Study Guide

Where the Red Fern Grows Quotes

  • Perseverance

    To him it made no difference how long the road, or how rough or rocky. His old red feet would keep jogging along, on and on, mile after mile. There would be no crying or giving up. (1.31)

    Hm, could it possibly be that Billy sees a little of himself in this old dog? It sounds like someone is doing a little bit of projection—and it tells us a lot more about Billy than it does about the dog.

    I didn't give up. After my talk with Papa, I went to Mama. I fared no better there. (2.9)

    LOL, Billy. We've tried this one. If your parents have their act together, it's totally not going to work. The difference between Billy and us is that, after both our parents have said "no," we usually give up. Not Billy. He works for two years to get what he wants.

    I caught crawfish with my bare hands [...] I tore my way through the blackberry patches until my feet were scratched raw and red from the thorns. (3.17)

    Okay, this is just impressive. Catching something barehanded is basically a shortcut to "hardcore." Combine that with his Rambo-esque romp through the blackberry bushes, and we quickly get an idea of Billy's character.

    With my three little traps and bulldogged determination, I set out to trap Mister Ringtail. For three solid weeks I practically lived on the river. (7.2)

    In case we've forgotten that this is still an adult recollecting his past, here comes the word "bulldogged" to remind us. Seriously, how many adolescents do you know using words like "bulldogged"?

    Nine times out of ten, one pup would swim one way and the other one would go just the opposite way. I had a time with this part of their training, but my persistence had no bounds. (7.141)

    Way to pat yourself on the back there, Billy. To be fair, it is pretty impressive: he's learning patience at the same time he's larnin' them to swim.

    Gritting my teeth, I said, "I don't care how big you are, I'm not going to let my dogs down. I told them if they put a coon in a tree I would do the rest and I'm going to. I'm going to cut you down. I don't care if it takes me a whole year." (8.100)

    This is a make or break moment for Billy. He's about to prove to his dogs—but really to himself—whether he's a real hunter or not. Also, we'd like to emphasize again that this kid is 13 (or so) years old.

    "Give up!" Grandpa barked. "Now I don't want to hear you say that. No, sir, that's the last thing I want to hear. Don't ever start anything you can't finish." (9.7)

    Well, now we know where Billy gets his stubborn, pig-headedness from: Grandpa. Not to mention dear old dad. It seems like perseverance is a family trait.

    I told him I hadn't given up. My dogs were still hunting. When they gave up, I would, too. (13.21)

    Billy may have a lot of perseverance, but it's nothing compared to his dogs. This is a really cute moment, because it shows how much Billy respects and depends on his dogs—he doesn't use them or take them for granted.

    In a low voice, the judge said, "I'll say one thing. They don't give up easily." (16.64)

    We know that Billy gains strength from his dogs, but maybe it works both ways. Do they gain strength from Billy? Or is it a chicken-and-egg type situation?

    "That's what has me worried," I cried. "They won't come in. They won't, Papa. Little Ann might, but not Old Dan. He'd die before he'd leave a coon in a tree." (17.35)

    What makes Billy such a good hunter isn't just that he's got some awesome dogs; it's that he really understands their strengths and weaknesses. Old Dan, for example. Billy knows that Old Dan would never give up—even if it means fighting to the (literal) death.

  • Coming of Age

    I had never thought our home very pretty, but that night it looked different. It looked clean and neat and peaceful, nestled there in the foothills of the Ozarks. Yes, on that night I was proud of our home. (6.14)

    This is your classic "I went on a trip, and when I came home things felt different" situation. Even though the trip only last a day, Billy has grown up a bit and is seeing his home through different eyes.

    As I ate, Papa sat down at the table and started talking man-talk to me. (6.32)

    Billy isn't the only one who thinks he's different after his trip to town. His dad recognizes it, too, and starts treating him more like a grown-up. After all, it doesn't count unless other people see it.

    After Papa left, I started thinking, "He doesn't even talk to me like I was a boy anymore. He talks to me like I was a man." (8.12)

    Billy starts thinking about himself as a man partly because his father treats him like one. Moral of the story: if you treat your kids like they're mature, sensible people, sometimes they'll surprise you by acting like mature, sensible people.

