Study Guide

The Yearling Strength and Skill

By Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Strength and Skill

"Jody was always amazed at the capability of her great frame and hands when there was trouble" (4.101)

Sure, Ma Baxter is great in an emergency—she'll get that tourniquet on or push your car out of the ditch or do the Heimlich or whatever. It's too bad she's not more skillful at the day-to-day tasks of showing love and affection to her son, though.

"Penny Baxter, no bigger than a dirt-dauber, could outhunt the best of them" (7.15)

Hunting is more about endurance and the ability to outwit the animals than it is about physical strength. (That's why teeny tiny Penny is so good at it.) Honestly, we're surprised that the Forresters manage to shoot anything.

"For the other stock, and for his own family's use, Penny had an ingenious arrangement" (9.43)

When you're stuck in a difficult situation—like getting water out of a sinkhole—you've got to make the best of it, and it sounds like Penny is a real innovative thinker. (Pretty sure he'd have a viral TED talk today.) But seriously, even the most creative sinkhole solution is no substitute for a well. Or indoor plumbing.

"He marveled at the skill of the knotted hands" (10.76)

Just 'cause someone looks like they can't possibly be good at something, doesn't mean it's true. Penny may look puny, but he's tough and skilled. Appearance doesn't make the man—or the man's hands. (But what's his Flappy Bird score?)

"Why, Doc, I'm a king snake. You know a rattler cain't kill a king snake." (15.35)

Talk about the power of positive thinking: Penny even cured his own snakebite with his backwoods know-how. (Pro tip: in the event of a real snakebite, we highly recommend visiting an emergency room rather than slaughtering a deer.)

"Penny had spent two evenings during the storm in making low-mould shot and in loading his own shells." (20.7)

But … if you spend all evening making bullets, where do you find the time to play GTA5? But seriously: this little detail draws our attention to just how skillful Penny has to be to survive. Not only is he an engineer, farmer, herdsman, and who know what else—he's a bullet-manufacturer. Talk about well-rounded.

"He was careless always about exposure, doing whatever he wished to do, or what seemed necessary, regardless of the weather and unsparing of himself." (29.1)

Okay, so it's admirable that Penny works so hard for his family, but it might not be so admirable that he's basically killing himself in the process. Think about that next time you try to pull an all-nighter.

"He was up early each day and finished late. He drove himself mercilessly." (30.53)

Penny's will might be strong, but the narrator is making us pretty nervous here: his body just might not be strong enough to do the work that the farm needs. Sometimes, even grit and determination aren't enough.

"I'd do it if I could. I jest cain't stand up—" (32.68)

The Baxters live in world with no retirement funds, no pensions, and no safety net. All they have to rely on is the skill of their own two hands and the strength in their bodies—and cooperative weather. But bodies fail, and weather is—well, let's just say that Florida isn't exactly known for its warm, dry days.

"He could manage alone" (33.153)

Jody is convinced here that he can keep Flag penned up all by his lonesome—and, sure, he's built up his skills and strength by trying to keep Flag penned up. But skills and strength aren't enough here: he needs the help of his family, too.

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