Where the Red Fern Grows

by

Wilson Rawls

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The Red Fern Symbol Analysis

The Red Fern Symbol Icon

At the end of the novel, several months after the deaths of Old Dan and Little Ann, Billy Colman and his family prepare to move out of their Ozark mountain home and pursue a new life in town. As the family packs up their buggy to leave, Billy pays one last visit to his beloved hounds’ graves—and sees that a beautiful red fern has sprouted between them. According to “old Indian legend,” the red fern first sprouted where a young boy and girl froze to death while lost in a blizzard—rumor has it that “only an angel” can plant the seeds of the red fern in order to mark a “sacred” spot.

The red fern, then, comes to symbolize the sanctity of the spirit and the possibility of rebirth and renewal in the face of death and loss. Seeing the sacred fern upon his dogs’ graves allows Billy to make peace with their deaths at last—an integral part of his coming-of-age journey and his understanding of the circle of life—and prepare to move on from his boyhood home and his childish notions of life and death. “Part of my life is buried there too,” the older Billy says of his dogs’ graves at the end of the novel. With this, the sprouting of the red fern both externalizes and symbolizes the “death” of a “Part of [Billy’s] life” so that a new chapter can begin and a new understanding of the world can take root and grow.

The Red Fern Quotes in Where the Red Fern Grows

The Where the Red Fern Grows quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Red Fern. 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 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:

I have never been back to the Ozarks. All I have left are my dreams and memories, but if God is willing, some day I'd like to go back-back to those beautiful hills. I'd like to walk again on trails I walked in my boyhood days.

[…] I'm sure the red fern has grown and has completely covered the two little mounds. I know it is still there, hiding its secret beneath those long, red leaves, but it wouldn't be hidden from me for part of my life is buried there, too.

Related Characters: Billy Colman (speaker), Old Dan, Little Ann
Related Symbols: The Red Fern
Page Number: 281
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Where the Red Fern Grows LitChart as a printable PDF.
Where the Red Fern Grows PDF

The Red Fern Symbol Timeline in Where the Red Fern Grows

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Red Fern appears in Where the Red Fern Grows. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
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
...graves. As Billy walks up the hillside, he sees something amazing: a giant and beautiful red fern has sprung up between the graves and it has grown over two feet tall. 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
The Natural World Theme Icon
Masculinity and Emotion Theme Icon
...and they all 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... (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
...to the hillside where Dan and Ann are buried and looking again upon the glorious red fern , whose legend he still believes to this very day. (full context)