Where the Red Fern Grows

by

Wilson Rawls

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Where the Red Fern Grows: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
A storm begins approaching. Grandpa and Papa suggest that the storm will impact the hunt negatively, but Billy points out that all game gets to stirring before a storm. After a while it begins sleeting. Billy grows nervous, too—but his faith is restored when Old Dan and Little Ann pick up a scent. Papa, Grandpa, Billy, and the judge attempt to follow the dogs on foot, but the storm continues to worsen. Even more worryingly, Billy loses track of the dogs’ bawls—he can’t hear them over the wind. Still, he insists on following them. Papa and Grandpa tell him it's time to turn back, but Billy begins sobbing. He explains that he’s never left his dogs in the woods—and he won’t do so now. Seeing Billy’s resolve, Papa decides to go onward with him. Grandpa and the judge follow suit.
Billy believes that he and his dogs can surmount any obstacle—but they have never faced weather this bad, nor have they ever hunted under so much pressure. Billy’s emotions begin to come out in a flood as he confronts the idea of abandoning not just the hunt, but his dogs as well. Billy knows that to do so would be to betray his dogs on a deep level—something he outright refuses to do. Billy’s dogs have taught him to be loyal, intrepid, and steadfast even in the face of difficulty or danger.
Themes
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The group trudges on through the sleet, slipping and falling as they follow the intermittent sounds of Old Dan’s bawls. Eventually, Papa suggests they stop. Billy asks Papa to shoot his gun in hopes that the dogs will hear it and come running—after a while, Little Ann approaches, but Old Dan is nowhere to be found. Billy begs Ann to bring their group to Dan. She leads them through the storm awhile, but has no luck finding Dan. As Grandpa begins struggling to keep up, the judge suggests they all turn back—no dog, he says, is worth the lives of three men. Billy falls to his knees and he prays for Old Dan’s voice to make itself heard. Sure enough, moments later, Dan howls loud and clear. Billy follows the sound. 
Even when things look dire, Billy is not willing to give up on his dogs. He knows that Old Dan would never give up on him—and he doesn’t intend to betray his dog’s loyalty by leaving him for dead. Billy almost did that with Little Ann months ago but he’s realized that there is always a way through—with enough faith and patience, he believes he and his hounds can overcome anything.
Themes
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
Faith and Prayer Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
Old Dan has a raccoon treed in a deep gully. Dan is covered in ice and sleet, yet he refuses to move from the treed raccoon. Soon, Papa and the judge catch up to Billy—but Grandpa is nowhere to be found. Billy begins doubling back and calling for Grandpa, but his shouts are no use. Little Ann, sensing Billy’s distress, runs into the storm to search for Grandpa. Soon, her mournful cry alerts Billy that she’s found him. Billy rushes toward the sound of her voice—Grandpa is unconscious on the ground in the sleet. His ankle is twisted, but he is alive. Billy prays for God to save his Grandpa’s life.
The judge pointed out just moments ago that no hunt—and no dog—is worth the life of a human being. In this passage, however, Little Ann and Old Dan show that their devotion to Billy and to each other has actually taught Billy a lot about reciprocating love and loyalty. In the midst of his own hunt, he stops to help his grandfather, repaying the loyalty of the person who’s been most encouraging of his hunting career so far.
Themes
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
Faith and Prayer Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
Papa, Billy, and the judge help carry Grandpa back to the gully where Old Dan has treed the raccoon. There, they build a large fire and tend to Grandpa’s swollen ankle. Grandpa insists the men stop fussing over him—he assures them that he’s fine and can’t feel a thing. The important thing to focus on, he tells them, is getting the raccoon out of its tree. Billy and Papa go over to the tree and they realize that it is hollow—the raccoon must be hiding inside. Papa chops the tree down, and Billy is shocked when three raccoons scrabble out of it. Dan and Ann manage to chase down and kill two raccoons—but after a bloody brawl, one raccoon escapes.
Though Grandpa has suffered an injury, he insists that he shouldn’t be the center of attention. Grandpa is just thrilled to be along for the ride—he knows that the priority must be winning the hunt. Sure enough, when the others turn their focus back to Dan and Ann, it becomes clear that their group has a unique opportunity to clinch the cup by trapping all three raccoons that were hiding the hollow tree.
Themes
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
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When Billy and Papa return to the fire and tell the judge what has happened, Billy makes the mistake of pointing at where the third raccoon ran while illustrating the story. Dan and Ann immediately turn and run up the bank in the direction Billy has indicated. The judge marvels at how Dan and Ann have the ability to seemingly read Billy’s mind. Papa agrees that Billy’s dogs are “different” from any other dogs he’s seen in terms of the level of devotion they show Billy.
Dan and Ann impress and surprise everyone around them when they demonstrate how intuitive they are regarding Billy’s needs—and how devoted they are to fulfilling the wishes he doesn’t even verbally express. The connection between the boy and his dogs is intense and palpable even to strangers.
Themes
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Billy goes to sit with Grandpa. Grandpa can see that Billy is distressed. Billy expresses his worry that the dogs will chase the raccoon across the river and freeze to death or get into some other kind of trouble. Grandpa tells Billy to focus on skinning the raccoons they already have. Billy joins his grandpa in working on the hides.
Grandpa doesn’t want Billy to get distracted from the hunt by worrying over the dogs. The prize is nearly in their grasp—and Grandpa knows that if Billy lets his emotions get out of control, it could affect the dogs’ behavior and thus their chances of winning.
Themes
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon