No novel better epitomizes the love between a child and a pet than The Yearling. Young Jody adopts an orphaned fawn he calls Flag and makes it a part of his family and his best friend. But life in the Florida backwoods is harsh, and so, as his family fights off wolves, bears, and even alligators, and faces failure in their tenuous subsistence farming, Jody must finally part with his dear animal friend. There has been a film and even a musical based on this moving story, a fine work of great American literature.
About the Author
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896-1953) is the celebrated American author of The Yearling, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1939.
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A column of smoke rose thin and straight from the cabin chimney. The smoke was blue where it left the red of the clay. It trailed into the blue of the April sky and was no longer blue but gray. The boy Jody watched it, speculating. The fire on the kitchen hearth was dying down. His mother was hanging up pots and pans after the noon dinner. The day was Friday. She would sweep the floor with a broom of ti-ti and after that, if he were lucky, she would scrub it with the corn shucks scrub. If she scrubbed the floor she would not miss him until he had reached the Glen. He stood a minute, balancing the hoe on his shoulder.
The clearing itself was pleasant if the unweeded rows of young shafts of corn were not before him. The wild bees had found the chinaberry tree by the front gate. They burrowed into the fragile clusters of lavender bloom as greedily as though there were no other flowers in the scrub; as though they had forgotten the yellow jessamine of March; the sweet bay and the magnolias ahead of them in May. It occurred to him that he might follow the swift line of flight of the black and gold bodies, and so find a bee-tree, full of amber honey. The winter's cane syrup was gone and most of the jellies. Finding a bee-tree was nobler work than hoeing, and the corn could wait another day. The afternoon was alive with a soft stirring. It bored into him as the bees bored into the chinaberry blossoms, so that he must be gone across the clearing, through the pines and down the road to the running branch. The bee-tree might be near the water.
He stood his hoe against the split-rail fence. He walked down the cornfield until he was out of sight of the cabin. He swung himself over the fence on his two hands. Old Julia the hound had followed his father in the wagon to Grahamsville, but Rip the bull-dog and Perk the new feist saw the form clear the fence and ran toward him. Rip barked deeply but the voice of the small mongrel was high and shrill. They wagged deprecatory short tails when they recognized him. He sent them back to the yard. They watched after him indifferently. They were a sorry pair, he thought, good for nothing but the chase, the catch and the kill. They had no interest in him except when he brought them their plates of table scraps night and morning. Old Julia was a gentle thing with humans, but her worntoothed devotion was only for his father, Penny Baxter. Jody had tried to make up to Julia, but she would have none of him.
"You was pups together," his father told him, "ten year gone, when you was two year old and her a baby. You hurted the leetle thing, not meanin' no harm. She cain't bring herself to trust you. Hounds is often that-a-way."
He made a circle around the sheds and corn-crib and cut south through the black-jack. He wished he had a dog like Grandma Hutto's. It was white and curly-haired and did tricks. When Grandma Hutto laughed and shook and could not stop, the dog jumped into her lap and licked her face, wagging its plumed tail as though it laughed with her. He would like anything that was his own; that licked his face and followed him as old Julia followed his father. He cut into the sand road and began to run east. It was two miles to the Glen, but it seemed to Jody that he could run forever. There was no ache in his legs, as when he hoed the corn. He slowed down to make the road last longer. He had passed the big pines and left them behind. Where he walked now, the scrub had closed in, walling in the road with dense sand pines, each one so thin it seemed to the boy it might make kindling by itself. The road went up an incline. At the top he stopped. The April sky was framed by the tawny sand and the pines. It was as blue as his homespun shirt, dyed with Grandma Hutto's indigo. Small clouds were stationary, like bolls of cotton. As he watched, the sunlight left the sky a moment and the clouds were gray.
"There'll come a little old drizzly rain before night-fall," he thought.
The down grade tempted him to a lope. He reached the thick-bedded sand of the Silver Glen road. The tar-flower was in bloom, and fetter-bush and sparkleberry. He slowed to a walk, so that he might pass the changing vegetation tree by tree, bush by bush, each one unique and familiar. He reached the magnolia tree where he had carved the wild-cat's face. The growth was a sign that there was water nearby. It seemed a strange thing to him, when earth was earth and rain was rain, that scrawny pines should grow in the scrub, while by every branch and lake and river there grew magnolias. Dogs were the same everywhere, and oxen and mules and horses. But trees were different in different places.
"Reckon it's because they can't move none," he decided. They took what food was in the soil under them.
The east bank of the road shelved suddenly. It dropped below him twenty feet to a spring. The bank was dense with magnolia and loblolly bay, sweet gum and gray-barked ash. He went down to the spring in the cool darkness of their shadows. A sharp pleasure came over him. This was a secret and a lovely place.
A spring as clear as well water bubbled up from nowhere in the sand. It was as though the banks cupped green leafy hands to hold it. There was a whirlpool where the water rose from the earth. Grains of sand boiled in it. Beyond the bank, the parent spring bubbled up at a higher level, cut itself a channel through white limestone and began to run rapidly down-hill to make a creek. The creek joined Lake George, Lake George was a part of the St. John's River, the great river flowed northward and into the sea. It excited Jody to watch the beginning of the ocean. There were other beginnings, true, but this one was his own. He liked to think that no one came here but himself and the wild animals and the thirsty birds.
He was warm from his jaunt. The dusky glen laid cool hands on him. He rolled up the hems of his blue denim breeches and stepped with bare dirty feet into the shallow spring. His toes sunk into the sand. It oozed softly between them and over his bony ankles. The water was so cold that for a moment it burned his skin. Then it made a rippling sound, flowing past his pipe-stem legs, and was entirely delicious. He walked up and down, digging his big toe experimentally under smooth rocks he encountered. A school of minnows flashed ahead of him down the growing branch. He chased them through the shallows. They were suddenly out of sight as though they had never existed. He crouched under a bared and overhanging live-oak root where a pool was deep, thinking they might reappear, but only a spring frog wriggled from under the mud, stared at him, and dove under the tree root in a spasmodic terror. He laughed.