    "Aw, he'll be all right," Papa said. "Besides, he's getting to be a good-sized man now." "Man!" Mama exclaimed. "Why, he's still just a little boy." (8.19-20)

    So Billy's dad might be treating him like a man, but clearly his mom isn't ready to make that leap. Ugh, MOMS, right? Sure, maybe she really did baby him—but it seems like part of this is Billy needing to define his own masculinity as being different from the way women act.

    Bending over, she started kissing me. I finally squirmed away from her, feeling as wet as a dirt dauber's nest. My mother never could kiss me like a fellow should be kissed. (11.87)

    So a little context: a dirt dauber is a nasty little wasp that builds mud nests. This gives you an idea of how much Billy doesn't like being kissed by his mom.

    My head swelled up as big as a number-four washtub. I thought, "I'm not only big enough to help Papa with the farm. Now I'm big enough to drink coffee." (15.26)

    Wahoo! Adulthood is getting to drink bitter, black liquid, just like a man. (Hey, you'll pry our coffee from our cold, dead, very adult hands.)

    They treated me like a man, and even talked to me like a man. (15.109)

    This has got to feel good: Billy is at the hunting competition, and all the dudes are treating him just like one of the guys. No wonder it's a highlight of his life.

    Feeling big and important, I said, "I don't like the looks of this weather. We'd better be scooting for home." (18.106)

    Winning the hunting competition gives Billy the confidence to make proclamations about the weather—again, just like a man who's watching out for the weaker members of his group. We're getting the picture that grown-up masculinity in Billy's eyes has a lot to do with standing up for the weak. (Well, it's better than some alternative forms of manliness we can think of.)

    "Billy," he said, "there are times in a boy's life when he has to stand up like a man. This is one of those times." (19.166)

    "Be a man" can sound pretty harsh—but in this case, it seems to give Billy the courage he needs. Being a man is an idea that Billy works toward. (And we have to say, that sounds a lot better than grown men playing Xbox on their parents' couch in suspended adolescence.)

    I know it is still there, hiding its secret beneath those long, red leaves, but it wouldn't be hidden from me for part of my life is buried there, too. (20.45)

    Here's the sad part about growing up: you have to leave your past behind you. Sometimes literally. After all, you can't grow up if your room is still stuffed with action figures.

  • Loyalty

    By this time, my fighting blood was boiling. It's hard for a man to stand and watch an old hound fight against such odds, especially if that man has memories in his heart like I had in mine. (1.8)

    Oooh, it sounds like there's a story here—and we bet it has something to do with dogs. This early incidents preps us to hear a good tale about love, loyalty, and—yep—dogs.

    I figured the lion had scented my pups. The more I thought about anything harming them, the madder I got. I was ready to die for my dogs. (5.121)

    Maybe Billy shouldn't be so quick to dismiss his mom, because this feeling that he's describing sounds a lot like a mom being ready to fight to protect her children.

    "I made a bargain with my dogs. I told them that if they would put one in a tree, I'd do the rest. Well, they fulfilled their part of the bargain. Now it's up to me to do my part, and I'm going to, Papa. I'm going to cut it down. I don't care if it takes me a year." (8.121)

    Okay, fine, Billy is loyal and determined. But we have to ask—the dogs can't really understand what he's saying, so isn't this more about fulfilling his bargain with himself?

    My whole life was wrapped up in my dogs. Everywhere I went they went along. (10.8)

    Obsession can be ugly, Shmoopers. We're thinking that this kind of blind devotion and loyalty has a negative side, too—one that makes Billy neglect his family, keep his mom up all night with worry, and make him ready to put his dogs in danger to prove how awesome they are. Sometimes it's good just to take a chill pill.

    Old Dan, seeing the fate of his little friend, had quit the chase and come back to help her. (11.31)

    It's no wonder Billy is so loyal—he's got a little furry example to show the way. Old Dan somehow knows to drop the chase and come help Little Ann, just like any loyal friend. Hey, we're not even sure our friends would do this for us.

