Initially I was going to read The Yearling for the 2017 Back to the Classics Challenge category “Classic About an Animal or With an Animal in the Title”. However, I have now decided to use it in the “Award Winning Classic” since The Yearling won the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1939. (I think I will read The Call of the Wild for the Animal category instead…but we’ll see 😃. )
I am fairly sure I either saw the movie as a child and/or read an abridged version of the book, because lots of it seemed very familiar. Since I was aware of the basic story line, I figured the book would make me cry and it did, but probably for different reasons than it would were I still a child. Although as best I can tell (i.e. Wikipedia), the book wasn’t written for children, I can see how it could be marketed to tweens and teens. It is a coming of age story after all. But I think a more mature reader will be able to see points that would probably be overlooked by a child or even a young adult.
So, clearly the story is more than just a boy who adopts an orphaned fawn in post Civil War Florida. In fact, the fawn, named Flag, doesn’t even show up until about half way through the novel. The focus of The Yearling is the boy, Jody Baxter, and his transition from 12 to 13 and from boy to man. Jody is an only child, his parents having lost 6 children before his birth. His father tends to humor him, believing that the trials of adulthood will come soon enough, whereas his mother, hardened perhaps as a preventative to more loss, is more strict, The Baxter’s nearest neighbors are the rough and slightly dangerous Forresters who live 14 miles away. The nearest town is Volusia, a day’s ride and across the St. Johns River. This is where the Baxters go to trade and purchase goods they can’t raise themselves and to visit the coquettish Grandma Hutto.
I appreciated that Rawlings does not romanticize the past or a life lived off the land. The book is pretty clear in its message that neighbors are mandatory for survival and that subsistence farming is hard and precarious work. There is also a strong message about taking only what one needs and hunting only for meat and not for sport.
All the dialogue is in dialect, which is normally a pet peeve of mine, but it didn’t bother me in this case. I had no trouble understanding it and in fact, it enabled me to really “hear” the speech rhythms of the characters. There really wasn’t much I didn’t love about this book. I loved the detail of the Florida scrub and wildlife; I loved the description of the food, clothing and domiciles. I didn’t even mind the parts about hunting. Reading The Yearling gave me the same sort of satisfaction as an adult that I had as a child reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books, that sense of a completely different time and place that you could jump into anytime you opened the pages.
I read the paperback edition pictured above re-issued for the 50th anniversary of the book and with reproduced beautiful woodcut illustrations from previous editions, which I really enjoyed looking at at the start of each chapter.