"I ain't no 'coon. I'd not ketch you," he called after it.
A breeze parted the canopied limbs over him. The sun dropped through and lay on his head and shoulders. It was good to be warm at his head while his hard calloused feet were cold. The breeze died away, the sun no longer reached him. He waded across to the opposite bank where the growth was more open. A low palmetto brushed him. It reminded him that his knife was snug in his pocket; that he had planned as long ago as Christmas, to make himself a flutter-mill.
He had never built one alone. Grandma Hutto's son Oliver had always made one for him whenever he was home from sea. He went to work intently, frowning as he tried to recall the exact angle necessary to make the mill-wheel turn smoothly. He cut two forked twigs and trimmed them into two Y's of the same size. Oliver had been very particular to have the crossbar round and smooth, he remembered. A wild cherry grew half-way up the bank. He climbed it and cut a twig as even as a polished pencil. He selected a palm frond and cut two strips of the tough fiber, an inch wide and four inches long. He cut a slit lengthwise in the center of each of them, wide enough to insert the cherry twig. The strips of palm frond must be at angles, like the arms of a windmill. He adjusted them carefully. He separated the Y-shaped twigs by nearly the length of the cherry cross-bar and pushed them deep into the sand of the branch bed a few yards below the spring.
The water was only a few inches deep but it ran strongly, with a firm current. The palm-frond mill-wheel must just brush the water's surface. He experimented with depth until he was satisfied, then laid the cherry bar between the twigs. It hung motionless. He twisted it a moment, anxiously, helping it to fit itself into its forked grooves. The bar began to rotate. The current caught the flexible tip of one bit of palm frond. By the time it lifted clear, the rotation of the bar brought the angled tip of the second into contact with the stream. The small leafy paddles swung over and over, up and down. The little wheel was turning. The flutter-mill was at work. It turned with the easy rhythm of the great water-mill at Lynne that ground corn into meal.
Jody drew a deep breath. He threw himself on the weedy sand close to the water and abandoned himself to the magic of motion. Up, over, down, up, over, down the flutter-mill was enchanting. The bubbling spring would rise forever from the earth, the thin current was endless. The spring was the beginning of waters sliding to the sea. Unless leaves fell, or squirrels cut sweet bay twigs to drop and block the fragile wheel, the flutter-mill might turn forever. When he was an old man, as old as his father, there seemed no reason why this rippling movement might not continue as he had begun it.
He moved a stone that was matching its corners against his sharp ribs and burrowed a little, hollowing himself a nest for his hips and shoulders. He stretched out one arm and laid his head on it. A shaft of sunlight, warm and thin like a light patchwork quilt, lay across his body. He watched the fluttermill indolently, sunk in the sand and the sunlight. The movement was hypnotic. His eyelids fluttered with the palm-leaf paddles. Drops of silver slipping from the wheel blurred together like the tail of a shooting star. The water made a sound like kittens lapping. A rain frog sang a moment and then was still. There was an instant when the boy hung at the edge of a high bank made of the soft fluff of broom-sage, and the rain frog and the starry dripping of the flutter-mill hung with him. Instead of falling over the edge, he sank into the softness. The blue, white-tufted sky closed over him. He slept.
When he awakened, he thought he was in a place other than the branch bed. He was in another world, so that for an instant he thought he might still be dreaming. The sun was gone, and all the light and shadow. There were no black boles of live oaks, no glossy green of magnolia leaves, no pattern of gold lace where the sun had sifted through the branches of the wild cherry. The world was all a gentle gray, and he lay in a mist as fine as spray from a waterfall. The mist tickled his skin. It was scarcely wet. It was at once warm and cool. He rolled over on his back and it was as though he looked up into the soft gray breast of a mourning dove.
He lay, absorbing the fine-dropped rain like a young plant. When his face was damp at last and his shirt was moist to the touch, he left his nest. He stopped short. A deer had come to the spring while he was sleeping. The fresh tracks came down the east bank and stopped at the water's edge. They were sharp and pointed, the tracks of a doe. They sank deeply into the sand, so that he knew the doe was an old one and a large. Perhaps she was heavy with fawn. She had come down and drunk deeply from the spring, not seeing him where he slept. Then she had scented him. There was a scuffled confusion in the sand where she had wheeled in fright. The tracks up the opposite bank had long harried streaks behind them. Perhaps she had not drunk, after all, before she scented him, and turned and ran with that swift, sand-throwing flight. He hoped she was not now thirsty, wide-eyed in the scrub.
He looked about for other tracks. The squirrels had raced up and down the banks, but they were bold, always. A raccoon had been that way, with his feet like sharp-nailed hands, but he could not be sure how recently. Only his father could tell for certain the hour when any wild things had passed by. Only the doe had surely come and had been frightened. He turned back again to the flutter-mill. It was turning as steadily as though it had always been there. The palm-leaf paddles were frail but they made a brave show of strength, rippling against the shallow water. They were glistening from the slow rain.
Jody looked at the sky. He could not tell the time of day in the grayness, nor how long he may have slept. He bounded up the west bank, where open gallberry flats spread without obstructions. As he stood, hesitant whether to go or stay, the rain ended as gently as it had begun. A light breeze stirred from the southwest. The sun came out. The clouds rolled together into great white billowing feather bolsters, and across the east a rainbow arched, so lovely and so various that Jody thought he would burst with looking at it. The earth was pale green, the air itself was all but visible, golden with the rain-washed sunlight, and all the trees and grass and bushes glittered, varnished with the rain-drops.
A spring of delight boiled up within him as irresistibly as the spring of the branch. He lifted his arms and held them straight from his shoulders like a water-turkey's wings. He began to whirl around in his tracks. He whirled faster and faster until his ecstasy was a whirlpool, and when he thought he would explode with it, he became dizzy and closed his eyes and dropped to the ground and lay flat in the broom-sage. The earth whirled under him and with him. He opened his eyes and the blue April sky and the cotton clouds whirled over him. Boy and earth and trees and sky spun together. The whirling stopped, his head cleared and he got to his feet. He was light-headed and giddy, but something in him was relieved, and the April day could be borne again, like any ordinary day.
He turned and galloped toward home. He drew deep breaths of the pines, aromatic with wetness. The loose sand that had pulled at his feet was firmed by the rain. The return was comfortable going. The sun was not far from its setting when the long-leaf pines around the Baxter clearing came into sight. They stood tall and dark against the red-gold west. He heard the chickens clucking and quarreling and knew they had just been fed. He turned into the clearing. The weathered gray of the split-rail fence was luminous in the rich spring light. Smoke curled thickly from the stick-and-clay chimney. Supper would be ready on the hearth and hot bread baking in the Dutch oven. He hoped his father had not returned from Grahamsville. It came to him for the first time that perhaps he should not have left the place while his father was away. If his mother had needed wood, she would be angry. Even his father would shake his head a little and say, "Son " He heard old Cæsar snort and knew his father was ahead of him.
The clearing was in a pleasant clatter. The horse whinnied at the gate, the calf bleated in its stall and the milch cow answered, the chickens scratched and cackled and the dogs barked with the coming of food and evening. It was good to be hungry and to be fed and the stock was eager with an expectant certainty. The end of winter had been meager; corn short, and hay, and dried cow-peas. But now in April the pastures were green and succulent and even the chickens savored the sprouts of young grass. The dogs had found a nest of young rabbits that evening, and after such tid-bits the scraps from the Baxter supper table were a matter of some indifference. Jody saw old Julia lying under the wagon, worn out from her miles of trotting. He swung open the front paling gate and went to find his father.
Penny Baxter was at the wood-pile. He still wore the coat of the broadcloth suit that he had been married in, that he now wore as badge of his gentility when he went to church, or off trading. The sleeves were too short, not because Penny had grown, but because the years of hanging through the summer dampness, and being pressed with the smoothing iron and pressed again, had somehow shrunk the fabric. Jody saw his father's hands, big for the rest of him, close around a bundle of wood. He was doing Jody's work, and in his good coat. Jody ran to him.
"I'll git it, Pa."
He hoped his willingness, now, would cover his delinquency. His father straightened his back.
"I near about give you out, son," he said.
"I went to the Glen."
"Hit were a mighty purty day to go," Penny said. "Or to go anywhere. How come you to take out such a fur piece?"
It was as hard to remember why he had gone as though it had been a year ago. He had to think back to the moment when he had laid down his hoe.
"Oh." He had it now. "I aimed to foller the honey-bees and find a bee-tree."
"You find it?"
Jody stared blankly.
"Dogged if I ain't forgot 'til now to look for it."
He felt as foolish as a bird-dog caught chasing field mice. He looked at his father sheepishly. His father's pale blue eyes were twinkling.
"Tell the truth, Jody," he said, "and shame the devil. Wa'n't the bee-tree a fine excuse to go a-ramblin'?"
"The notion takened me," he admitted, "afore I studied on the bee-tree."
"That's what I figgered. How come me to know, was when I was drivin' along to Grahamsville, I said to myself, 'There's Jody now, and the hoein' ain't goin' to take him too long. What would I do this fine spring day, was I a boy?' And then I thought, 'I'd go a-ramblin'.' Most anywhere, long as it kivered the ground."
A warmth filled the boy that was not the low golden sun. He nodded.
"That's the way I figgered," he said.
"But your Ma, now," Penny jerked his head toward the house, "don't hold with ramblin'. Most women-folks cain't see for their lives, how a man loves so to ramble. I never let on you wasn't here. She said, 'Where's Jody?' and I said, 'Oh, I reckon he's around some'eres.'"
He winked one eye and Jody winked back.
"Men-folks has got to stick together in the name o' peace. You carry your Ma a good bait o' wood now."
Jody filled his arms and hurried to the house. His mother was kneeling at the hearth. The spiced smells that came to his nose made him weak with hunger.
"That ain't sweet 'tater pone, is it, Ma?"
"Hit's sweet 'tater pone, and don't you fellers be too long a time now, piddlin' around and visitin'. Supper's done and ready."
He dumped the wood in the box and scurried to the lot. His father was milking Trixie.
"Ma says to git done and come on," he reported. "Must I feed old Cæsar?"
"I done fed him, son, sich as I had to give the pore feller." He stood up from the three-legged milking stool. "Carry in the milk and don't trip and waste it outen the gourd like you done yestiddy. Easy, Trixie "
He moved aside from the cow and went to the stall in the shed, where her calf was tethered.
"Here, Trixie. Soo, gal "
The cow lowed and came to her calf.
"Easy, there. You greedy as Jody."
He stroked the pair and followed the boy to the house. They washed in turn at the water-shelf and dried their hands and faces on the roller towel hanging outside the kitchen door. Ma Baxter sat at the table waiting for them, helping their plates. Her bulky frame filled the end of the long narrow table. Jody and his father sat down on either side of her. It seemed natural to both of them that she should preside.
"You-all hongry tonight?" she asked.
"I kin hold a barrel o' meat and a bushel o' biscuit," Jody said.
"That's what you say. Your eyes is bigger'n your belly."
"I'd about say the same," Penny said, "if I hadn't learned better. Goin' to Grahamsville allus do make me hongry."
"You git a snort o' 'shine there, is the reason," she said.
"A mighty small one today. Jim Turnbuckle treated."
"Then you shore didn't git enough to hurt you."
Jody heard nothing; saw nothing but his plate. He had never been so hungry in his life, and after a lean winter and slow spring, with food not much more plentiful for the Baxters than for their stock, his mother had cooked a supper good enough for the preacher. There were poke-greens with bits of white bacon buried in them; sand-buggers made of potato and onion and the cooter he had found crawling yesterday; sour orange biscuits and at his mother's elbow the sweet potato pone. He was torn between his desire for more biscuits and another sandbugger and the knowledge, born of painful experience, that if he ate them, he would suddenly have no room for pone. The choice was plain.
