The title of Horace McCoy's novel They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is also

the last sentence of the book. When the policeman asks Robert why did he shoot Gloria, he answers with that sentence.

What is the meaning of this enigmatic sentence? How is the crime related to horses?

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    I didn't read the book, but it's commonly known that people shoot wounded horses because it's not cost-effective to heal them (and it's possibly also euthanasic). Might either of those apply here? Is Robert a sociopath, does he think of his wife like people think of horses?
    – Shokhet
    Mar 1, 2017 at 14:19

1 Answer 1


As suggested in a comment, it is a reference to the normal practice of putting injured horses out of their misery.

Gloria feels her life is hopeless and has attempted suicide in the past. During the dance marathon she becomes increasingly depressed - losing the will to live. She tells Robert that her life is hopeless and she would be better off dead.

Robert feels that killing her is the kind thing to do. Putting her out of her misery and saving her decades of further unhappiness.

So, when arrested, he doesn't attempt to deny the shooting. He simply makes the metaphorical connection to the practice with horses.

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    Yes: "they shoot horses [to put them out of their misery], don't they?" Apr 17, 2022 at 2:32

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