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Where the Red Fern Grows

Wilson Rawls

Chapters 7-9

Chapters 1-6

Chapters 10-11

Summary

Now Billy wants to start training his dogs. He needs a raccoon hide. He goes to his grandfather for help. His grandfather shows him how to make a trap that lures a coon into reaching for a bright shiny object. When the coon lifts his paw out of the hole with the shiny object, it gets stuck on some angled nails. Billy tries this, but for days he doesn't catch a coon. His papa reassures him, saying he just has to wait for his scent to wear off the traps. Finally, a coon is caught, and father and son kill it together.

Using the hide, Billy trains his hounds. He drags the coon over a certain path, and then the hounds have to track the hide by smelling its scent. By the time raccoon season starts in the fall, they are ready. On the first night, his dogs tree a coon in the biggest tree imaginable. Billy has always admired the "big tree" of the bottoms; it is gigantic, so he decides he won't be able to cut it down. But when they see his intent, his dogs pout. He becomes determined to cut it down, because he told his dogs that if they could tree a coon he would take care of the rest. His dogs are counting on him. His father finds him in the morning, and has food brought to him. That evening, his grandfather shows him how to make a scarecrow, to keep the coon in the tree so he can go home and eat dinner.

The next morning, he finds that Old Dan has been guarding the tree all night long. He is very proud of him but resents Little Ann until he sees two little impressions in the leaves, and realizes that they took turns guarding the tree over the night. His heart swells. Later in the day, he gets blisters. He is heartbroken, because he thinks he will have to stop. He says a prayer, however, and then the wind finally pushes the tree down. His dogs kill the raccoon, and they proudly head for home. When he gets home, he asks his papa if they think God answered his prayer and pushed over the tree with the wind.

Commentary

Billy trains his dogs very carefully. He teaches them all kinds of tricks. He goes to his grandfather's store and learns tricks from other coon hunters who gather there. He is able to devote a great deal of time to training them, and they are very young when he begins to teach them. In part, this explains why the dogs are such good hunters by the end of the novel.

On the other hand, the dogs are simply remarkable. The way they take turns guarding the tree is one of the first signs in the novel of how well they communicate and work as a team. The two hounds seem to care deeply for each other. Also, they seem incredibly determined to "tree" the coon and to kill it. When Billy decides he can't cut down the big sycamore, they whine. This is a sign of a good hunting dog. A good hunting dog is always eager to hunt and is never satisfied until the hunt has reached its successful conclusion.

Although they do not figure prominently in the main adventures of the novel, Billy's mama and sisters play an important role. They worry about Billy when he goes hunting and they cringe at violence. This contrasts with Billy's quiet bravery. Of course, it might also be called sexist. It reinforces stereotypes; but at the same time, it is probably an accurate reflection of gender roles as they were practiced in the time and place of the novel, and it certainly makes Billy seem more heroic.

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