"Ma," he said, "kin I have my pone right now?"
She was at a pause in the feeding of her own large frame. She cut him, dexterously, a generous portion. He plunged into its spiced and savory goodness.
"The time it takened me," she complained, "to make that pone and you destroyin' it before I git my breath "
"I'm eatin' it quick," he admitted, "but I'll remember it a long time."
Supper was done with. Jody was replete. Even his father, who usually ate like a sparrow, had taken a second helping.
"I'm full, thank the Lord," he said.
Ma Baxter sighed.
"If a feller'd light me a candle," she said, "I'd git shut o' the dishwashin' and mebbe have time to set and enjoy myself."
Jody left his seat and lit a tallow candle. As the yellow flame wavered, he looked out of the east window. The full moon was rising.
"A pity to waste light, ain't it," his father said, "and the full moon shinin'."
He came to the window and they watched it together.
"Son, what do it put in your head? Do you mind what we said we'd do, full moon in April?"
Somehow, the seasons always took him unawares. It must be necessary to be as old as his father to keep them in the mind and memory, to remember moon-time from one year's end to another.
"You ain't forgot what I told you? I'll swear, Jody. Why, boy, the bears comes outen their winter beds on the full moon in April."
"Old Slewfoot! You said we'd lay for him when he come out!"
"You said we'd go where we seed his tracks comin' and goin' and criss-crossin', and likely find his bed, and him, too, comin' out in April."
"And fat. Fat and lazy. The meat so sweet, from him layin' up."
"And him mebbe easier to ketch, not woke up good."
"When kin we go, Pa?"
"Soon as we git the hoein' done. And see bear-sign."
"Which-a-way will we begin huntin' him?"
"We'd best to go by the Glen springs and see has he come out and watered there."
"A big ol' doe watered there today," Jody said. "Whilst I was asleep. I built me a flutter-mill, Pa. It run fine."
Ma Baxter stopped the clatter of her pots and pans.
"You sly scaper," she said. "That's the first I knowed you been off. You gittin' slick as a clay road in the rain."
He shouted with laughter.
"I fooled you, Ma. Say it, Ma, I got to fool you oncet."
"You fooled me. And me standin' over the fire makin' potato pone "
She was not truly angry.
"Now, Ma," he cajoled her, "suppose I was a varmint and didn't eat nothin' but roots and grass."
"I'd not have nothin' then to rile me," she said.
At the same time he saw her mouth twist. She tried to straighten it and could not.
"Ma's a-laughin'! Ma's a-laughin'! You ain't riled when you laugh!"
He darted behind her and untied her apron strings. The apron slipped to the floor. She turned her bulk quickly and boxed his ears, but the blows were feather-light and playful. The same delirium came over him again that he had felt in the afternoon. He began to whirl around and around as he had done in the broom-sage.
"You knock them plates often the table," she said, "and you'll see who's riled."
"I cain't he'p it. I'm dizzy."
"You're addled," she said. "Jest plain addled."
It was true. He was addled with April. He was dizzy with Spring. He was as drunk as Lem Forrester on a Saturday night. His head was swimming with the strong brew made up of the sun and the air and the thin gray rain. The flutter-mill had made him drunk, and the doe's coming, and his father's hiding his absence, and his mother's making him a pone and laughing at him. He was stabbed with the candle-light inside the safe comfort of the cabin; with the moonlight around it. He pictured old Slewfoot, the great black outlaw bear with one toe missing, rearing up in his winter bed and tasting the soft air and smelling the moonlight, as he, Jody, smelled and tasted them. He went to bed in a fever and could not sleep. A mark was on him from the day's delight, so that all his life, when April was a thin green and the flavor of rain was on his tongue, an old wound would throb and a nostalgia would fill him for something he could not quite remember. A whip-poor-will called across the bright night, and suddenly he was asleep.
Copyright 1938 by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Copyright renewed © 1966 by Norton Baskin
Interior decorations by Edward Shenton copyright 1938
by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Copyright renewed © 1966 by Charles Scribner's Sons
Introduction copyright © 2002 by Ivan Doig
Her name was Lana, and she came to the ranch house like the doe-eyed orphan she was, cradled in the boss's arms minutes after her hay-hidden mother had fallen victim to his mowing machine.
A fawn all velvet and delicate, a human heart or two melting over its helpless beauty, an impulsive adoption: hadn't we seen this before, in these very pages, or at least at the Saturday-night show in town to sop in the Technicolor version of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's emblematic novel?
Maybe we overlooked the component of truth in fiction. Maybe we figured that Rocky Mountain deer were literally loftier creatures than the Florida backwoods species of flag-tailed mischief so memorably depicted in The Yearling. Maybe a pretty face just always wins its way in. In any case, the specific tribulations that were visited upon scrub-country settlers Ezra and Ora Baxter and their pet-smitten twelve-year-old son Jody in the book and movie could not afflict us. The sheep ranch we were on, covering one entire corner of the county, could not be eaten to the ground by a single munching adolescent deer, and the fawn was granted plenty of elbow room of another sort: she was the plaything of the boss's wife, a bored town-born woman accustomed to better stuff than any of us, including her husband, were made of. We of the ranch crew recognized status when it raised its head, and the wife there in the big house bestowed it on the orphan fawn as unmistakably as the star-power name she gave it. Even so, trouble came with Lana.
Back there half a century ago I was, as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings might have put it, "Jody-age." As the tolerated offspring of hired hands my father was the foreman, my grandmother the ranch cook I tagged along on anything, and watched with interest when the long-legged wildling bounded forward in the pen with the bum lambs at bottle time. The first few times the boss's wife did the feeding herself, then the white-mustached choreboy was given the task, and whenever he was deployed into the hayfield, my grandmother none too willingly had the fawn added to her victualing duties. I bottle-fed it myself a few intrigued times, but my heart wasn't going out to anything that was so obviously not mine. Besides, Lana was already surprisingly bossy.
