Review: The Yearling

The Yearling
The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rawlings explores life themes in a compelling way. Falling out with friends or neighbors, a son following in his father’s footsteps, a boy growing to take on the responsibility of a man, facing the loneliness and difficulty of life.

The contrast between Jody’s father and mother instructs. She is hard-bitten and complaining, though helpful to her natural allies (family). He is generous, patient and gives to those who do not deserve it. Jody learns that it can pay off to be kind in the face of hostility. And that it can be futile.

Little acts of sacrifice and kindness can (or should) atone for relational breakdowns. Jody stays overnight with the Forresters, when their son dies. Jody’s father comes, too, and speaks for them at the funeral. This patches things up tremendously. But such alliances can be fragile. A lot of peacemaking effort can be trashed by one reckless incident.

Lots of time goes to develop the character of Jody’s father, Penney. He is hardworking, looking ahead to provide, kind, and skillful. Jody looks up to him and follows him.

Jody is like the yearling deer he tames. Growing into maturity, running away for a time, bucking against his parents at times. He will either keep bucking and be shot down (figuratively, drowning in the ocean trying to reach Boston), or he will return to bear the yoke while he is young. At the end Jody the boy is willingly and gladly doing the work of a man for days on end, to provide for the household.

The relationship with nature is intriguing. Jody is sad when animals are killed, but glad when he can eat the meat. What mystery occurs in between? The death even of such animals brings separation between doe and fawn – a loneliness that Jody feels himself. It is the self-consciousness emerging. A soul aware of itself, and wants to be known but is not yet known.

The relationship between man and nature fascinates. The death of the bear and the death of a deer evoke different responses – one triumphant, one sad. Every creature, every man, is not the same. Some are malicious. Others are benevolent. They need different responses.

One reading list puts “The Yearling” at the 6th grade level, and that’s the earliest, I think. I’m going to wait a year or two before my 10 year old reads it. It’s perfect for boys right on the cusp of transition to manhood.

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