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This is a story about a boy named Billy who lives on a farm with his father, mother, and
three sisters in the mountains of northeastern Oklahoma.
Billy's dream is to own hunting dogs and so he saves up money for a couple of years. After
saving enough money, he buys the dogs from a breeder, but has to pick them up in a neighboring
town. So he walks through the mountains by himself to pick up his dogs.
When arriving in the town, Billy is mocked by the townspeople for being a hillbilly,
but tries to ignore them, picking up his dogs and returning home.
Billy names the male dog Old Dan and the female dog Little Ann. He trains them to hunt ***
and, together, both dogs make an efficient hunting team. Old Dan has tenacity and Little
Ann has intelligence.
Billy and his hounds begin to make a name for themselves in the community as talented
*** hunters. Two brothers from another farm challenge Billy and his hounds to try and
catch an old *** that has tricked every dog who has tried to catch him. However, during
the chase, one of the two brothers trips and is killed by an axe.
Later, Billy's Grandpa tells Billy about a regional *** hunting contest and Billy is
excited to go. When they get there, Billy sees all types of hunting dogs.
After Little Ann wins a silver cup for Best Looking Dog, the *** competition begins.
Billy and his hounds win, even after battling a harsh winter storm.
When Billy returns home, his family is excited to see him. He gives his mother the prize
money and shares the trophies with his sisters.
One day, however, Old Dan and Little Ann find a mountain lion. The mountain lion is aggressive
and attacks the two dogs and Billy. Eventually, Billy uses his axe to kill the mountain lion,
but his two dogs are hurt.
Old Dan dies from his wounds and Little Ann gives up the will to live without Old Dan.
In the end, after both of the dogs are buried near the house, Billy and his family move
into town and a red fern tree sprouts between the two dogs' graves.
Although not necessarily a religious story, Where the Red Fern Grows does at least acknowledge
the involvement of a Higher Power. Billy often prays for things to happen and his prayers
are seemingly answered. However, what is so admirable is that Billy does not wait idly
by. He is diligent in making things happen for himself.
And as to why the dogs "had" to die at the end, as Billy notes, it was all a part of
a larger plan to keep his family together, as the family was thinking about leaving Billy
behind with his dogs and Grandpa while they moved into the town.
So what does the red fern symbolize? In the story, the red fern sprouts in between the
two graves of Billy's dogs. His parents explain that the red fern represents a sacred placed.
However, this representation goes beyond just the sacredness of the physical land and comes
to mark the sacred relationship not only between each dog, but between Billy and his dogs.
This story explores the dynamics of human and animal relationships, particularly as
it relate to pets. But the dynamic of this relationship is first expressed through the
narration. The story is told through the human perspective of an aged Billy, yet readers
are still able to get into the minds of both Old Dan and Little Ann. Through this narration,
we come to an understanding of both dogs and their personalities.
Furthermore, Billy, as the narrator reflects on whether the human-dog relationship is driven
by loyalty or love, only to come to the conclusion that it is love. The relationship is not built
upon a master-servant model, where one party wields power, like food and shelter, over
another. It is a relationship where both parties share mutual respect for one another.
And of course, this brings to question, "Why can't more humans have that type of relationship
with each other?"