Study Guide

Mama in Where the Red Fern Grows

By Wilson Rawls


Mama is a worrier. Whenever Billy heads out hunting or wants to do something new—you know, like wander around in mountain-lion infested woods in the middle of the night, his mom frets and worries and frets some more.

Well, considering that Billy runs into more than one life-or-death situation, we can't really argue with her fears. Still, Billy makes a point of contrasting her worrywart ways with his dad's more free-range parenting attitude. Check out the conversation when Billy brings up wanting to go out hunting at night:

Mama got up from the table saying, "Well, it's like I said, I can't say no and I can't help worrying. I'll pray every night you're out." (8.26)

Poor Mama! Her baby boy is about to head out into the woods, so it's no wonder that she's worried. But check out, too, that she doesn't seem to have any real authority: "I can't say no." No matter how she feels about the subject, Papa is the one with the final word.

And just a few lines later, when Billy's getting ready to head out, we see Mama trying to baby him again:

While Mama was bundling me up, Papa lit my lantern. He handed it to me, saying, "I'd like to see a big coonskin on the smokehouse wall in the morning." (8.28)

Get it? Mama is wrapping him up, while Papa is practically shoving him out the door with nothing but a lantern and his wits.

True Believer

With a mom like that, it's no wonder Billy spends a lot of time with his papa and grandpa trying to be all manly and stuff. But who does he go to when he needs comfort or spiritual advice? Mom, that's who. It's his mom who he talks to when he first suspects God is answering his prayers:

That evening I had a talk with my mother […] With a smile on her face, she asked, "Do you believe God heard your prayer and helped you?"

"Yes, Mama," I said. "I know he did and I'll always be thankful." (6.79-80)

Now, consider this: hunting with his dad and his grandpa helps Billy become a man, but he doesn't really grow up until he reaffirms his faith at the end of the novel. Maybe there's something be said for moms, after all.