    "No, Grandpa," I said. "They've always been that way. They won't take anything away from each other, and everything they do, they do it as one." (15.18)

    When Billy first gets the dogs, he sees them as two separate creatures. By the end, though, they've become one unit—so loyal to each other that one won't even keep on living when the other dies.

    "Did you know they won't hunt with anyone but him, not even me?" (17.140)

    There's something special about hunting, evidently, because the dogs will work for Billy's parents around the farm, but won't go hunting with anyone but Billy. You can't go killing raccoons with just anyone, after all.

    "What I can't understand is why they stayed with that tree," Mr. Bensen said. "I've seen hounds stay with a tree for a while, but not in a northern blizzard." (18.65)

    Okay, in anyone else, we'd think that this kind of stubbornness was a little dimwitted, since, you know, we're talking about a blizzard here. But in Old Dan and Little Ann, it's just further proof of their loyalty to Billy.

    I never saw my dogs when they got between the lion and me, but they were there. Side by side, they rose up from the ground as one. They sailed straight into those jaws of death, their small, red bodies taking ripping, slashing claws meant for me. (19.27)

    Old Dan and Little attack the mountain lion that was about to take Billy out. What's impressive here is that they do it together. Check it out: "they," "they," "they," and "their." All the pronouns here emphasize just how much of a unit these little dogs are.

    I knelt down and put my arms around them. I knew that if it hadn't been for their loyalty and unselfish courage I would have probably been killed by the slashing claws of the devil cat. (19.60)

    At the beginning of the novel, Billy declared that he would die for his pups. We see that his dogs are just as willing to die for him—and they actually go through with it. Ugh. Seriously, this makes us tear up every time.

  • Family

    That time I saw tears in her eyes. It made me feel all empty inside and I cried a little, too. By the time she was through kissing me and talking to me, I was sure I didn't need any dogs at all. I couldn't stand to see Mama cry. (2.65)

    Billy loves his family so much that he can almost convince himself that he doesn't need any dogs. Check it out, Mama: those dogs are going to make you cry again, but this time they're going to be tears of happiness.

    I wanted to share my happiness with my sisters but decided not to say anything about ordering the pups.

    Arriving home, I dumped the sack of candy out on the bed. Six little hands helped themselves. I was repaid by the love and adoration I saw in the wide blue eyes of my three little sisters. (3.68-69)

    See how much Billy loves his sisters? He's willing to share his candy with them, even after not having had any for two years. Too bad he doesn't love them enough to give them names or distinguish them in any way.

    I decided it was time to tell my father the whole story. I fully intended to tell him that evening. I tried several times, but somehow I couldn't. I wasn't scared of him, for he never whipped me. He was always kind and gentle, but for some reason, I don't know why, I just couldn't tell him. (4.18)

    Look, sometimes a kid just needs privacy—even when his family is as warm and loving as Billy's. Wanting to have a space of your own is part of growing up. You have to learn to see yourself as an individual, and not just part of a family. (Unless you're a Kennedy, or something. Then you're really just stuck with your family.)

    As I turned to leave, my eyes again fell on the overalls and the bolts of cloth. I thought of my mother, father, and sisters. Here was an opportunity to make amends for leaving home without telling anyone. (4.40)

    Hmmm, this seems a bit like bribery to us. As though Mama's going to buttered up with a few lengths of cloth, right? Still, you can imagine that Billy feels pretty good about not coming home empty-handed.

    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."

    The whole family followed me out on the porch. (8.28-29)

    It's a big ol' family send off for Billy! Just one more way his family is ridiculously—one might almost say, unbelievably—supportive of Billy and his dreams.

    My mother told me always to be kind to Rainie, that he couldn't help being the way he was. I asked, "Why?" She said it was because his brothers were always picking on him and beating him. (12.14)

    So much for the anti-Billy. The questions here is, if Billy had been born into the Pritchard family, would he have turned out like Rainie? Or is there something special and unique about Billy that would have come through no matter who his parents were?

    I saw the fire come back to his eyes. This made me feel better. He was more like the grandpa I loved […].

    I didn't care how many deals my grandpa cooked up. He was still the best grandpa in the whole wide world. (14.16-22)

    Sometimes your family is a pillar of strength; sometimes your family is a kooky old grandpa who's getting you into scrapes. Is it just us, or does Grandpa sometimes feel like more of a kid than Billy himself?

