Swarthout's emphasis on the buffalo as a national symbol, particularly toward the end of chapter eleven, speaks to the cruelty of which man has proven his capability. The powerless in our society, "the beasts and children," too often become the brunt of abuse and the victims of problematic societal trends. Swarthout postulates that perhaps "We cannot bear the goodness of God," and hence idiotically feel the need to destroy it.

The Bedwetters' sickened reactions to the killings in chapter twelve peak their curiosity about the fate of the remaining buffaloes on the preserve. Valuing humanity, sympathy, and generosity of spirit, not only as desirable personality traits but also as central to the definition of a man, Swarthout vividly describes their shocked state of mind after the killings. Cotton's dream and Goodenow's upset stomach highlight their inability to repress the memory. Wheaties, on the other hand, rejoices in the killings, and eats his dinner without hesitation or repulsion. This difference places Wheaties and the Bedwetters in dramatic opposition to one another. While Wheaties enjoys more popularity among the campers and a greater allegiance with mainstream society, the misfits demonstrate the compassion, strength, and determination that Swarthout admires. One of the main concepts of the novel, in fact, deals with the heroic potential of those whom society considers simply ordinary.