Where the Red Fern Grows

by

Wilson Rawls

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Where the Red Fern Grows: Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Just before dawn, the storm settles into a fine snow. The “hellish night” is over at last. Billy climbs out of the gully and he listens for the sounds of his dogs’ bawls—instead, he hears someone whooping. It is the sound of the other men from camp looking for the group. Soon, the search party arrives at the gully. The men tell Grandpa that there’s a doctor back at camp who’ll patch his ankle right up. One of the men asks where the dogs are—Billy explains that they are probably with a treed raccoon somewhere. The men marvel at the dogs’ devotion and they remind Billy that he needs this raccoon to take the cup.
To Billy, Dan and Ann’s outstanding devotion to keeping their prey treed is nothing special—it’s simply the way they are and always have been. To the judges and other hunters, however, it’s clear that Billy’s dogs are special and that their devotion signifies something much deeper than pure hunting prowess.
Themes
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
Another man from camp, Mr. Benson, approaches and announces that he has found Billy’s hounds—they are “frozen solid” and they’re covered in white ice at the base of a tree nearby. Billy passes out on the spot. When he comes to, the man apologizes for frightening Billy—he explains that the dogs are alive, just covered in snow. While a few of the men make a stretcher and bring Grandpa back to camp, Mr. Benson and another man named Mr. Kyle follow Papa and Billy toward the hounds. As the group approaches the tree, Billy can see that Ann and Dan have been walking in circles around the tree all night. He begins crying and runs toward the dogs.
Billy fears that his dogs are dead, and unable to take the emotional gut punch, he faints on the spot. When Billy realizes that his dogs are alive—and simply so devoted to the hunt that they’ve grown covered in snow as they’ve waited out the night—he is relieved and full of an intense amount of gratitude and love for his dogs’ devotion to him.
Themes
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
Benson and Kyle build a fire and help warm the dogs near its glow. Mr. Kyle declares that the kind of loyalty Billy’s dogs have shown him represents “the deepest kind of love.” Mr. Kyle suggests that if people were as good to one another as dogs are to their owners, mankind would be able to live in “the kind of world that God wants [people] to have.”
Mr. Kyle’s suggestion that dogs can teach humanity many important lessons about the role of love, loyalty, and goodness is one of the book’s central tenets. Through the lessons of a dog’s love, Rawls suggests, humans can understand what it is to live a life suffused with the grace and generosity that God “wants [people] to have” and to embody.
Themes
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
Faith and Prayer Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Once the dogs are thawed out, Papa shoots his gun to scare the raccoon from the tree. Dan and Ann dispatch the raccoon. Together, the group sets out for camp once again. Billy brings his dogs to Grandpa—Grandpa cries happy tears as he coos over Dan and Ann and he congratulates them on a job well done. A doctor comes into the tent and tells Grandpa that it’s time to head for town—but Grandpa insists he’s not going anywhere until he’s seen Billy win his golden cup.
Grandpa is determined to see the competition through to the very end in spite of his injuries. He is overwhelmed with pride and joy on behalf of Billy, Dan, and Ann—through the three of them, he, too, has been able to see his wildest raccoon-hunting dreams come true.
Themes
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
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A crowd gathers outside the tent as the man who was collecting the jackpot the night before brings Billy his winnings of over $300. Soon, the head judge brings Billy his golden cup and he begins crying as the crowd explodes in a sea of happy roars. Satisfied, Grandpa asks the doctor to bring him to town—he tells Papa to drive the buggy home and he gives him instructions for running the store over the next few days. Soon after Grandpa and the doctor get on their way, Papa and Billy load up the buggy and they start heading back through the mountains for home.
There is emotion and excitement in the air as Billy wins the competition. As the head judge and the other hunters present him with gifts and prizes, Billy is overwhelmed. All he ever wanted was to hunt in the woods with his hounds—now, together and through mutual devotion, they have achieved so much more than he ever dreamed possible.
Themes
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
The next afternoon, Billy and Papa drop the buggy at Grandpa’s store and they walk the rest of the way home. As they round the bend in the road near their house, Billy’s sisters run out in a scramble to meet them. Billy gives the golden cup to the sister he promised it to and rewards the other two with the silver cup. Billy’s sisters run back up to the porch to show Mama Billy’s spoils—she, too, is proud and excited. When Papa shows Mama the box full of the jackpot money, she can hardly believe it. She remarks that God has answered her prayers. That night, the Colmans enjoy a huge feast as Billy and Papa regale the women with stories from the hunt. 
Yet again, Rawls shows how a character feels that their prayers have been answered by God rather than as a result of the earthly actions of another. Mama credits the jackpot money to God’s benevolence rather than Billy’s hard work, when in fact the latter is what stands to transform their family’s lives.
Themes
Faith and Prayer Theme Icon
That night, after Billy gets into bed, he notices a light out in the yard. He looks out his window to see that Mama has brought two large plates of food out to Ann and Dan’s doghouse. Billy watches as Mama sets the food down before the dogs, then she kneels and prays as they eat. Billy watches as Papa joins Mama near the doghouse and embraces her. Billy wonders what his parents are saying to each other. He can make out something about Grandpa—Billy deduces that his parents will want him to help Grandpa run the general store when Grandpa returns from town. Satisfied and happy, Billy falls asleep. 
This passage hints at a larger tension in Mama and Papa’s lives. Billy has come a long way in the last couple of years and grown up a lot—but he’s still not ready to understand or face the problems that adults have to deal with. Billy tries to ignore the solemnity in his mother’s prayer before the dogs and Papa’s nervous, mournful embracing of her afterward.
Themes
Faith and Prayer Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon