Where The Red Fern Grows: Chapter 7,8,9
Summary – Chapters Seven, Eight and Nine
Now that Billy has his dogs, another obstacle arises. He needs a coon skin to train them to hunt and tries every trick he knows for three weeks. In desperation he goes to his grandfather at his store and he fetches a bit and brace. He then picks up a small paper sack and half fills it with nails. He tells Billy he needs a bright object and suggests he cuts this from a shiny piece of tin. According to him, he must now go down along the river where there are coon tracks and find a solid log. He tells him to bore a hole in it about six inches deep and drop the tin in and make sure it touches the bottom. He should then drive four nails into the log in slants opposite to each other and leave a gap big enough for the coon to put his paw into it..
The coon will be caught as he will be attracted by the bright object and when his paw closes on it his paw will ball up. When he starts to pull it from the hole, the sharp ends of the nails will gouge his paws and he will be captured. Billy says the coon only has to release the object and he will be free, and his grandfather laughs. He insists the trap will work as coons love shiny objects and are known to be reluctant to let go of anything they have grabbed. .
Billy does as he is told and checks his traps every day for a week with no result. He begins to run out of patience but his father encourages him to persevere and check his traps. At the third one he checks, he sees he has caught one, ‘trapped by his own curiosity’. His pups try to fight with the coon and he takes them back home. While there he tells his family about the coon and they all come back with him to the trap.
When they reach it, his father hits it with a club and the girls start ‘bawling’. His mother says she wishes she had not come and his father hits it again and this kills it. Mother and the girls leave as it is ‘too much’ for them.
Even though it is dead they still cannot release the coon’s paw from the hole. When it is finally removed, they see the coon is still gripping the shiny object and Billy’s father looks sorrowful and says if only it had let it go it would have been free. He asks Billy to remove all the nails from the other traps as he does not think they are ‘sportsmanlike’. He thinks that from now on they should at least have a 50-50 chance of escaping when he hunts them with his dogs. Billy agrees as this is what he wanted to do anyway.
They skin the hide of the coon and the next day Billy begins to train his dogs. While one of his sisters holds their collars, he makes a trail by dragging the hide where a coon might go. He describes the dogs as they learn and tells how they are at first afraid of water. He also teaches them to split up on a riverbank. To learn more about hunting, he hangs around his grandfather’s store and listens to the stories of the coon hunters.
He trains his dogs through the summer and into the fall. He then tells his dogs it is nearly hunting season and that he is going to let them rest until then. He thinks it is wonderful he can have ‘heart to heart’ talks with them and thinks they always seem to understand
In Chapter Eight, he is nervous on the day hunting season begins and spends the time preparing for the forthcoming night. His father tells him his mother will worry about him and Billy reminds him he is almost 14 now. His father says he knows but women worry more than men.
At supper-time, his mother says how she does not like the idea of him hunting and his father reminds her that Billy is almost a man now. She says he is still a little boy, and he replies that he has to grow up some day. Despite the anxiety, the whole family follow him out to the porch before he sets off that night and the last thing he hears is his mother telling him to be careful.
Out on the hunt, Old Dan bawls in deep tones at having found a trail and Little Ann joins in. Billy takes off after them. He is at first ‘disgusted’ when he thinks they have lost the trail, but gives a loud whoop of pleasure when he sees Little Ann in the river as he knows that she has found the trail again. He decides at that point to never doubt them again. The dogs cross and re-cross the water and finally come to Billy for help.
The coon comes running towards him and the dogs follow and ‘tree’ it (chase it into a tree and then stand guard so it cannot come down again). The tree is a giant sycamore and Billy thinks he can neither climb it nor chop it down because of its size. He tells the dogs to leave it and move on with him.
He thinks they look disappointed and he decides he will try to chop it down and thus keep his bargain with his dogs. This pleases them, but two hours later he is still chopping. At daylight, he falls asleep and Little Ann wakes him by licking his face. He recognizes his father’s voice and he tells him his mother has been worrying about where he was, and says that he should have come home sooner.
Billy explains what he has been doing and that he had made a bargain with his dogs, which means when they ‘treed’ a coon he would ‘do the rest’. He tells him he is going to chop this tree down even if it takes him a year. His father offers to take over, but Billy says he does not want any help as he will feel he has not kept his side of the agreement. His father looks astonished and says it will take him at least two days, but also supports his decision and says he will send his sisters over with food.
Chapter Nine explains how Billy is in pain and his strength has gone by late evening. His grandfather appears just as he is thinking of giving up and he refuses to let him think like this. He tells him a way to keep the coon up the tree so that he can go home for a rest and return the next day.
Billy is told to fetch six sticks of about five feet in length. His grandfather then fills a stocking cap with grass and leaves and says they are making a scarecrow. He reckons it will take the coon four or five days to work out that this is not a man and by then it will be too late.
Having made the effigy, they get into Grandpa’s buggy. Old Dan is reluctant to leave the tree, but Grandpa picks him up and puts him in too. Grandpa praises Billy for what he has been doing and says it would be good if all young boys had to cut down a tree like that.
The next day Billy is stiff all over, but he refuses to give up on the task he has set for himself. At breakfast, his father says he has heard a hound bawling in the night and though it was Old Dan. Billy runs outside and sees only Little Ann. They all listen and he says he thinks he can hear him back out at the tree. When he reaches him, he realizes from indentations in the leaves that Little Ann has also spent the night there.
He continues with the chopping down of the tree and has blisters on his hands by the middle of the afternoon. When they burst and the pain becomes too much to bear he begins to sob. He kneels and prays and asks God to give him strength to finish the job. As he re-wraps his hands to protect them he hears a low droning noise. A breeze has started to make the tree sway (as there is not much left to chop away now). Another gust of wind comes and the tree starts to pop and snap. He grabs the dogs and backs away for safety.
The tree falls and a brown furry ball runs out. Little Ann catches the coon and re-captures it when it makes an escape. Old Dan joins in and they kill it together.
Before Billy leaves for home, he looks at the fallen sycamore and knows he will miss it and apologizes. As he walks home he feels proud of the hunt, though, and decides he is a ‘full-fledged coon hunter’. When he reaches his house, everyone comes out to greet him and he holds up the dead coon to show them he has finally caught it.
When he and his father skin it, Billy asks if he noticed a wind earlier. His father says he did not and Billy tells him ‘something strange happened’ when the wind blew the tree down and thinks God answered his prayer. His father tells him he will have to decide this for himself, and reminds him that the tree had been the tallest so could have caught the wind when the others could not. Billy decides he is ‘firmly convinced’ that he has been helped.
Analysis – Chapters Seven, Eight and Nine
This novel is primarily concerned with telling the tale of Billy and the adventures he has had with his two beloved dogs. One should also remember that embedded in this is his coming-of-age story (or Bildungsroman) as he matures into an independent young man.
This is emphasized when his mother and father express different points of view about their son’s maturity, and we are reminded that Billy is growing increasingly independent of both of them. His decision to chop down the tree alone symbolizes this.