So I was able to stand back when, in the fullness of time, this gamin creature turned on us, we of the human kind. As she grew, Lana developed hooves like terrible knives in a fable, dark obsidian blades that suddenly, treacherously, were in front of your face. Her time among us ended when she slashed someone's shirt from collar to bellybutton. Just as it was written in that renowned story whose message we did not heed, nature had overcome nurture.
That this incident leaps to mind the instant I am in the vicinity of these pages testifies, I think, to the uncanny staying power of The Yearling. Any of us who are former children I have in mind here that boss's wife, impelled to that dazzler of a fawn by some smoldering yearning, its outbreak likely as startling to her as it was to us, for whatever pet she had or did not have as a girl harbor in some corner of our memory an extreme case of wanting, such as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings portrays in Jody Baxter. A child of his place and time, America when it was raw and rural and barely healing from the Civil War, the boy in the isolation of the Baxter's Island pinspot of clearing in the central Florida scrubland looks to nature to provide him the creature of companionship he so badly wants. In a wording that is as telling as it is curious, the author has Jody struggle to enunciate his craving for a pet: "I want something with dependence to it."
It gives away nothing to say that dependence/independence are twinned throughout The Yearling, and that, piquantly singular as the title is, the story rapidly becomes the tale of two yearlings, two growing things: the gangly fawn named Flag and the sprouting boy, Jody. There, though, this book simply starts. It lasts because, for all its reputation as a heart-grabber, best read when you are Jody-age, the achievement within these pages is similarly twofold: it stands as a leading example of that most natural and durable way to tell a story, the journal of a year in an intensely specific place, and at the same time it clicked as a publishing phenomenon crafted by two savvy veterans of the word business.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings had behind her a newspaper career and a modicum of success as a syndicated columnist when she and her husband moved south in 1928 to operate an orange grove and, intentionally or not, cultivate a new field of literary possibility for her. She apparently alit into Florida all ears. Journalistic pro that she was, she knew how to get lingo down on paper, and by the early 1930s her short stories with Cracker-flavored dialogue had found favor: "Gal Young Un" won the O. Henry Prize for the best short story of 1932. She went on to try longer fiction under the most famous editing hand around, that of Maxwell Perkins.
Part of Perkins's fabled success in making the Scribner's publishing list into such a jackpot the alphabet of authors he handled included Sherwood Anderson, Erskine Caldwell, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, James Jones, Ring Lardner, Alan Paton, and Thomas Wolfe came from his capacity to spread his bets all over the literary table. Thus, at the same time that he was spending day and night trying to thread storyline into the boundary-breaking prose of Wolfe, Perkins took care to continually encourage, nudge, and do some persuading on Rawlings, who on the face of her previous pages was never going to be that innovative a stylist but showed promise as a natural straight-ahead storyteller. The Perkins-Rawlings correspondence itself became a tome, and in it are the two seeds of what was to come: Max Perkins's suggestion that she try to do "a boy's book" set in the Florida scrub she knew so well, and Marjorie Rawlings's ultimate corrective response that it would be "a story about a boy."
It took them a couple of other novels first, and only so-so luck with the reading public despite Perkins's marketing efforts on Rawlings's behalf, but with The Yearling's publication in 1938, they hit it big. Book-of-the-Month, the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, sustained best-sellerdom, the movie contract, iconic imprinting into the minds of an entire reading generation it all rolled in for the hardworking team of writer and editor.
And there on the page? Let us now appraise the sound on the paper, most noticeably Rawlings's decision, with Perkins's acquiescence if not encouragement, to use orthographic literalness for her characters' dialect. Here is the first swatch of dialogue in The Yearling, as Ezra "Penny" Baxter explains to Jody why their hunting hound resists the boy's petting affections:
"You was pups together...ten year gone, when you was two year old and her a baby. You hurted the leetle thing, not meanin' no harm. She cain't bring herself to trust you. Hounds is often that-a-way."
Neither Flannery O'Connor nor Eudora Welty would have done it that-a-way. Yet, for whatever digestive problem we as modern readers may have with it, Rawlings's sometimes awkward-looking spelled-out version of Cracker dialect does capture the accent she heard around her in central Florida, pins for in display there on the page. In another aspect of lingual flavor, drawing on the riches of what William Carlos Williams called "words marked by a place," she was equally bountiful. The Dictionary of American Regional English, the authoritative University of Wisconsin linguistic project that is compiling our national trove of folk expressions, cites a prodigious 186 distinctive usages in The Yearling thus far (DARE's volumes have reached the letter S), from a mort of sickness all too much of it to all manner of jessies, which are creatures or varmints, human and otherwise. The dancer and the dance, the language and the local twists and twirls we give it Rawlings honors the people she is writing about by weaving their deep-South lexicon into her literary tune.
Putting our ear to the page as she does, Rawlings also takes us back to a time when paternal and maternal matters echoed off some very stony walls of fate. Until Jody survived and thrived, Ezra and Ora Baxter, addressed on nearly every page as "Pa" and "Ma," had endured the premature deaths of six other children: six! In an interesting choice of characterization, it is Ma Baxter who is so hardened by these relentless losses that she will not let herself be openly affectionate toward Jody, while Pa Baxter is lenience and tolerance personified. The icon of the long-suffering mother, back there in the white-settler days of the 1870s, was still current during the throes of the Depression when Rawlings was writing: Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath, Ma Perkins in the long-running radio serial. American grit, though, was being obscured by makeup by the time The Yearling was made into a movie, in 1946.
