Where the Red Fern Grows


Wilson Rawls

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Where the Red Fern Grows Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Wilson Rawls's Where the Red Fern Grows. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Wilson Rawls

Wilson Rawls was born in the Oklahoma Ozarks and came of age during the Great Depression. The financial collapse forced his family to move westward in search of work. Rawls himself became a carpenter and lived an itinerant existence throughout North and South America, taking odd jobs and even serving time in prison. He wrote throughout his travels and eventually settled down in Idaho, where he married his wife and began turning his manuscripts into novels. Where the Red Fern Grows was published in 1961 to great acclaim—the semi-autobiographical novel is based on Rawls’s childhood roaming the Ozarks with his pet bluetick hound. Where the Red Fern Grows is Rawls’s most widely known work. Having sold well over seven million copies, it is popular reading for school-aged children and has been lauded with the Evansville Book Award, the Great Stone Face Award, and more accolades. Rawls is also the author of Summer of the Monkeys, which was published in 1976. Like Where the Red Fern Grows, Summer of the Monkeys also follows a young boy growing up in rural Oklahoma.
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Historical Context of Where the Red Fern Grows

Where the Red Fern Grows is set at the height of the Great Depression, a devastating economic downturn which sent shockwaves through the world economy from 1929 to 1939. The effects of the Depression were felt particularly throughout the United States, with poverty and job scarcity becoming major issues for countless American families. Billy and his family are, the novel implies, struggling severely under the weight of the Depression—Billy’s parents have not always dwelled in the Ozarks, but have instead moved to the rural mountainous countryside out of a lack of other housing options. Billy’s father works a small farm to sustain their family while Billy’s mother frets about the educational and social opportunities her children are missing out on due to their rural, hardscrabble upbringing. At the end of the novel, with the help of the money Billy has made selling valuable raccoon hides, the Colmans at last have enough to move out of the Ozarks—their stroke of luck portends the end of the Great Depression and the revitalization of the American economy that was to come in the 1940s and 1950s.

Other Books Related to Where the Red Fern Grows

Where the Red Fern Grows takes place during the Great Depression, an economic disaster which lasted from 1929 to about 1939. Other novels for children which take place during the Great Depression include Pam Munoz Ryan’s Esperanza Rising, Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust, and Christopher Paul Curtis’s Bud, Not Buddy. The novel also shares a setting with many popular novels for both children and adults—the Ozark mountains, which stretch through Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and parts of Kansas provide a rich physical setting for novels which dramatize the human interior. Just as Billy Colman learns more about himself through his travails in the Ozarks, the novels Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell and The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh explore how the rugged and often isolated Ozark mountains influence the psychology and behavior of their main characters. Lastly, Where the Red Fern Grows features an important, meaningful relationship between a boy and his dogs. Books like Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Shiloh, and Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn Dixie also focus on the profound roles dogs can play in the lives of humans and explore the deeper meaning of the phrase “man’s best friend.”
Key Facts about Where the Red Fern Grows
  • Full Title: Where the Red Fern Grows
  • When Written: Late 1950s
  • When Published: 1961
  • Literary Period: Contemporary Children’s Literature
  • Genre: Fiction; Children’s Novel
  • Setting: The Oklahoma Ozarks
  • Climax: Billy and his beloved hounds Old Dan and Little Ann encounter a terrifying mountain lion while hunting raccoons one night, and a fatal fight ensues.
  • Antagonist: Rubin Pritchard
  • Point of View: First-Person Retrospective

Extra Credit for Where the Red Fern Grows

Memorialized. At the public library in Idaho Falls, there is a statue of Billy Colman, Old Dan, and Little Ann which readers young and old can visit. Cast in copper by artist Marilyn Hoff Hansen, the statue stands in the town where Wilson Rawls wrote Where the Red Fern Grows and honors the massive impact the book has had on readers since its publication in 1961. The official title of the work is “Dreams Can Come True”—a name that reflects the book’s themes of patience, prayer, faith, and, above all, trust in one’s animal companions.