Nothing says winner like a giant gold trophy, so it's no wonder that Billy's hung onto it all these years. But—stay with us, here—we're thinking there might be something at work beside just a reminder of the glory days.
While Buddie might have started Billy on his journey down memory lane, it's the trophy cups that specifically remind him of Old Dan and Little Ann. These cups represent everything that Billy and his dogs were able to accomplish. Sure, they're gold and silver—classic symbols of wealth. But these cups symbolize a different kind of wealth.
Check out the way he describes the cups:
One was large with long, upright handles that stood out like wings on a morning dove. The highly polished surface gleamed and glistened with a golden sheen. The other was smaller and made of silver. It was neat and trim, and sparkled like a white star in the heavens. (1.39)
Hm. One is big and showy; the other is small and smart-looking. Does that sound like a familiar duo of miraculous dogs to you? Because it sure sounds a lot like Old Dan and Little Ann to us. So the cups don't just represent Billy's hard work; they're actually symbols for the dogs themselves. They're the only tangible reminders of the dogs that he has, and so they're much more valuable than the precious metals they're made of.
But there's more. Check out the way Billy uses the words "dove" and "heavens" to describe the cups, almost as though they take on a religious significance. Doves are traditionally symbols of peace and salvation, so Billy's description here elevates the trophy cups to something more along the lines of communion cups.
Communion cups hold the wine in the Christian celebration of communion, so you could say that, according to the novel, these cups symbolize God's grace and presence in Billy's life. Think about it: the dogs bring peace to Billy, save his life, and provide financial salvation for his family. No wonder they're special.
In Billy's recollections, an old can stands out as strongly as his beloved dogs: "Memories of my boyhood days, an old K. C. Baking Powder can and two little red hounds" (1.34). Great. But what's the big deal about a rusty old can?
Well, this isn't any old rusty can. Billy takes something that looked like trash and "scrubs it with sand till it was bright and new looking" (3.14). Even in these small ways, Billy's resourcefulness comes through. This newly shiny can symbolizes Billy's repeated ability to work with the simple materials he has and make something beautiful out of them.
Think about Little Ann at the hunting competition. Rather than use fancy oils, Billy uses what he has: butter and his grandpa's comb. What the can shows us is that once Billy has realized his poverty, he begins to overcome it. Nothing—especially not a little rust—is going to stand in the way of his dreams.