole and Rawlins. His arrival is surrounded with bad omens: he lies about his age, probably lies about his ownership of his horse, and even goes under a false name. Rawlins immediately has a bad feeling about him, predicting (accurately, as it turns out), that Blevins will get them all thrown in jail.
Blevins’s general foolishness is countered by his one apparent talent: he is an excellent shot. However, even this one skill gets the Americans into trouble when he shoots a man in Encantada.
Blevins is so touchy that he is unable to tolerate insults or humiliation. He is acutely embarrassed when he accepts the hospitality of a Mexican family but then falls off a bench at dinner and feels so humiliated that he storms out and refuses to re-enter the house, even to sleep. This trait is another predictor of the likelihood that he will bring trouble to his traveling companions.
It is not surprising that of the three, Blevins is the one who fails to come out of the Mexican jail alive. Chaotic, selfish, and without prudence or forethought, he proves a liability for his traveling companions.
The Captain of Police
The captain of police is a sadistic and corrupt man. He accepts a bribe from the charro to kill Blevins. He has the same tendency towards grandiloquent and philosophical speech as Alfonsa and Don Hector, and, like them, is an antagonist to John Grady. He is unable to perceive the truth, believing that John Grady and Rawlins are criminals and calling the foolish child Blevins an assassin.
The charro (a cowboy who wears an ornate costume) is a citizen of Encantada who pays the Captain of Police to kill Blevins. After John Grady, Rawlins and Blevins are imprisoned in Encantada, the charro keeps their horses.
John Grady Cole
John Grady Cole is a young man of sixteen years of age who leaves home when the family ranch is sold after the death of his grandfather at the beginning of the novel. He is the novel’s protagonist and hero. The novel can be seen as a bildungsroman or coming-of-age novel, with John Grady as the character whose coming-of-age or maturation forms the main plot.
John Grady is loyal, steadfast, and honest. When he asks Rawlins for his loyalty after they are arrested by the Mexican police (Part III), he points out that he himself would always remain loyal to Rawlins, whatever he had done: “How I was is how I am and all I know how to do is stick.” His primary love is horses, with which he has an instinctual and almost mystical connection. Rawlins describes him (in Part I) as “the best [rider] I ever saw.”
One of the questions that drives the novel is whether John Grady will be able to maintain his cowboy vocation in the face of the modernity that is eroding all traces of the Old West in his homeland of Texas. Unable to do so in Texas, he willfully exiles himself to Mexico in a quest to find a place where he can pursue his vocation. Although he succeeds temporarily in finding congenial work, this limited victory comes at a cost as he and Rawlins are forced to undergo great suffering.
John Grady is a romantic, with regard to his chosen vocation and his relationship with Alejandra. He pays little heed to the reality of circumstances when making his choices, referring only to his inner sense of what is right.
While in Mexico, John Grady falls in love with Alejandra, the daughter of the rancher for whom he works in Mexico. Though he is as truthful in love as he is in every other area of his life, Alejandra feels unable to leave her family to make her life with him. Thus he ends the novel alone, as he has been for his entire life.
John Grady is a man of few words but of deep integrity. Characters in his heroic yet silent and unexpressive mold will be familiar to fans of Western films. In particular, characters played by actors like Gary Cooper and Clint Eastwood come to mind.
The deeper question that drives McCarthy’s novel, in common with the Westerns it evokes, is whether the hero, John Grady, can keep his integrity intact in spite of all the terrible events that happen to him and Rawlins. These events are outwardly signified by the deep scars that he acquires on his body by the novel’s end. As it turns out, he does maintain his integrity, though at great personal cost to himself and Rawlins.
John Grady Cole’s father
John Grady Cole’s father appears only at the novel’s beginning and dies at the end. From his first appearance it is clear that he is not well: he is dying, probably of lung cancer. He is a professional gambler who chooses not to buy the ranch on his father’s death.
John Grady Cole’s mother
John Grady Cole’s mother left the family when John Grady was six months old and is now divorced from his father. She lives in San Antonio, where she works as an actress. She is still young, being only thirty-six at the novel’s opening, and sees no future in keeping the family ranch, preferring the more exciting social life offered by the town. John Grady and she are estranged and barely know each other.
The judge appears in Part IV of the novel. He presides over the court case that arises from John Grady’s attempt to find the true owner of Blevins’s horse on his return to Texas. He is stunned by John Grady’s story of stoic heroism and suffering and awards the horse to him. After the court case, John Grady goes to visit the judge and confesses what he sees as the sins he has committed during his adventures. The judge can be seen as representing both the reader’s mouthpiece and, symbolically, the voice of God (in Christian theology, the ultimate judge of our actions) when he gives his pragmatic verdict: that John Grady is too hard on himself and that there is nothing wrong with him.
Luisa is the cook at the Cole ranch. As John Grady’s mother left the family when he was six months old, he was brought up by Luisa.
Maria is the cook at Don Hector’s ranch.
Pérez is an influential and wealthy prisoner in Saltillo prison. He believes that John Grady and Rawlins are rich and tries to persuade them to bribe him in order to get released. They refuse, as they do not have any money. Subsequently, Rawlins is stabbed and an assassin tries to kill John Grady. It is implied that Pérez has arranged these attacks because the men refused to pay him.
Rawlins is a young man of seventeen years of age and John Grady Cole’s friend. He travels with John Grady to Mexico.
Rawlins has a philosophical bent and ponderson God, heaven, and other metaphysical questions, in a way that John Grady does not need to do. This is just one of the indications in the novel that while John Grady’s moral code is thoroughly internalized, Rawlins still to some extent looks to external authorities such as Christian theology.
While Rawlins is ultimately loyal to John Grady (though his loyalty is at times severely strained), Rawlins does not have the absolute moral standards of his friend. He is pragmatic and aware of his own and John Grady’s best interests, repeatedly counseling that they get rid of the troublesome Blevins. For the many readers who share his low opinion of Blevins, Rawlins will take on the role of a mouthpiece for them, giving voice to their own misgivings about the boy.
Rawlins acts as a foil (a contrasting character) to John Grady as he is the more practical and less romantic of the two. As a realist, he is generally correct in his predictions about what will happen if they make certain choices. He also talks more than John Grady, eliciting John Grady’s views and giving his views on people and events. This is important as it allows the reader insights into the character of John Grady that, because of that man’s silent and uncommunicative nature, would otherwise go unexpressed.
Don Hector Rocha y Villareal
Don Hector Rocha y Villareal is a wealthy Spanish aristocrat who owns the ranch in Mexico, called the Hacienda de Nuestra Senora de la Purisima Concepcion, where John Grady and Rawlins find work. His love of horses and commitment to the ranching life mean that he quickly comes to appreciate John Grady’s skills with horses, and promotes him. Don Hector’s daughter is Alejandra, who falls in love with John Grady. This proves the undoing of the relationship between Don Hector and John Grady. Don Hector cannot accept John Grady’s relationship with Alejandra, and neither can he forgive her for entering into it. For this reason, he betrays John Grady and Rawlins to the Mexican police, who put them in jail.