Given an often startlingly visual piece of work to draw on the neighboring Forrester brothers sitting around naked as they make music through the night! A cotillion of whooping cranes sending the voluble Jody and his equally voluble father stark speechless with the beauty of their mating dance! Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer merely ran the novel through its assembly line of stars. Jane Wyman as Ma looks as though she is doing her homework instead of her housework, trying to figure out how much of a sourpuss she dares to be in a role that the book succinctly gives as "a woman all Hell couldn't amuse." Gregory Peck was a foot too tall and a dozen times too sunnily handsome for the role of the runty, hard-used Penny Baxter. (What a role it would have made for Elisha Cook Jr., the plucky little overmatched homesteader so memorably gunned down in the mud by Jack Palance in Shane.) Even the squad of deer that are meant to be Flag at various stages of growth had to endure miscasting; in a quite early scene of the movie, when the supposedly few-months-old fawn snuggles close to Jody and Penny, there are the very visible nubbins of horns of a year-old buck.
And so, after all the clankings of the machinery of popular culture, the validity of The Yearling ends up pretty much back where it started, in Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's inspired determination to tell the story of a year on a chosen span of earth. It is a classic literary strategy, employed by the best nature writers: Aldo Leopold's Sand County Almanac, Hal Borland's Book of Days, Henry Beston's Cape Cod memoir The Outermost House. The intricate yet fundamental orbit the seasons carry us through is still the basic path of life for us and what we see around us, and Rawlings obviously relished the almost overpowering cycles of scenery-change and abrupt plenty or sobering want in the intense climate of the Florida scrubland. Notice how it begins, the calendar of this book and the Baxter family's wander-year of the soul: April, not the cruelest month at all, but a time of heady abundance, when bees are staggering through the air from one flowering richness to the next. We meet Jody on an afternoon so delicious to the senses he can barely stand it, playing hooky from his chores. Off he goes, drawn by bee-drone, into the pleasures of springtime and, we know, beyond.
Follow those bees, and we are led to some of Rawlings's loveliest writing. "The Scuppernong grapevine, a gift from his mother's kin in Carolina, was in bloom for the first time, fine and lace-like. The wild golden bees had found its fragrance, and were standing on their heads to guzzle its thin honey." When she every so often drenches a scene with nature this way, the author is giving us an essence that underlies The Yearling's much commented-upon mantle of inevitability. What the land says is the true accent of this book. Spring brings. ("The fawns were being born.") Summer simmers along in the hardscrabble routines of life for the Baxters. Then we come to the first quarter of the September moon, the silver crescent standing upright in the sky like a door swung open. Woodsman that he is, Penny Baxter reads rain from that open portal and is exultant, only to turn apprehensive at the next weather sign: seabirds flowing inland where they don't belong. When it arrives, the crop-drowning torrent is riding a wind that the author gives us every memorable atom of: "It seemed to leap the cornfield in one gust. It struck the yard trees with a hissing, and the mulberries bent their boughs to the ground, and the chinaberry creaked in its brittleness...The pines whistled. The rain followed."
The year bends dramatically beyond that, and in what to me stands as the most masterful sequence in the novel, Rawlings provides us the juxtaposition of Christmas preparations and the desperate tracking down of the nemesis bear, Slewfoot. The New Year's leaf on the calendar brings plowing, the Florida version of February warms the earth, and March invites planting. Then it is April once more, the year closing its circle of evolution, and in the course of it Jody, under the implacable tutelage of these natural surroundings, has grasped the difference between appetite and hunger.
There is a storytime within this rustproof story, when the boy and his father call at the general store in Volusia on a rare trip to town. The storekeeper and Penny Baxter begin making talk, and while the boy listens, his family's travails and triumphs of the season past are woven into a skein of storytelling by his father. "Jody lived the summer over again, and it was better than when it happened, the way Penny told it." Just so, do stories told with such relish last and last.
Copyright 1938 by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Copyright renewed © 1966 by Norton Baskin
Interior decorations by Edward Shenton copyright 1938
by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Copyright renewed © 1966 by Charles Scribner's Sons
Introduction copyright © 2002 by Ivan Doig
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The book I chose to read is The Yearling. The three main reasons I picked this American classic is because I had herd from multiple people that it is a good book and that I should read it, secondly I have seen the movie and wanted to see the differences between the book and the movie and last but certainly not least I had just finished reading Robinson Crusoe which I really enjoyed, so I decided to try and read more classical books. The yearling may be very different from Robinson Crusoe but it is still a very good book. The yearling is very similar to Rascal and Where the Red Fern Grows. All three are written around the same time period and involve a boy and his pet. All of these books are written differently then today's standard and in a way that the authors tries to capture how the people spoke in that era. It makes the text difficult to read and slightly confusing but once you get into it the book it will make more sense and have a better flow. If you don't like books that use improper grammar then don't read this book, but if you can get past that dislike this is a wonderful book worth a read and maybe even a re-read. The yearling is just like a time capsule because it captures almost exactly how life was back in the 1870s. It takes place in the Florida wilderness with the Bears the panthers and all of the other trials that people face there. I had hard time putting this book down it was very rarely slow; there was always some adventure that Jody, (the main character) and his father, Penny, or his fawn, Flag, would explore. You want this book to continue in the way that Jody fantasizes his life will turn out to be with his little fawn but that ending unfortunately never comes. This book may look long but its good so that makes it short, the whole book is great but then you get to the ending and the book dies (in my opinion). It has a very similar ending to Rascal. The book to me just ends wrong he was supposed to go off and live with flag for the rest of the little deer's life but that doesn't happen. Overall the ending just doesn't fit with the rest of the novel. This book is great because it was written to capture, life of people in the Florida wilderness in the 1870s.The Yearling has a meaning that will live on until the end of time, which to me is what makes this book a classic. It captures one thing that every young man or woman has to do and that is to grow up and realize the world isn't just a big playground; it's a rock and a hard place. You just have to do your best to make it through. I think this is a great book that everyone needs to read. I strongly recommend it to anyone who can take a sad and influential ending, if not you probably shouldn't read it. I do not think the book is a good read for younger People. I would say ages thirteen and up. The yearling By Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Great
Seriously! This is only half the book!
