Where The Red Fern Grows: Essay Questions
1. Consider the structure of Where the Red Fern Grows and examine the role of the narrator.
The voice of the first-person narrator, Billy Colman, is used throughout the novel and it is of interest that the narration by the adult Billy is used as a framing device. He both introduces and concludes the work and the majority of the novel is centered on his childhood adventures with his dogs. By framing it in this way, the work is given a relatively tight and straightforward structure.
The first-person voice also lends the work a sense of immediacy as Billy recounts his stories and depicts events through his younger self’s eyes.
2. Analyze why this may be described as a Bildungsroman?
A Bildungsroman is a novel of development and in this piece we see Billy develop from a boy to an adolescent and when he and his family leave the area he is seen to be ready to move on to his next stage of life.
It is through his relationship with his dogs that the readers are made witness to his growing independence from his family, and this marks his separation from childhood and movement into the adult world.
The work he undertakes to save money to even buy these dogs is an early indicator of the influence they have on his developing sense of maturity. His later wins at the hunting championship, which are a culmination of the happy times he shares with them, are thus notable for the way they signal his acceptance by adults.
3. How are female characters depicted in this work?
Female characters play only minor roles in this novel, but it should be remembered that Billy’s mother is a significant influence on his life despite his adolescent complaints about how women worry more than men.
His sisters are similarly relegated to lesser roles, but at the same time it is made apparent that his annoyance with them is intrinsic to his age at the time of his adventures. His love for them is revealed most evidently when he gives them the cups he has won at the hunting championship.
Given the nature of this story, only Billy and his dogs are central characters as they are depicted as being central to his world. Anybody else, including his immediate family, is secondary and this highlights the love he has for the animals.
4. In what ways does this novel conjure up ideas associated with the American Dream?
Hard work, a love for God and a sense of patriotic duty are elements that run through the narrative. In addition to this, the American Dream is also seen to be embodied in Billy’s approach to buying and training his pups. It is as if he proves, if it is possible for a work of fiction to prove anything, that determination and perseverance and a significant amount of praying will mean Billy will get what he deserves: the two pups.
Because of the novel’s faith in justice and the power of the individual, this is also an optimistic text that allows one to believe momentarily that it is possible after all to achieve one’s goals.
5. To what extent is hunting associated with Christianity?
Being successful at hunting and praying to God are tied together in this work as on several occasions we see Billy pray to Him for a miracle. This occurs, for example, on his first trip out with his dogs and he decides to chop down the tree to bring the coon out to be killed. It is only after praying that a wind comes and assists in felling the tree.
This observance of God and his power is barely ever questioned within the text and it is as though we as readers are also expected to concur with Billy’s mostly unquestioning faith. Despite this expectation, readers should be ready to counter the suppositions made by the narrator, which include the connection made between the successful capture and killing of coons with a righteous way of life.