Study Guide

Where the Red Fern Grows Women and Femininity

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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?

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