Where the Red Fern Grows

by

Wilson Rawls

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Billy’s Father / Papa Character Analysis

Billy’s father is a thoughtful, supportive, and hardworking man who does all he can to provide for his family. Though the novel is relayed through Billy’s eyes, meaning that the specifics of Papa’s past and present struggles are never fully explored, Rawls gives his readers the sense that Papa is a proud man who has fallen on hard times. As Papa works day in and day out, toiling in the fields beyond his homestead in order to provide for his family, he teaches Billy about the value of hard work and determination. Papa’s heart breaks at the idea of being unable to give his children everything they want and deserve—it is clear that Billy and his sisters’ lack of access to good educations weighs on him, as does their desire for material things that are impossible for him to acquire on their behalf. Nevertheless, Billy’s father shows himself to be a man of faith, perseverance, and resilience even in the toughest of times. Papa is proud of Billy for working so hard with his dogs and dedicating himself so entirely to their training and success. When Mama worries that Billy is in danger or tries to keep him from going out with his dogs into the cold or the rain, Papa tempers Mama’s anxiety by reassuring Billy that he and the dogs have their love and support no matter what. Billy’s relationship with his father ties in with themes of masculinity and emotion as well as prayer and faith over the course of the novel as Billy and his father have difficult, intense, existential discussions—often while skinning a raccoon that Old Dan and Little Ann have just caught. Supportive, thoughtful, emotional, and yet steadfast and calm in the face of worry and fear, Papa is an important figure in Billy’s coming-of-age journey.

Billy’s Father / Papa Quotes in Where the Red Fern Grows

The Where the Red Fern Grows quotes below are all either spoken by Billy’s Father / Papa or refer to Billy’s Father / Papa. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Yearling edition of Where the Red Fern Grows published in 1996.
Chapter 2  Quotes

Papa set me on his lap and we had a good talk. He told me how hard times were, and that it looked like a man couldn't get a fair price for anything he raised. Some of the farmers had quit farming and were cutting railroad ties so they could feed their families. If things didn't get better, that's what he'd have to do. He said he'd give anything if he could get some good hounds for me, but there didn't seem to be any way he could right then.

I went off to bed with my heart all torn up in little pieces, and cried myself to sleep.

Related Characters: Billy Colman (speaker), Billy’s Father / Papa
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

Papa whacked him again and it was all over. […]

After the coon was killed, I walked over. Papa was trying to get the coon's paw from the trap. […] A sorrowful look came over Papa's face… […] "Billy," he said, "l want you to take a hammer and pull the nails from every one of those traps. […] I don't think this is very sportsmanlike.”

Related Characters: Billy Colman (speaker), Billy’s Father / Papa (speaker), Billy’s Grandfather / Grandpa
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

“If a man's word isn't any good, he's no good himself.”

Related Characters: Billy’s Father / Papa (speaker), Billy Colman, Old Dan, Little Ann
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 17 Quotes

“Please go just a little further," I begged. "I just know we'll hear them."

Still no one spoke or made a move to go on.

Stepping over to my father, I buried my face in his old mackinaw coat. Sobbing, I pleaded with him not to turn back. He patted my head. “Billy," he said, “a man could freeze to death in this storm, and besides, your dogs will give up and come in."

"That's what has me worried," I cried. 'They won't come in. They won't, Papa. Little Ann might, but not Old Dan. He'd die before he'd leave a coon in a tree."

Page Number: 226
Explanation and Analysis:

I heard the judge say to my father, “This beats anything I have ever seen. Why, those dogs can read that boy's mind.” […]

Papa said, "Yes, I know what you mean. I've seen them do things that I couldn't understand. I'd never heard of hounds that ever had any affection for anyone, but these dogs are different. Did you know they won't hunt with anyone but him, not even me?"

Related Characters: The Judge (speaker), Billy’s Father / Papa (speaker), Billy Colman (speaker), Old Dan, Little Ann
Page Number: 236
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19 Quotes

"l never saw anything like it. Little Ann wouldn't have fought the lion if it hadn't been for Old Dan. All she was doing was helping him. He wouldn't quit. He just stayed right in there till the end. I even had to pry his jaws loose from the lion's throat after the lion was dead."

Glancing at Old Dan, Papa said, “It's in his blood, Billy. He's a hunting hound, and the best one I ever saw. He only has two loves—you and hunting. That's all he knows."

Related Characters: Billy Colman (speaker), Billy’s Father / Papa (speaker), Billy’s Mother / Mama, Old Dan, Little Ann
Page Number: 263
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 20 Quotes

'Don't touch it, Mama," my oldest sister whispered. "It was planted by an angel."

