Study Guide

Where the Red Fern Grows Man and the Natural World

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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.

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