    I had a wonderful mother and father and three little sisters. I had the best grandpa a boy ever had, and to top it all, I was going on a championship coon hunt. (14.78)

    Billy really does love and appreciate his family, but, huh, seems like he left someone out. You know, like his grandma? That's a little weird, and we're wondering why she doesn't seem to have a bigger role in his life.

    When Mama said this, it dawned on me. I had been so busy with my coon hunting I hadn't noticed anything unusual. Mama's tummy was all swelled up. She was going to have a baby. I felt guilty for not having noticed. (14.94)

    Billy finally realizes that by getting so caught up in his own world of hunting, he might be neglecting his family a bit. You know, just a tiny bit. To be fair, we're not sure many adolescent boys want to think about their moms being pregnant.

    We decided that when we moved to town we'd leave you here with your grandpa for a while. He needs help anyway. But I guess the Good Lord didn't want that to happen. He doesn't like to see families split up. (19.180)

    This is Papa's reason for why God took Billy's dogs away. Billy has a strong faith in God, but he doesn't seem to thrilled by his dad's reasoning. At least, not at the time. Billy the adult narrator might have a different opinion.

  • Poverty

    "Billy, those kinds of dogs cost money, and that's something we don't have right now. Maybe some day when we can afford it, you can have them, but not right now." (2.08)

    This is a line Billy is going to hear over and over: "someday we'll have money." Guess what? He's the one who's going to get them that money.

    I began to see dogs in my sleep. I went back to my father and mother. It was the same old story. Good hounds cost money, and they just didn't have it. (2.19)

    Yep, we told you. Billy's family just doesn't have money. They'd be happy to stroll on down the pound and get him a regular dog, but Billy wants a "good hound." No mutts here.

    "I offered to get him a dog," said Papa, "but he doesn't want just any kind of dog. He wants hounds, and they cost money […] If I had that much money, I'd buy another mule. I sure do need one." (2.24)

    We aren't given too many details about the family's financial situation, aside from the whole not having any money, but here we see that they don't even have enough to cover the needs of the farm. Man, does farming seem like hard work or what?

    I knew my mother and father were poor and didn't have any money. I began to feel sorry for them and myself. (2.25)

    This is one of the only times that Billy feels the effects of poverty. Yeah, he feels bummed for a minute—but instead of letting it get him down, he just goes out and earns his own money. Sure makes us think twice about asking for a raise for our allowances.

    "I'll ask him," I said, "but you know how Papa is. The farm comes first with him." (14.64)

    The way Billy says this, it's almost like he doesn't get why Papa cares so much about the farm. Um, try "feeding his family," Billy. You'll understand some day.

    I thought of my dogs. They were tied with small cotton ropes, and had collars made from old check-line leather. (15.66)

    We don't often see Billy's faith in his dogs shaken, but he gets a little shaken when he sees all these sleek-looking, rich dogs. But not for long. Remember, his dogs are completely awesome.

    Beautiful combs and brushes were used to brush expensive oils into their glossy hair […] Knowing I had no oils, I got some butter from our grocery box. With the homemade butter and grandpa's hair set, I brushed her until she shone. (15.75-82)

    Talk about working with what you've got. Billy refuses to let his lack of money get in the way of accomplishing his goals—to the extent of rubbing butter into his dog's coat. We hope she gets a good bath later.

    Looking down, I saw the box was full of money. I was shaking all over. I tried to say "Thanks," but it was only a whisper. (18.84)

    Remember, Billy has been giving all his hunting money to his parents, so this prize money is probably more than he has ever seen in his entire life. This money is going to change he life, and he doesn't even know it.

    I've managed to make the farm feed us and clothe us and I've saved every cent your furs brought in. (19.176)

    Even though they needed a mule and other farm tools, Billy's parents saved every penny from the hunting in order to give their children a better life. These are some seriously good people—no wonder Billy turned out so well.

    I even noticed a change in Papa. He didn't have that whipped look on his face any more. He was in high spirits as we carried the furniture out to our wagon.

