The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings: Summary & Characters

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Don't you just love stories about children and their pets? The Yearling was a wildly popular book about a young boy growing up in rural Florida who learns a harsh lesson. Still considered a classic today, The Yearling is a must-read. This lesson will fill you in on the storyline and characters.

The Right Formula

Almost every child has had the experience of wanting a pet and being told no; in our family we badgered our parents for years and finally broke them down with an adorable beagle. Did something like this happen in your house?

The universal experience of children and their relationships with animals is one of the things that makes The Yearling a great story. Author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings didn't set about writing the novel for children; in fact, The Yearling was originally published and widely read by adults in 1938, topping the best-seller list for a whopping 93 weeks. It eventually won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, before being marketed to youngsters. Why all the hype? Let's take a look.

Author Majorie Kinnan Rawlings

The Yearling - Language

One of the first things you'll notice when you read The Yearling is the language -- Rawlings' use of authentic dialogue and wording brings readers into the story from the start with exchanges between the main character, Jody, and his father, Pa, also known as Penny (We'll explain that soon). It may take a minute to get used to, but the backwoods language is an engaging part of the story. See if you can decode this:

As Jody returns from a play-filled afternoon in the woods he tries to explain to Pa why he didn't do his chores:''I aimed to foller the honey-bees and find a bee-tree.''

Rawlings grew up in the same area she sets the story, a rural area in Florida called the scrublands. Here we see Jody explaining he was going to (''aimed'') follow (''foller'') some bees to find a bee hive (''bee-tree''). Don't worry if you didn't get it; the flow catches on pretty quickly.

The Yearling - Story Summary

One of the main themes weaved throughout the book is that of young Jody and his transition from child to adult. Jody's father, Pa, is important for this journey. Pa is also known as Penny because he was so small growing up as a poor, undernourished, and often abused child. Penny has clear, strong emotions for Jody and tries to give him opportunities to just be a care-free, happy kid; in other words, the kind of childhood Penny didn't have. Keep this relationship in mind as you follow the summary -- it comes back in the end.

Jody lives with his parents, Ma (Ora) and Pa (Ezra) Baxter. The family lives off the land, a rough kind of life that depends on the whims of nature. If it rains too much, or a wild animal steals one of the farm animals, a real hardship can happen. We see these kinds of circumstances often throughout the story as Rawlings shows us how tough this sort of life is for young Jody.

A young fawn, often called a yearling

Along Comes a Yearling

But all is not bad. Jody has friends and eventually finds himself a pet. Though he had asked for one for years, he was always told no because it would be too much of a burden for the family. A set of circumstances leads to a young deer, called a fawn, being left alone in the woods. Although Ma is against the idea of Jody adopting it, Pa backs Jody. Eventually, Flag the deer becomes Jody's best friend.

Fawns are called yearlings because it takes them about a year to reach full maturity between their first and second year of life. Jody and Flag each grow quite a bit in the year they spend together. Rawlings uses many side stories and situations to show us how Jody is becoming a man, the same kinds of experiences we have as teenagers today -- girls, friends (Fodder-wing), struggles with neighbors (the Forresters) and independence. Eventually, Flag becomes a grown deer and begins to affect the farm in some not-so-good ways, like eating the corn crop. Ma and Pa agree Flag has to go.

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