The Yearling Celebrates Value of Family

Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s poignant novel The Yearling hails from an era when a novel about growing up didn’t have to be about sex. Its realism, craftsmanship, and age-old truths will keep it alive when most contemporary coming-of-age novels are forgotten.

Only one of Penny and Ora Baxter’s children, Jody, lived past infancy. Jody’s12-year-old irresponsibility is a thorn in Ora’s flesh. Penny keeps Jody away from his wife’s sharp tongue, giving him leave to slip off the woods instead of doing chores.

The Baxters are almost as poor as the Florida scrub land they farm. Their corn and tobacco crops have to be supplemented by hunting game to eat and to trade for necessities. There’s not even a mouthful to spare for Jody to feed a pet, as desperately as Jody begs for something that will belong just to him.

When Penny and Jody go in search of their missing hogs, Penny is bitten by a rattlesnake. He shoots a doe and puts her warm liver over the snake punctures to draw the venom. When Penny recovers, Jody reminds his father the doe had a fawn. Penny lets Jody fetch the fawn home as a pet.

The fawn, Flag, becomes Jody’s devoted companion, it is nothing but a pest to his mother. When Flag becomes a yearling, its behavior is no longer just a nuisance; it threatens the family’s survival.

Rawlings’ characters are vivid and vital. Jody is unmistakably12, swinging between childishness and manliness, passionate in his likes and dislikes. Penny and Ora are a familiar couple. They fuss about trifles, unite against troubles. Penny’s charity is antidote for his wife’s sharp tongue.

Jody has to accept loneliness as part of the cost of survival, but in the process he also learns to value his family. There are worse trade-offs.

The Yearling
By Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Scribner’s, 1938
428 pages
1938 bestseller #1
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni
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Linda Aragoni

I read. I write. I think. I make big ideas simple. I help teachers teach expository writing to teens and adults. In my free time, I read and review old novels.

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