Mama smiled and asked, "Have you heard the legend?"

'Yes, Mama," my sister said. “Grandma told me the story and I believe it, too."

With a serious look on his face, Papa said, "These hills are full of legends. Up until now I've never paid much attention to them, but now I don't know. Perhaps there is something to the legend of the red fern. Maybe this is God's way of helping Billy understand why his dogs died."

“I’m sure it is, Papa," I said, "and I do understand. I feel different now, and I don't hurt any more."

Related Characters: Billy’s Sisters (speaker), Billy’s Mother / Mama (speaker), Billy’s Father / Papa (speaker), Billy Colman (speaker), Old Dan, Little Ann, Grandma
Related Symbols: The Red Fern
Page Number: 279
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Where the Red Fern Grows LitChart as a printable PDF.
Where the Red Fern Grows PDF

Billy’s Father / Papa Character Timeline in Where the Red Fern Grows

The timeline below shows where the character Billy’s Father / Papa appears in Where the Red Fern Grows. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2 
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
...overnight, he becomes consumed with longing for a pair of hunting hounds. Billy approaches his father one evening and he asks if he can have them, but his father ruefully explains... (full context)
The Natural World Theme Icon
...Cherokee blood that flow[s] in her veins.” The land is fertile and rich, and Billy’s father runs a small farm just beyond their log house. Billy often spends his days exploring... (full context)
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
...each passing day and refusing to eat or play. One evening, Billy overhears Mama tell Papa that something needs to be done about Billy’s melancholy. Papa explains that he offered to... (full context)
The Circle of Life and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
The next day, Papa brings home three steel traps from the store. Billy is so excited he begins crying... (full context)
The Circle of Life and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
Papa helps Billy trap opossums, skunks, rabbits, and squirrels in the cane fields beyond the house... (full context)
The Natural World Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
...him the dogs, but his requests are only met with his mother’s tears and his father’s sadness. In order to distract Billy from his longing, Papa tells Billy that he’s old... (full context)
Chapter 6
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
...is relieved to be in familiar territory—but he’s also nervous about facing his mother and father and explaining why he ran away from home. After deciding that he’ll simply tell his... (full context)
The Natural World Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
...looks up at him—Billy can see that her face is full of worry and grief. Papa, however, greets Billy warmly and happily and he asks to see the puppies—he reveals that... (full context)
Faith and Prayer Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
...stationmaster to the treachery of the mountain lion’s call on the way back. When Billy’s father asks him how he liked town, Billy replies that he hated it and that he’d... (full context)
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
Faith and Prayer Theme Icon
The next morning, Billy gets right to work building a doghouse. Papa fashions collars for the dogs out of tough leather. That night, Billy confides in his... (full context)
Chapter 7
The Natural World Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
...them learn the scent. For weeks, Billy tries to catch a raccoon in the traps Papa got for him—but he fails each and every time. Frustrated, Billy goes to visit Grandpa... (full context)
The Circle of Life and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
...traps—but he’s dismayed to realize that he’s caught nothing. Billy returns home feeling discouraged, but Papa warns him not to lose hope—it takes about a week, he says, for a human’s... (full context)
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Circle of Life and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
...sees the depth of her worry, he, too, begins crying and apologizes for scaring her. Papa comes over and he hands Mama his handkerchief. After comforting her, he tells Billy that... (full context)
The Circle of Life and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
The Colmans come upon the raccoon. Everyone stands back as Papa picks up a large stick and he begins beating the raccoon to death. Billy’s sisters... (full context)
Chapter 8
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Circle of Life and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
...his boots, and sharpens his ax. As Billy is in the midst of preparing, his father approaches him for a heart-to-heart. Papa warns Billy that because Mama is so nervous about... (full context)
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Circle of Life and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Faith and Prayer Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
...Mama fusses over him and she tells him that she doesn’t approve of his hunting. Papa defends Billy, observing that he’s “getting to be a good-size man now.” Mama admits that... (full context)
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
...the tree and he falls asleep. He is awakened sometime later by the sound of Papa calling for him. Billy calls back to let his father know where he is. Soon,... (full context)
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
Papa explains that Mama was worried sick when Billy didn’t come home. Billy tries to hold... (full context)
Chapter 9
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
In the morning, Billy is stiff and tired, but Papa assures Billy that he’ll limber up as soon as he starts swinging his ax. Papa... (full context)
The Circle of Life and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Faith and Prayer Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
...is waiting out on the porch for him. He holds up the raccoon triumphantly, and Papa offers to help him skin it out back in the smokehouse. As Billy and Papa... (full context)
Chapter 10
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
...at Grandpa’s store. Billy turns the money he makes off of his skins over to Papa—he doesn’t care about money anymore now that he has his dogs. (full context)
Chapter 13
The Circle of Life and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
...that’s happened. Mama begins crying and she wraps her arms around her “poor little boy.” Papa, however, stands up and gets dressed. He announces that he is going to tell Grandpa... (full context)
The Circle of Life and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
The next day is long, slow, and rainy. Papa doesn’t come home from the Pritchards’ until late in the afternoon. He reports that while... (full context)
Chapter 14
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
...leave in five. He tells Billy that they can travel in his buggy, and that Papa can come along if he’s free. Grandpa tells Billy to run home—but he reminds Billy... (full context)
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Circle of Life and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Faith and Prayer Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
At home, Billy tells his parents about Grandpa’s plans for the hunt. He begs Papa to agree to go with them. Papa is hesitant and he insists that Mama needs... (full context)
The Circle of Life and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
...and anxiety. When it is at last time to leave for the hunt, Billy and Papa walk together with Old Dan and Little Ann to Grandpa’s general store, musing all the... (full context)
Chapter 15
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Circle of Life and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
...Billy is in awe—he has never seen so many people in one place. Grandpa and Papa, too, are overwhelmed by the number of tents spread out over an acre-and-a-half of land.... (full context)
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
...will go out on the fourth night of the hunt. That evening, Billy sits with Papa, Grandpa, and some other hunters around a campfire, singing songs and laughing. (full context)
The Circle of Life and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
As the days go by, more and more groups are eliminated. Billy, Papa, and Grandpa patiently wait their turn. On the day of their hunt, however, Grandpa takes... (full context)
Chapter 16
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
...out that night comes to their tent to introduce himself—at sundown, the judge, Billy, Grandpa, Papa, and the dogs load up into the buggy and they drive downriver, away from the... (full context)
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
...chase, Billy at last hears Ann and Dan howl that the raccoon has been treed. Papa pulls out a gun—one that Billy has never been allowed to use. As the group... (full context)
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Circle of Life and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
Billy, Papa, Grandpa, and the judge take off after the dogs. Soon, they come upon Dan and... (full context)
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
As Grandpa, Billy, and Papa skin the raccoon, the judge points out a remarkable sight: Ann is licking at the... (full context)
Chapter 17
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
A storm begins approaching. Grandpa and Papa suggest that the storm will impact the hunt negatively, but Billy points out that all... (full context)
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
Faith and Prayer Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
Faith and Prayer Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
Papa, Billy, and the judge help carry Grandpa back to the gully where Old Dan has... (full context)
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
When Billy and Papa return to the fire and tell the judge what has happened, Billy makes the mistake... (full context)
Chapter 18
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
Once the dogs are thawed out, Papa shoots his gun to scare the raccoon from the tree. Dan and Ann dispatch the... (full context)
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Faith and Prayer Theme Icon
The next afternoon, Billy and Papa drop the buggy at Grandpa’s store and they walk the rest of the way home.... (full context)
Faith and Prayer Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 19
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Circle of Life and Coming of Age Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
...will happen. Before daybreak, however, Dan begins struggling to breathe—soon, he is dead. Mama and Papa try to comfort Billy by reminding him that he still has Little Ann, but Billy... (full context)
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Circle of Life and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
Mama and Papa go to bed, but Billy stays up by the fire. Around dawn, he hears a... (full context)
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Circle of Life and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...the worst is not over. When he comes in from working in the field with Papa, Mama tells him that Little Ann has been refusing food all day and that she’s... (full context)
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Circle of Life and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Faith and Prayer Theme Icon
...nurses Ann all night and all day, but when he goes out to work with Papa for a bit, he comes back to find that Ann has left her spot on... (full context)
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Circle of Life and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Faith and Prayer Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
Back inside, Papa tells Billy that now is the time to “stand up like a man” and accept... (full context)
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Circle of Life and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Faith and Prayer Theme Icon
...that God may have given the dogs to him in order to fulfill Mama and Papa’s prayers—but Billy wonders aloud why He took them away. Papa says there is an answer... (full context)
Chapter 20
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Circle of Life and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Faith and Prayer Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
...in the Ozarks, and Billy and his family prepare to leave for town. Mama and Papa are elated about the move. On the day they’re to set out, Billy helps his... (full context)
The Lessons of a Dog’s Love Theme Icon
The Circle of Life and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Faith and Prayer Theme Icon
The Natural World Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
...approach the hillside together. Mama in particular is in awe of the red fern, and Papa concedes that “perhaps there is something to the legend.” Papa suggests that the fern is... (full context)