Study Guide

The Yearling Duty

By Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Duty

"It occurred to him for the first time that perhaps he should not have left the place while his father was away" (1.23)

Ugh, chores, right? Taking out the trash, cleaning your room, hoeing the fields… who wants to, when there are creeks to frolic in? In the beginning, it's not even on Jody's radar that he has any real responsibilities: everything is laid upon him by his parents, not by his own sense of duty.

"His mother talked much of 'duty.' He had always hated the very word" (14.42)

Fair enough, but we get the feeling that Jody wouldn't like the word "pizza" if his mother talked about it a lot, either.

"In his agony, his father was concerned for him" (14.161)

Jody might hate the word "duty," but it doesn't seem to have occurred to him that "duty" goes both ways. Penny's duty is to take care of and look after Jody, just like Ma's—and Ma might not be warm and cuddly, but she does nourish and care for Jody as best as she can.

"It relieved him to care for the animals, to give them, for the time, the comfort that their master could never offer them again" (17.85)

When Fodder-wing dies, Jody has to decide for himself what his duty to his friend is, and in this case it's taking care of the animals. (When we die, we want our friends to erase all the embarrassing pictures of us on the Internet.)

"'This here is serious,' he said. 'I'm carryin' you with us to learn you. If you figger on frolickin', you kin stay home, too.'" (20.4)

Penny has dropped the carefree childhood bit, and is trying to teach Jody something about life. It's not an easy lesson to learn about eleven years of gallivanting around the wilderness.

"But he was coming in with meat that he had killed for the family" (20.222)

Boom. There's nothing like throwing down a haunch of bear on the table to make you feel like a grown-up. Having some responsibility to feed his family helps Jody grow up just a little bit faster.

"You got to learn takin' keer o' rations comes first of all—first after gittin' 'em" (22.46)

Jody hasn't really learned to fear starvation yet, so he still values the companionship of a pet over food for his family. Pretty soon he's going to learn that one of a man's most important duties is to provide food for his family. (Don't worry, ladies, you have a duty, too: you have to make that bear meat taste good. Which one do you think is harder?)

"No thought o' bein' a man and lookin' out for your Ma" (23.57)

Ma is often disgusted with Jody for being so immature and with Penny for letting him stay that way so long, and on the one hand, okay: Jody is going to have to learn to take care of other people. On the other hand, he's eleven. So, maybe give him another year or two, okay, Ma?

"Jody put his shoulder under him and Penny leaned heavily on it" (33.149)

Hello there, symbolism! See how Jody is literally taking the weight off of Penny and also, you know, metaphorically doing the same thing? Sure you do.

"His father would no longer take the heavy part of the burden. It did not matter. He could manage alone" (33.153)

Whoa there, Jody. This is an admirable commitment to duty and all—you're really stepping up to the plate—but maybe you shouldn't try to run the farm single-handedly until you're, say, 13?

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