The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings is an excellent book filled with imagery and description. The author's vivid details make the book come alive, and the story is depicted with almost journal-like detail. The book is set in the backwoods of Florida during the 1870's, where life is an ongoing struggle for its inhabitants; and overflowing with adventure, danger, loss, loneliness, and courage. The experiences and obstacles that the main character, Jody Baxter, faces with his adopted fawn are touching and moving. People that appreciate the outdoors and nature will especially enjoy this book. The author's imagery paints beautiful pictures of the characters' natural surroundings and much of the book is spent in nature. The Yearling is an excellent book and I highly recommend reading it.
I recently re-read this book after many years, having first read it when I was only ten years old. So moved by this story, even at that age, I knew that I was destined to become a writer myself. Set in the Florida backcountry during the Post Civil War years, it is essentially a coming of age story about a twelve year old boy whose family is struggling daily just to survive. The difficulty in tending their meager crops and few livestock against harsh weather and predacious bears seems alien in our world today, yet was very real not so long ago. For me, it is the wonderfully descriptive prose that captured my soul. Every smell, the warmth of the sun, the sound of pattering rain, even the thrill of the hunt are written in such vivid colorful imagery that one feels drawn into these pages. As so with Jody's loneliness and isolation. His only friend is Fodderwing, a crippled boy who lives miles away, and his only pet is the family dog, who is loyal to no one but Jody's father, yet is too old to romp like a pup anyway. With the fawn coming into his life, he has a changed perspective. Jody is a little boy with a new friend and something to be responsible for, but most of all, something to call his own. Unfortunately, and as in most cases, trying to tame a wild animal ends up in tragedy, and twice in this story the reader faces along with Jody, the inescapable heartbreak that comes from having lost someone or something near and dear. The final result is that we witness his transformation to manhood. Miss Rawlings must also be commended for the way her characters are developed. Simple yet thorough, by the time she's finished with each, it is as if you have known that person your entire life. Probably for me, what drew such a strong connection to this book was the fact that I could find many parallels to the difficult life of my own maternal grandparents. Although they lived in the forest and prairie of Central Illinois, their speech was similar, and they endured much of the same hardships. Fortunately, because of their grown children and a successful, adult grandchild, most of that was behind them by the time I came along. Still, I understood what they had gone through to raise three kids on a small plot of ground miles from town, with no running water or electricity. Like Jody in this story, his boyish behavior of running off to the woods all day to play and explore was much like how I remember my time visiting the grandparent's farm. The same with my brothers and cousins. I suppose this is considered a children's book, but I recommend it for everyone. Take the time to enjoy this wonderful story. I promise that you will not be disappointed.
I read this book as a child (I'm in my 60s now) and enjoyed it then. I always termed it my favorite all time book and decided to reread it this summer. It had even more meaning to me now and has certainly remained my favorite book...a must read classic!
This book was sad because you learn to love the fawn then something happens to it, and it is very sad.
If you liked Shiloh or Hoot, then The Yearling is the book for you. It¿s about a young boy living with his mom and dad in the backwaters of Florida a few years after the civil war. The family encounters bears, `coons, snakes and even panthers. The closest neighbors are over 2 miles away. Even though they live on a farm, Jody has always wanted a pet of his own. After a fawn is left motherless, Jody takes it in to help it survive. He learns friendship and finds courage to do what he has to do to survive.
I was amazed at how many literary devices were put into this wonderful tale about a boy and his fawn. This glorious book has opened my eyes on the love and compation between a boy and his own fawn. This wonderful novel will go by very fast and you will feel like you are right in the story. I highly recomend this book to all who enjoy nature and animals.
Raising wild animals is quite a responsibility, especially if you live on a farm. For Jody, this is double since this deer he is raising is also a problem to the crops. What happens next must happen for the benefit of the farm although it's very sad. A very realistic book.
From the very beginning I had my doubts about this book, hearing that it was similiar to Old Yeller and Where the Red Fern Grows, books that I didn't enjoy. Well, my doubts have been confirmed. The yearling is pretty much the same book but with a different animal starring in the lead role. The characters, the ideas, the background, are all pretty much the same in these touching tales tales of young people struggling to grow up and seeking comfort in a friend found in the shape of a deer or a dog. I could have handled this case of reading deja vu if I enjoyed these type of books to begin with. I am a 15 year old girl pretty much beyond my coming of age. I found most of Jody's most difficult struggles naive and dumb, already knowing what I would have done in his situation. This being 2007 a lot of ideas in the yearling are very old fasioned and don't really grab the attention of the students of our generations. From the groans and mumbles of the other students in our class everytime we pull out The Yearling I'm confident in saying that they share my opinion of this book being behind our age group and generation. I think that the gender factor also applies. A boy might be more interested in this book than I was because they might be able to relate better to the main character Jody. The Yearling is a classic and a pretty good example of American literature and displays some valuable lessons that all young people on their way to adulthood should learn. Conclusivly I do not reccommend this book for girls and some others of my age group because I don't think they will enjoy it. If you are an 11 year old boy great. Enjoy.
This is an outstanding book and it is filled with struggle and conflict. I guarantee you, once you open this book it will be hard to close.
A beautiful, touching, story. One of my favourites.
The Yearling is a coming-of-age story about a boy, Jody, living in the Florida wilderness during the late 1800s. Over a year's time, Jody grows from a 12-year-old focused mostly on recreation, to a contributing family member working alongside his father to provide for his family. Jody's family lives off their crops, game hunted in the forest, and trades made in a nearby village. It's a tough life full of back-breaking labor.At Jody's side during most of the year is Flag, a fawn adopted after being found orphaned. As an only child, Jody longs for companionship, and his parents long resisted allowing him to adopt wild animals as pets. For some reason, in this case, they relented. Flag is a devoted pet, often at Jody's side, but as he grows it becomes more and more difficult to keep him on their farm.This book is well-written -- it won the Pulitzer Prize after all -- and the very descriptive language brought the landscape to life. However, I tired of the graphic hunting scenes, and I was never emotionally invested in Jody and his family. I was hoping for a more compelling read and was disappointed.
Liked it more than I thought. Easy to read.