    The Colmans emerge from under the shadow of poverty, and are moving on to a new life in town. We're not exactly sure what Papa's planning to do to make money in town, but it must turn out okay. At least, Billy sounds pretty comfortable when he starts telling this story at the beginning of the novel.

  • Religion

    I remembered a passage from the Bible my mother had read to us: "God helps those who help themselves." […] I asked God to help me get two hound pups. It wasn't much of a prayer, but it did come right from the heart. (3.8)

    Billy finally realizes he's been asking the wrong person for help. His parents can't help him, so he has to turn to God. But is it God who helps Billy—or is it Billy himself? Does finally turning to God help Billy figure out what to do?

    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)

    We already know Billy is a hard worker, and that he's incredibly loyal. Now, we learn that he's also thankful for everything he gets. Wow, it's almost as though he's telling this story about himself!

    Kneeling down between my dogs, I cried and prayed. "Please God, give me the strength to finish the job. I don't want to leave the big tree like that. Please help me finish the job." (9.120)

    Billy's faith in God here seems tied up with a bit of the old nature worship, since he doesn't want the tree to have died in vain.

    "The big tree was the only one touched by the wind. Do you think God heard my prayer? Do you think He helped me?" […] It wasn't hard for me to decide. I was firmly convinced that I had been helped. (9.153-155)

    Okay—but notice that he says "was." Does the adult Billy also agree that God was helping him, or are we just getting the young Billy's perspective here?

    I walked back to the sycamore tree. Once again I said a prayer, but this time the words were different. I didn't ask for a miracle. In every way a young boy could, I said "thanks." My second prayer wasn't said with just words. All of my heart and soul was in it. (11.78)

    Prayer doesn't have to be about asking for something; it can also be a thanksgiving for something that you've been given. Just one more way we know that Billy is a model young gentleman, right?

    I went to my mother and asked her if God answered prayers every time one was said. She smiled and said, "No, Billy, not every time. He only answers the ones that are said from the heart. You have to be sincere and believe in Him." (11.83)

    Here's something mom is good for: teaching Billy about God. Dad might be able to take him out hunting, but only his mom can answer his questions about God. We're wondering if Billy is saying something about men and women—or if this is just the way it happened for him.

    "I know what you're going through and how it hurts, but there's always an answer. The Good Lord has a reason for everything he does." (19.166)

    According to Papa, God took away the dogs so Billy could go to town with the rest of the family. We're thinking maybe there was another way—like, maybe finding a house with a big backyard?

    "I think it is a miracle," Papa said. "Remember, Billy said a prayer when he asked for his pups and then there were your prayers. Billy got his pups. Through those dogs your prayers were answered. Yes, I'm sure it is a miracle." (19.178)

    Billy's dad sees the interconnectedness of all the events that have been happening. Guess what? That's what adults do. When Billy can finally understand the significance of the red fern and his family's move, that's the moment he really grows up.

    I knew my father was a firm believer in fate. To him everything that happened was the will of God, and in his Bible he could always find the answers. (19.181)

    Notice that Billy refers to it as "his Bible," implying that it is his dad's Bible now and not Billy's. Hello, crisis of faith!

    I didn't feel like saying any prayers that night. I was hurting too much. (19.193)

    Guess what, Billy-boy? This is exactly the time when you should be saying prayers. Don't worry, though. He's going to get his groove back.

  • Man and the Natural World

    The land was rich, black, and fertile. Papa said it would grow hair on a crosscut saw. He was the first man to stick the cold steel point of a turning plow into the virgin soil. (2.12)

    You know what this tells us? If Papa was the first to plow these fields, then that means this is a family in transition. They aren't an established farming family. But it seems like nature doesn't treat Papa as well as it does Billy, because they end up leaving their farm by the end of the book.

    To a ten-year-old country boy it was the most beautiful place in the whole wide world, and I took advantage of it all. (2.15)

    Billy tells us early on that he really, really likes where he lives. Gee, it sure doesn't sound like he's going to be wanting to move to town, does it?

