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Themes

What place do women have in a young boys coming of age story? Well, Billy seems to be asking himself the same question. Where the Red Fern Grows is full of female characters—Billy has three younger sisters, fer cryin' out loud—but the only female character in the book who gets a name is a dog. (Well, except Grandma—Grandpa calls her "Nannie." Once.) Instead, we mostly get your stereotypical helpless and passive female characters. None of the women really do anything, aside from cry, giggle, and worry. So why is this theme so important? Billy learns to be a man in large part by distinguishing himself from women and women's work.

Questions About Women and Femininity

  1. None of the girls or women in this novel have names. How does this affect your view of them? Did you notice or pass over them?
  2. How would this novel change if Billy had little brothers instead of sisters?
  3. Who do you think is the strongest female character? Why might she be the strongest?
  4. In what ways does Billy try to protect or care for his sisters? Why does he do this?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Because Where the Red Fern Grows is specifically about a boy's coming of age, it would be very difficult for girls to relate to this book.

To Billy, women aren't mysterious so much as they're just not interesting. He doesn't think there's anything worth knowing about the female world.

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