I live on the site of Marjorie's old summer cottage on Lake Ontario. She lived here before she moved to Florida. What good karma! We even saved her old bathtub when we renovated. Loved the book. Love watching the movie with my grandchildren.
This was one of the nicest books I have read this year. I wonder how I missed it all these years. A tale of a young boy growing up on an isolated farm in Florida. Life was tough, his folks had a really difficult time but the sense of love that flows through the story is wonderful. Even better is the growing awareness of the balance between reality and dreams. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes fine writing and a story without villians.
very good sad ending
I avoided this one for years because I always thought it would be just like reading another painful version of Old Yeller. It may be a good story, but I¿m a softy when it comes to animals and I didn¿t want it to break my heart. I¿m so glad I finally picked it up. It¿s not that it doesn¿t have its sad parts, but it¿s so much more than that. It¿s the ultimate coming-of-age story. Jody, sweet young boy, grows up with his mother and father on isolated farm in Florida shortly after the Civil War. They struggle to survive harsh weather, the attacks of an old bear named Slewfoot and their wild neighbors who are both helpful and a bit dangerous. Jody¿s father, Penny Baxter, is the essence of a good man. He is kind and loving, but he also works hard to care for his family. Ma (Ory) is a cold woman and at first this is jarring. She seems so bitter and harsh and it¿s hard to reconcile that with Penny¿s tender nature. But you quickly realize that Ory has been through innumerable hardship and we learn that she has lost many children. We don¿t know exactly how many or how they died, but we know Jody is the only child that survived. She¿s given up on her dreams and realized that her life will never be made easier. This is her lot in life and she had to become hard to survive. It¿s not easy to love a character like that, but I can understand how she has become that way. It¿s interesting that the yearling doesn¿t actually show up until almost halfway through the book. This gives the reader a chance to connect with all of the other characters, which is crucial for the story to work. The Yearling is really Jody¿s story. He is such an innocent child at the beginning, but they live in a ruthless world and there¿s very little room for playfulness in the adult life of a pioneer. People were completely dependant on the land. If there was a drastic change in the weather there was nothing they could do. Their food source came from what they could farm or shoot. We take so much for granted now. The sheer fact that we can go to a grocery store any time or pick up dinner at a restaurant makes it hard to even comprehend that kind of lifestyle. It¿s a powerful story and an interesting glimpse into the life of a pioneer. ¿Death was a silence that gave back no answer.¿
Essentially the Yearling is about a boy, Jody Baxter and his pet deer. But at the heart of this book is the relationship of Jody Baxter and his father, Penny Baxter. The Baxters are an impoverished family who live in the Florida scrub. Rawlings descriptions of the solitude and wilderness in which the Baxters live are lovely, one would almost want to leave civilization to fall asleep hearing the call of the whip-poor-will after reading The Yearling. The Yearling symbolizes the transition from childhood to manhood, in Jody's case. Jody must make hard decisions, and eventually grow up. The final chapter, where Penny Baxter is speaking to Jody is so heartfelt and well-written I about teared up.
The Yearling is a book I have heard about over the years, but was never super interested in reading. I could guess the outcome of a book centered around a young boy and his pet deer living on a hardscrabble farm in the 1870’s. I had read Old Yeller and seen Bambi, I knew what was coming. So I wasn’t thrilled when the random picking for the United States of Books challenge offered me up The Yearling. I don’t think I can really spoil a book that is over 75 years old, but just in case, I will only say I was right about the ending. However, I was mistaken about how I would feel about the book as a whole. The tale of the Jody, Ora and Ezra “Penny” Baxter is not one of an easy life. Farming a small plot of land in central Florida, they hunt and trade for what they need. Jody is the only child of seven born, who lived past the age of three. Trailing his pa and learning to do what is necessary to survive, Jody wants nothing more than a pet to call his own. Then on a hunt, he finds a small deer and is determined to make it his own. Flag soon becomes part of the family and even goes on hunts with Jody and his father. Weaving around the story of the fawn and his boy was the epic hunt of a troublesome bear, a snakebite, and a very unique cast of characters. Now that I have read it, I am glad I had the chance to, as some of the writing was just lyrical. Especially the parts describing the land surrounding the farm. Around a bend in the road, the dry growth of pines and scrub oak disappeared. There was a new lushness. Sweet gums and bay were here, and, like sign-posts indicating the river, cypress. Wild azaleas were blooming late in the low places, and the passion flower opened its lavender corollas along the road. I could see why this was EW’s Florida pick as the location was almost a secondary character in the story. The wildlife and flora inhabited every scene. The fall fruits were not yet ripe, papaw and gallberry and persimmon. The mast of the pines, the acorns of the oaks, the berries of the palmetto, would not be ready until the first frost. The deer were feeding on the tender growth, bud of sweet bay and of myrtle, sprigs of wire-grass, tips of arrowroot in the ponds and prairies, and succulent lily stems and pads. The type of food kept them in the low, wet places, the swamps, the prairies and the bay-heads. Unfortunately, the jarring difference between the lyrical descriptions and the regional dialect of the characters when they spoke, made this a difficult read for me. The way they thought in their heads did not match the words they said and this made the transitions very hard. I would almost prefer a read like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn where, while there were numerous regional dialects, all the characters thought and spoke in them. When you read a description as beautiful as the one above then the very next life is something along the lines of “Don’t go gittin faintified on me.”, it pulls you out to the story and throws a wrench in your pacing. The Yearling had some amazing moments with the descriptions by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. It is not a book that I would personally read again as the storyline is not what I enjoy and the transitions between characters thinking and speaking was too harsh. For the time it was written though, I can see why it received such high praise. It contained heartbreak, action and basic human survival tempered by a strong family bond. Original review@125Pages.com
The burly tabby tom padded in. " My name is Lightningstrike. I am here to become a deputy." He meowed calmly.
Hi. Im new. I need someone to help me with... all of this. Thank you and let me think of a name. :-)
Runs in and takes kits and prey
An expecting she cat pads in. She was covered with scratches and her white pelt was stianed with blood.