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Analysis

What’s Up With the Ending?

So everything is wrapped up, the fat lady is about to sing, and the Colmans are on their way to town. We get a neat little transition from country to city and, for Billy, boyhood to manhood. The red fern gives us, through Billy, closure of the story of Old Dan and Little Ann. Some final reflecting thoughts from old man Billy and we're good to go.

Everybody's happy, right? Not so fast. Why has Billy never been back to see his old home and visit his dogs' graves?

It's obviously not that he doesn't have enough money, because, really? We're talking about Billy, the kid who saved for two years to buy his coonhounds. What's weird is that the last few paragraphs are full of things that Billy would like to do: "I'd like to walk again on trails," "I'd like to see the old home place," "I'd like to walk up the hillside" (20.41-44).

So, why is it that a kid who was once able to do anything he set his mind to, now can't even make a simple trip to the country? Well, maybe this is a hint: "part of my life is buried there, too" (20.45).

Maybe it has nothing to do with money or time. Maybe he just knows that he can't go back, because that would mean returning to his childhood. He couldn't go back to the old farm any more than he could go back to being an eager, determined boy again.

Sad? Yeah. But—and this is word we've been using a lot—maybe it's more bittersweet.

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