    The traps had helped my dog-wanting considerably, but like a new toy, the newness wore off and I was right back where I started from. Only this time it was worse, much worse. I had been exposed to wildlife. (2.58)

    You think Billy had it bad before? Now he's got blood lust. He doesn't want to go cuddle that wildlife; he wants to trap and kill it. Not that we're criticizing him—he seems way more respectful of life than plenty of people with a houseful of pets.

    I had the wind of a deer, the muscles of a country boy, a heart full of dog love, and a strong determination. I wasn't scared of the darkness, or the mountains, for I was raised in those mountains. (4.24)

    This is Billy's world. He's so much a part of it that the natural world has even worked its way into his body, with the "wind" (that is, lungs) of a deer. Look, Billy, all we're saying is that even you probably can't take on a mountain lion.

    I had never seen a night so peaceful and still. All around me tall sycamores gleamed like white streamers in the moonlight. (8.43)

    Finally, Billy is out in the woods. He's got his lantern and his dogs, and he's at peace. (Better him than us, we say. We'd be running straight back to the nice, bright house.)

    A bunch of mallards, feeding in the shallows across the river, took flight with frightened quacks. A feeling that only a hunter knows slowly crept over my body. I whooped to my dogs, urging them on. (12.97)

    So, evidently the advantage of being half-wild is that you've got great instincts. Billy is almost as good at the hunting thing as his dogs are.

    I told him there were plenty more; why kill him? He had lived here a long time, and more than one hunter had listened to the voices of his hounds bawling on his trail. (13.58)

    Check out this maturity: Billy respects nature enough to know when he should just back off. Too bad that Rainie and Rubin don't feel the same way—because nature ends up (indirectly) biting back.

    Each noise I heard and each sight I saw was familiar to me but I never grew tired of listening and watching. They were a God-sent gift and I enjoyed them all. (14.77)

    Billy often thinks about God when he is out in nature. Gee, it's almost like there is a connection between the two.

    I didn't like to hear the small owl, for there was a superstition in the mountains concerning them. It was said that if you heard more than one, it meant bad luck. (15.31)

    On the one hand, you've got your God and your Bible. On the other, you've got your old folk superstitions. Billy seems to believe them both, but neither his dad or his grandpa do. Maybe this connection to the natural world is part of what makes Billy still a kid.

    It looked like a wild bush had grown up and practically covered the two little mounds. It made me angry to think that an old bush would dare grow so close to the graves. I took out my knife, intending to cut it down. (20.6)

    Seems like Billy's hunting instincts are kicking in—until he realizes that this is actually an act of grace and backs off. It's a nice moment, but it's also a little sad. Bye bye nature, sycamores, and doggies; hello town, school, and office jobs.

  • Education

    "Don't you go to school at all?"

    "Sure I go to school."

    "Where?"

    "At home." (4.62-65)

    For Billy, home and school are the one and the same. Clearly this is before the whole homeschooling revival, because the boys in town think this is stupid enough to pick a fight over.

    I knew the stories I had heard about marshals weren't true. Never again would I be scared when I saw one. (5.87)

    Check it out: informal education, broadening minds. Billy is already beginning to revise his assumptions about town people, but he's not doing it through books—it's direct experience.

    "A man's children should have an education. They should get out and see the world and meet people." (6.60)

    Well, gee whiz. That's just what Billy did: he went out into the world, met some people, and learned a few things. So maybe Billy's dad isn't necessarily talking about education in school.

    "There's more to an education than just reading and writing," Papa said. "Much more." (6.62)

    Sure, like knowing how to play on a playground; being able to name your favorite kind of soda; and not being afraid of the cops. (Unless you really should be afraid of the cops, not that any of you Shmoopers would be.)

    "I don't want you children to grow up without an education, not even knowing what a bottle of soda pop is, or ever seeing the inside of a schoolhouse." (6.65)

    We can think of a few modern-day parents who would be thrilled if their kids grew up without ever knowing what soda pop was. But we get the point—these kids may have learned to read and write, but they don't know nearly enough to navigate a larger world.

    "Now you do everything exactly as I tell you," he said, "and you'll catch that coon." (7.10)

    Billy's life is full of teachers, even if none of them have degrees. Here, his grandfather passes on a little wisdom about how to catch raccoons.

