The Yearling Summary

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

The Yearling

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The Yearling Summary

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The Yearling (1938) by Florida author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings is a children’s novel about a boy who cares for a recently orphaned baby dear. It is Rawlings’ best known work and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1939. The Yearling was a massive bestseller in 1938. Rawlings worked with famed editor Maxwell Perkins, who was also instrumental in publishing and editing the works of Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald. Its themes include compassion, coming of age, and survival.

The novel is set in 1870s rural Florida. In the first chapter, a young boy, Jody Baxter, watching his mother, Ora, cooking on an outdoor fire. Jody has a somewhat distant relationship with his mother, who has trouble bonding with him. She, along with her husband Ezra “Penny” Baxter had six children before Jody, but all of them died. Jody loves the outdoors, and like most boys, he wants to have a pet, even though the family is so poor they often lack money to feed themselves, much less an animal. The family lives a subsistence life style, meaning they eat whatever they can catch or cultivate from the wild. The family is habitually disrupted by Old Slewfoot, an enormous bear who escapes the family’s devices and schemes to trap him. One day, he steals the prized pig the family planned to eat all through that winter. Penny knows that it’s Old Slewfoot because the bear is missing one toe, making his tracks easy to identify. The family tries to find Old Slewfoot but are not so lucky. When Penny corners the bear, his ancient gun won’t fire, and the bear escapes.

Jody often spends time with the Forresters, their nearby neighbors. He’s good friends with the youngest child, Fodder-wing, a disabled boy who shares Jody’s love of animals. Fodder-wing has six large, delinquent brothers and two old, well-meaning parents. Jody and Penny go to the Forrester’s house to trade a pretty much worthless dog for a new, double-barreled shotgun. The Forresters, not the brightest people in the world, accept the trade. Penny is eager to go hunting with his new gun, and Jody is eager to follow.  They kill a deer, and sell the meat to a local store. They then visit Grandma Hutto. Everyone’s overjoyed to see young Oliver Hutto at the house, as he is a sailor who rarely gets shore leave.
That afternoon, Lem Forrester fights Oliver over the affections of a girl with the peculiar name of Twink Weatherby. Lem’s five other brothers join the fight and attack Oliver. Penny and Jody enter the fight because of the unequal odds. Oliver breaks some bones, and Jody loses consciousness from a knockout blow. Twink, who doesn’t want to be the reason for such a brawl, leaves town.

Lem Forrester is furious with Jody and Penny for breaking up the fight; he assumes they’re all on Oliver’s side. To get back at them, Lem steals the family’s remaining pigs and piglets. While on their way to take the pigs back, a rattlesnake bites Penny’s arm. Fortunately, he is able to kill long to kill a female deer and use her liver to absorb all the rattlesnake poison that, without intervention, his own liver would absorb. As Jody runs to the Forrester’s home to gain their assistance, he notices a baby deer in the brush. With its mother dead, it is orphaned and will surely die. The Forresters and Penny soon resolve their dispute. But Jody is still concerned over what will happen to the fawn. Penny agrees that they can take it home as pet.

Jody seeks out Fodder-wing’s advice for a name, but sadly, Fodder-wing has succumbed to an illness. Ma Forrester suggests the name Flag, and Jody accepts it. A storm hits the area. For seven days and nights, torrential rain drenches the forest. Many crops are ruined and hundreds of farm animals drown. While the damage is massive, they know it could have been much worse. But two days after the flood has stopped, many wild animals start dying of a mysterious disease. The nearby wolves, with no edible game for themselves, start attacking farm animals. In retaliation, the two families start killing wolves and bear cubs. The bear cubs are especially valuable on the market, and the family’s fiscal situation improves. To celebrate, the Baxters go to town and join the Christmas celebrations. When they get back, they discover that Old Slewfoot has killed yet another one of their hogs.

Jody and Penny hunt for and end up killing the bear. Penny, Jody, and the Forresters head in to town to celebrate (with copious amounts of alcohol) the killing of Old Slewfoot. But when Lem Forrester learns that Twink is now married to Oliver, he becomes enraged. Though it is Christmas Day, but Lem is so full of vengeance that he burns down Grandma Hutto’s house.

Flag, the rescued fawn, has grown into a large animal. He has become a burden to the family: eating their crops and biting through fences. One day, Penny tells Jody he has to kill Flag. When Jody refuses, Ora shoots Flag. But instead of killing him, she’s only wounded Flag. To end his misery, Jody shoots Flag. In the aftermath, Jody is filled with so much guilt and pain that he runs away from home. He lives in the forest and by a river. A group of sailors come across his gaunt form and persuade him to return home. When Jody returns home, he has a talk with his father. Penny says that Jody isn’t a child anymore. He now knows how cruel the world is and must learn to take care of himself as well as others.