Study Guide

The Yearling Mortality

By Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Mortality

"Jody knew that he should feel badly about old Betsy, but all that he could feel was excitement. The unwarranted kill, inside the sanctuary of the Baxter acres, had made a personal enemy of the big bear that had evaded all the stock owners for five years." (3.42)

Sure, Jody, death seems exciting now—but wait until Old Slewfoot starts coming after your hogs and threatening your own life. It's not going to seem so glamorous then.

"And son, you ain't never seed a bear kilt. But mean as they be hit's someway piteeful when they go down and the dogs tear their throats and they cry out jest like a person, and lay down and die before you" (4.131)

Even Penny, the consummate hunter, feels bad for the animals he kills. Maybe this is why he is so principled about only killing what he needs: he respects death.

"Something ran behind him and ahead of him. It stalked the scrub like a panther. It was vast and formless and it was his enemy. Ol' Death was loose in the scrub" (14.143)

Yeah, death doesn't look so exciting now, does it? When a rattlesnake bites Penny, death suddenly starts to see way real. It's no longer exciting and thrilling; it's devastating. Maybe that's part of growing up.

"Penny could not die. Dogs could die, and bears and deer and other people. That was acceptable because it was remote" (14.144)

You know how when you read about people dying in other countries or see it on the news, it's sad but you don't necessarily feel anything about it? That's how Jody feels right now: it's sad and all when dogs or other people die, but he's basically okay with it. Not Penny, though. That's a little too close to home.

"He whispered thickly, 'Ol' Death got to wait a while on me.'" (15.33)

Starvation. Death. Slewfoot. Penny spends a lot of time personifying the things that are trying to kill him, which totally makes sense: it's probably easier to fight starvation if you can think of it as actually going into hand-to-hand combat Starvation.

"Now he understood. This was death. Death was a silence that gave back no answer" (17.79)

This is a grim thought for Jody to have as he waits through the night with Fodder-wing's body. Notice that there's no concept of the afterlife here—to Jody, death is final and terminal. (Maybe it's better this way: you wouldn't want Fodder-wing to rise from the dead and start stalking the scrub forest, would you?)

"The buzzards would find Flag by the pool in the sink-hole. He began to be sick again" (33.25)

Well, this is a little hypocritical: Jody loves eating deer meat, but he sure doesn't want to share it with the buzzards. Or, maybe the problem is that Flag has become like a person to him—since the yearling is a symbol of his childhood, and all. Don't want the buzzards to eat that.

"Flag was dead" (33.27)

… Along with Jody's childhood. Do you get it? No really, do you get it? Probably—but if you want to read even more about how Flag is a symbol for Jody's childhood, check out our discussion in "Symbols."

"Death could be borne. Fodder-wing had died and he was able to bear it. Betrayal was intolerable" (33.32)

Both Fodder-wing and Flag are symbols of slash parts of Jody's childhood, but Fodder-wing's death doesn't cause a huge emotional crisis for Jody—he just dies. It's sad, but it's also natural and, let's face it, kind of expected. Flag's death, though, causes a major case of growing pains: first Ma Baxter shoots him, and then Jody has to finish the job. Yep, that'll make anyone grow up.

"You've seed ol' Death at his tricks. You've messed around with ol' Starvation" (33.139)

In his final heart-to-heart with Jody, Penny gives us the key to maturity: coming face-to-face with death, which Jody does his little adolescent running-away-from-home rebellion. Only there are no milk cartons in 1870s Florida, and Jody's escapade could easily have killed him. And …. that makes him ready for manhood. Okay, we're a little confused by the logic, too, but we do know that if facing death is a criteria for adulthood, we're happy to stay in extended adolescence.