54 pages 1 hour read

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

The Yearling

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 1938

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Summary and Study Guide


Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings published The Yearling in 1938 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1939. Maxwell Perkins, who also worked with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, edited the novel. The Yearling traces one year in the life of Jody Baxter, chronicling his family’s hardships as they endure floods, plague, and death—and Jody’s tender relationship with an orphaned fawn. The novel became a bestseller in 1938 and has since been translated into 29 languages. In 1949, MGM adapted the novel into a feature-length film starring Gregory Peck as Penny; in 1965, the novel was adapted into a Broadway musical; and in 1994, RHI adapted the novel into a made-for-television movie on CBS.

This guide is based on the Namaskar Books 2022 ebook edition.

Content Warning: The Yearling includes the hunting and mistreatment of animals. There are also mentions and an instance of child death. The author is also known for her usage of racial slurs, which are not replicated in this guide.

Plot Summary

Penny, Ora, and Jody Baxter live in a remote area of northern Florida they call Baxter’s Island in the 1870s, and barely produce enough food to feed themselves. Penny and Ora buried six children before Jody was born, and though Jody’s mother Ora remains distant, Penny treasures his son and spends his days teaching him how to hunt and survive off the land. Despite his close relationship with his father, Jody is lonely and longs for a pet, but his mother won’t allow it; Penny doesn’t go against his wife’s iron-clad rule, denying Jody every time he tries to bring home an animal.

The Baxters’ nearest neighbors, the Forresters, have six large sons and one small boy called Fodder-wing who walks with a cane. Fodder-wing’s menagerie of wild pets enamors Jody, and though his mother despises the Forresters, Jody enjoys spending time with his friend. After Penny and Jody unsuccessfully hunt the legendary bear Old Slewfoot, who mercilessly kills livestock, they walk to the Forresters to trade an inept hunting dog for a new rifle. With his new gun, Penny shoots a deer, and he and Jody travel to the nearest town, Volusia, to trade meat and visit Grandma Hutto. Though Grandma Hutto isn’t a blood relation, she housed and cared for Jody and Ora while Penny was away fighting in the Civil War; she adores the Baxter men, but she and Ora don’t get along. Grandma Hutto’s son Oliver, whom Jody idolizes, is a seaman; he returns home for a visit and brings gifts for Penny, Jody, and his mother. Oliver is in love with a girl named Twink, but Lem Forrester has also made a claim on her. The next day, Lem and two of his brothers fight with Oliver and Penny, and Jody must intervene to keep Oliver from getting killed. Penny is proud of his son’s courage, but Jody never looks at Oliver the same way again.

Lem steals the Baxters’ pigs in retribution for the fight, and on the way to retrieve them, Penny is bitten by a rattlesnake. He kills a doe and uses her liver to draw out the poison, but the doe has a fawn, and Jody is heartbroken to leave it behind. Buck and Mill-wheel Forrester bring Penny home, and Buck stays to help the family while Penny recovers. Mill-wheel takes Jody to find the orphaned deer to bring home as a pet. Fodder-wing becomes ill and dies before he can meet the fawn, but Ora says Fodder-wing suggested the name Flag for it. Penny and Jody help bury Fodder-wing and return home. Soon, a storm brings eight days of torrential rain, flooding the land and ruining the Baxters’ crops. The wild animals are afflicted with a plague from drinking tainted flood water. Accompanied by the Forresters, Penny and Jody ride out to survey the damage and hunt for big game. They kill bears and take the cubs alive to sell at a market, earning the Baxters enough money to buy supplies and Christmas gifts. With the shortage of game, wolves begin attacking the homesteads looking for food; the Forresters use poison to kill most of the wolf pack. Meanwhile, Jody worries for the safety of Flag, who is growing bigger and could draw in potential predators.

Christmas is near, and the Baxters plan to attend church festivities in Volusia with Grandma Hutto. Old Slewfoot survived the plague and kills the Baxters’ new calf, so Penny and Jody set out to hunt the bear. After two days, they finally kill the bear and enlist the Forresters to help transport the carcass back to their cabin. Buck wears the bearskin to the Christmas party and scares the attendees. Word arrives that Oliver has returned to town, and the Forresters mysteriously disappear. When Grandma Hutto races home to find Oliver, her house is on fire. Everyone knows the Forresters are to blame, but Grandma Hutto takes responsibility to prevent Oliver from fighting Lem again. Oliver and Twink are married, and they move to Boston with Grandma Hutto.

As spring approaches, Penny plans to plant supplemental crops to make extra money—but as Flag grows, he becomes wilder and tears up the shoots. Penny’s health declines, as his arthritis flares and he injures his groin while working in the field. Jody builds a fence around the fields and helps replant corn, but Flag persists, and Penny tells Jody that he must shoot the deer to preserve their livelihood. Jody runs into the woods with Flag and refuses to comply. He tries to enlist the Forresters’ help, but they’re gone until April. Flag destroys more crops and Ora shoots him, wounding his leg; Jody must chase him to put him down. Cursing his family, Jody runs away and tries to paddle a canoe to Jacksonville, but collapses from hunger and exhaustion and must be rescued by a mail boat. Broken, Jody returns home, begs for his father’s forgiveness, and goes to bed grieving his deer.