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George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

cover image By: McCoy, Horace (male)
Publisher: New American Library (Penguin Signet Books 670)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 327: PS3525 .A1715 T47 1948
Contributor: M. Davis


Era: 1930s Author as on Cover: Horace McCoy Geographic Locale: Hollywood, California; a pier on the beach near Malibu, California Date of Publication: 1948  |  Original Date: 1935 Setting: urban; working-class people caught in the Great Depression enter a dance marathon Motives: murder -- to put Gloria "out of her misery." Robert recalls his father shooting his favorite horse when the horse broke her leg and saying, "it was the kindest thing to do."

Plot Summary

Robert Syverten, who aspires to be a film director but can't even land a part as an extra, befriends Gloria Beatty, whose movie career is also going nowhere. Gloria persuades Robert to enter a dance marathon; with nothing else to do and in need of the free food, he agrees. As the days and weeks of the dance marathon pass, Gloria sinks further and further into despondency, and Robert's optimism about the future also begins to dim.

Major Characters

Robert Syverten adult male, aspiring movie director, works as a movie extra

Gloria Beatty adult female, blonde, not very pretty, aspiring actress



Level of Violence

in addition to the murder, mostly fist fights; one knife fight (not described in detail) used primarily to show the stress of the Depression.


not a significant element of the novel.

Gender Roles

no particular significance; the Depression has made both genders equally vulnerable and desperate. Neither gender is portrayed as stronger, either emotionally or physically.


not a significant element

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

not a significant element

Law Enforcement

not a significant element

Added Features

the dance marathon depicts the desperation of the victims of the Depression. Gloria's depression and her resulting emotional "paralysis" illustrate the crippling effect of depression.

Subject Headings

California - Hollywood/ Business Depression, 1929/ Murder/ Dance marathons

Psychological Elements

depression: from the beginning of the novel, Gloria expresses a desire to be dead, but admits that she doesn't have the emotional strength to commit suicide. As the story progresses, her depression deepens, and Robert becomes convinced that the kindest thing he can do for her is to kill her.

Film Adaptations

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, 1969, Cinerama