Study Guide

Where the Red Fern Grows Loyalty

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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.

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