Where the Red Fern Grows
by Wilson Rawls
Rainie and Rubin
These Pritchard boys are bad news. They nag Billy into the fateful ghost-coon hunting trip; they refuse to give his money back; they're itching for a dogfight, you get the feeling; and then they even try to kill his dogs.
We'd say they get what's coming to them, but, honestly, no one deserves either (1) being impaled on an ax, or (2) watching his brother die after being impaled on an ax. The other thing is, we can't really blame them for the way they are:
My mother told me always to be kind to Rainie, that he couldn't help being the way he was. I asked, "Why?" She said it was because his brothers were always picking on him and beating him. (12.14)
In other words, the Pritchard family is the exact opposite of the Colman family. The Colman family is loving and supportive; the Pritchard family is full of rivalry and infighting. The Colman family is respected in its community; the Pritchard family is so isolated and weird that they even refuse to give their son a public burial.
Here's the thing: it would be easy to read this book as a story in which Boy Triumphs Against All Odds, or Awesome Individual Exemplifies American Spirit. And, sure, there's a little bit of that—but it's not the whole story.
Think about it: even if the Pritchard boys had been able to hunt and trap, where would they have sold their skins? Who would have told them how to trap a coon, or paid for their entry into a hunting competition?
No one. Yeah, Billy's an impressive little kid—but he's also a lucky one. And he knows it.