    "That's what I came down here for. I'll show you how to keep that coon in the tree." (9.11)

    Grandpa should write a book, because he seems to know everything about catching coons. And guess what? It works. He teaches Billy practical skills as well as moral lessons about not giving up. But we doubt Billy uses many of these lessons in his office these days.

    I felt my father's hand on my shoulder. Looking at me, he smiled and nodded his head. Papa and I knew I had judged the coon perfectly. (16.126)

    What we have here is a classic "student becoming the teacher" moment. It looks like Billy might be able to teach a thing or two, these days.

    Right then I didn't care about coons, gold cups, or anything. All I wanted was my dogs. (17.64)

    Billy is learning something that you can't learn in fancy schools: what's really important in life. For all that his parents seem so obsessed with getting some book-learning in the kid, Where the Red Fern Grows really emphasizes the importance of life experience.

    "You know how your mother has prayed that some day we'd have enough money to move out of these hills and into town so that you children could get an education." (19.174)

    Obviously Billy is going to be totally thrilled about leaving the only home he's ever known to go to a town full of jerky boy and mean girls, where he gets to sit in a classroom all day. Right? Right??

  • Women and Femininity

    Two young ladies about my age stopped, stared and me, and then giggled. My blood boiled, but I could understand. After all, I had three sisters and they giggled all the time, too.

    Oh, this is nice. Billy knows all about women, because he has three sisters. That totally makes him an expert, right?

    I saw a relieved look come over mama's face.

    Looking at me, she started shaking her head. "I don't know," she said. "I just don't know."

    Here comes the worrywart mom to round off the "giggling girls" stereotype. Mama spends a lot of the novel worried about Billy, but not much time actually doing anything about it. Does she feel like she can't? Or does she feel like she shouldn't?

    It was too much for Mama and the girls. They left. I heard the tall cane rattling as they ran for the house. (7.126)

    This is a little weird, because presumably these women aren't sheltered city girls; they're farm women, who probably slaughter and pluck and skin animals all the time. What's different about this slayage?

    "I know," said Papa. "It's all right with me, but women are a little different than men. They worry more." (8.9)

    Okay, take a deep breath and remember the historical context. This book was written in the 1960s and takes place in the 1920s. It was a different time. The thing to think about is how the adult Billy is telling the story. Does he seem to agree with this statement?

    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)

    Billy's mom feels helpless to do anything about his hunting, so she turns to faith. Guess what? Billy prays, too. Maybe men and women aren't so different after all.

    "Don't worry about your mother," he said, as he climbed on the mule's back, "I'll take care of her." (8.130)

    The men in this novel seem to be very protective of the women, even Billy. So, do women seem to have a purpose besides being protected? (And breeding?)

    She was a girl, and girls don't think like boys do. (8.134)

    Billy has problems understanding his sisters, obviously. To be honest, he doesn't seem particularly interested in trying to understand them. It's almost as though he thinks women are an alien species. (Psst: try giving them names, Billy.)

    After Mama saw that there were no broken bones, or legs chopped off, she smiled and said, "I never know any more. I guess I'll just have to get used to it." (9.62)

    Billy's mom is admitting to being helpless in this quote, so we can't quite figure out why she's smiling. It's almost as though part of her expects her son to be like this, even if it freaks her out all the time. You know, boys will be boys.

    A cold chill ran over my body.

    I suppose it's natural at a time like that for a boy to think of his mother. I thought of mine. I wanted to get home. (13.128-29)

    Here's at least one thing that women are good at: providing comfort and stability. Billy sees his mom as a place of safety and warmth. It's interesting to think about the differences between the times when his mom comforts and talks to him (when he's sad) and when his dad or grandpa does (when he's frustrated, mostly).

    Hearing a whimper, I turned around. There in the doorway to the room stood my sisters. I could tell by the looks on their faces that they had been watching for some time. They looked pitiful standing there in their long white gowns. I felt sorry for them. (19.76)

    Why does Billy feel sorry for his sisters if he's the one who is about to lose his dogs? Is this just him being extra sensitive, or is there a particular reason that losing the dogs would be hard for them?