Study Guide

Jody Baxter in The Yearling

By Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Jody Baxter

One is the Loneliest Number

Thanks to the nonexistent medical technology (or basic hygiene) of the mid-nineteenth century, it's practically a miracle that Jody Baxter is even alive. All of his older siblings died as infants, so he's an only child. And his family lives in the middle of the forest, miles away from the nearest neighbors. And he doesn't go to school. He does have one friend—Fodder-wing Forrester—but he hardly ever gets to see him, since he lives so far away.

And he's not even allowed to have a pet. His mean ol' Ma points out—quite reasonably, if you ask us—that the last thing they need is another mouth to feed. But this kid doesn't give up and just keeps on begging: "Pa, I wisht I had me something' to pet and play with, like Fodder-wing. I wisht I had me a 'coon, or a bear cub, or sich as that" (9.76).

Here's the thing, though—even though he's alone, he's not really lonely, or unhappy. Sure, he wants a pet, but he's got his Pa, who is the center of his world. "His father was the core of safety. […] A sense of snugness came over him" (4.143). His Pa tells him stories, works alongside him on the farm, takes him hunting, and basically acts as loving dad, wise mentor…and awesome friend. With a Pa like that, who could possibly be lonely?

Hug That Tree!

Plus, Jody has the whole world to keep him company, and this kid is seriously at one with nature. He practically has a religious experience looking at the sky: "The clouds rolled together into great white billowing feather bolsters, and across the east a rainbow arched, so lovely and so various that Jody thought he would burst with looking at it" (1.21).

When he's not communing with the universe, he runs around the forest playing happily by himself—when he goes out to the sinkhole, for example, "a sense of aloneness that was not lonely came to the boy" (9.47). Jody's childlike connection with nature gives him a sense of security and happiness, whether alone in the woods or at home with his mom and dad. He hasn't yet experienced any of the dangers lurking out in the wild…

But he's about to.

Time to Grow Up, Kid

But. Of course there's a 'but.' You knew there'd be a 'but.' As the story progresses, Jody experiences the trauma of his Pa's rattlesnake bite and the sadness of Fodder-wing's death. Just as you'd expect, it gets to him: "He was alone and naked in an unfriendly world; lost and forgotten in the storm and darkness" (14.143).

No more frolicking in the sunshine of a benevolent universe. As Jody realizes that nature isn't necessarily on his side, he comes to know what real loneliness feels like. His eyes finally open to the very real dangers that have surrounded him all along. (If only he'd been listening to us: A killer bear sneaking onto your property at night is not exciting, Jody. It's scary. Duh.) He realizes that he is not always safe, and that his father has to work hard to maintain the relative safety of their clearing.

Even getting Flag the fawn as a pet only helps briefly. At first, having a pet is everything he dreamed of: "It did not seem to him that he could ever be lonely again" (15.266). But there's no turning back: Jody is growing up. Each new and frightening experience brings him further into the tenuous, frightening realities of adulthood: that living in the world is work, real and dangerous work.

Ugh, tell us about it. (Well, except for the dangerous part. Our biggest daily hazard is Smartphone Thumb.)

When Mother Nature Ain't Happy, Ain't Nobody Happy

Nature loses even more of its awesomeness as Jody suffers through the hurricane and its effects on the scrub forest and its animals. Hunting isn't fun anymore; it's desperate and urgent: "Here was not the joy of the chase, the careless pitting of man's brain against creature speed and cunning. This was hate and revenge and there was no happiness in it" (26.33).

And even his sweet, innocent, beloved Flag starts to harm his family when he can't be stopped from eating their crops.

But that's okay, right? 'Cause even if the world turns against him, there's always Pa Baxter, his rock. Or…not. When Pa tells him to shoot Flag, Jody sees it as a final betrayal: "Pa went back on me.' It was a sharper horror than if Penny had died of the snake-bite. […] Without Penny, there was no comfort anywhere" (33.32).

Let's pause for a moment to think about Jody's character arc: he started off as a relatively carefree boy who can spend all his days romping in nature without thinking about anyone else. But now, he's learning that (1) nature is cruel, even when it seems all warm and fuzzy, and (2) he's actually got to think about people other than himself, like his family—which is in danger of starving because of his pet.

These two realizations help Jody make the final leap into maturity. When he gets over his tantrum and heads home again after running away, he takes his place as an adult: "Flag would not be there to play about with him. His father would no longer take the heavy part of the burden. It did not matter. He could manage alone" (33.153). The final piece of the Jody puzzle is this: he has to take his father's place, handling things on his own.

They grow up so fast.

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