Where the Red Fern Grows

by

Wilson Rawls

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Where the Red Fern Grows: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
One day, when Billy visits Grandpa’s store, he notices that Grandpa has a special twinkle in his eye. Grandpa tells Billy that he’s gotten a letter back from the kennel in Kentucky—not only are the dogs are still for sale, but the price for each hound has gone down by $5. Grandpa tells Billy that he has ordered two pups and then he hands Billy a $10 bill—his change. Grandpa tells Billy that the dogs can only be shipped as far as the depot in Tahlequah, the nearest city—which is still 20 miles away.
Things seem to be looking up for Billy: not only is he about to get his dogs, but he’s able to save a chunk of the money he raised for himself. All of Billy’s hard work has paid off—and those around him want to help him realize his dreams.
Themes
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
That night, at the dinner table, Billy asks how far it is to Kentucky. Billy’s parents tell him that it’s a long ways away and they become suspicious of why he’d ask. Billy insists that he simply overheard some men in town talking about Kentucky and he became curious; the conversation ends. After two long and agonizing weeks of waiting, Billy visits his Grandpa’s store and he learns that the pups have arrived in Tahlequah. Grandpa tells Billy that he can hitch a ride to Kentucky with a customer who’s headed there in about a week. As Billy heads home, he wonders how he'll tell his parents about the dogs and about having to go to Kentucky to collect them—he’s afraid they’ll be furious with him.
Billy knows that while Grandpa is supportive of his dreams, his parents may not be so keen on Billy having a pair of hounds. Billy, however, has come too far to stop now—he knows that now, his dogs are waiting for him and that they’re depending upon him.
Themes
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
In the middle of the night, unable to sleep, Billy makes up his mind to hoof it to Kentucky himself. He rises from bed, dresses, and makes up a little pack full of food for himself. He decides to take a shortcut through the hills but knows he will still have to walk 20 miles before he reaches the town of Tahlequah, which will be the most populous place he’s ever visited. As Billy trots through the mountains in the dark, he is decidedly unafraid—he has been raised in the Ozarks and he feels that the woods are his home. As dawn nears, Billy stops to eat. After a short rest, he continues on his way and he soon arrives in Tahlequah. 
Billy makes the decision to set out on his own in the dark—not only that, but he takes the path less traveled and he goes straight through the mountains. Billy isn’t frightened at all, though, as he sets out on his journey—he feels that the natural world will protect and care for him.
Themes
The Natural World Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Billy is overwhelmed as soon as he sets foot in Tahlequah. From the sight of young ladies giggling at him to a tall, imposing marshal with a gun at his hip to a storefront full of rare goods, Billy is both frightened and transfixed. As Billy stares at the shop window, he sees a reflection of himself for the first time in his life: he realizes how scruffy and unkempt he is. Billy decides to go into the store and buy some things for his family as a way of making amends “for leaving home without telling anyone.” As Billy pays for his things, the shopkeeper asks Billy if he needs shoes, but Billy insists he’s fine without them.
Billy’s arrival in Tahlequah underscores—not just to readers, but also to Billy himself—just how impoverished and isolated his life has been so far. Billy is decidedly different from these town folk, and while he doesn’t yet know to feel shame about that difference, he’ll soon feel the sting of being singled out and othered.
Themes
The Circle of Life and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
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Billy walks through town toward the depot, trying to ignore the way the strangers of Tahlequah “gawk” at him. Soon he stumbles upon a group of boys and girls about his age taking turns sliding down the chute-like fire escape of a tall building. Billy wishes he could join them, but when a boy approaches Billy and the boy taunts him about his “hillbilly” appearance, Billy becomes self-conscious. The children all taunt Billy until a school bell calls them into class. Alone in the square, Billy climbs up to the top of the chute himself and he slides down alone. As he lands on the ground, spread-eagle, a small old woman standing nearby starts laughing at him. Billy picks up his things and he continues glumly toward the depot, unable to understand why he arouses such laughter in all of “these town people.” 
As Billy finds himself the subject of ire and derision in Tahlequah, he is perturbed that children and adults alike are eager to pick on him and laugh at him for being different. Growing up and coming of age is, within the world of this book, intimately tied to violence and death. In this passage, Rawls shows how the cruelty of the Tahlequah residents’ taunts is a kind of social violence; the “death” of Billy’s innocence and his ignorance about his “hillbilly” appearance forces him to grow up and see the world in a different light.
Themes
The Circle of Life and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon