Study Guide for Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
What is the significance of the red fern in the novel? The legend of the red fern says that wherever a red fern grows is a sacred place and that only an angel can plant one. When a red fern grows on the graves of Old Dan and Little Ann, we are comforted because Billy (and the readers) know that their deaths were not in vain and that there really is a higher power caring for the dogs and Billy.
Think About It: Why is Where the Red Fern Grows such a good title for this book?
From what point of view is the novel told? The novel is told from the first-person point of view. (One way we know this is the use of first person pronouns… I, me, my, etc.)
How does it make the story more powerful? By telling the story from his own point of view, Billy is able to let the reader know his true emotions. We get a strong sense of just how powerful his feelings are towards Old Dan and Little Ann from his first-person accounts of their adventures. By the use of first person narration, we get to feel like we really know Billy. We feel his joy at the arrival of his dogs and his heartbreak at their deaths.
What are the negative aspects of reading the story in first-person? We only know what Billy knows. There might be even more to the story if we were reading someone else’s accounts of the events.
Think About It: Do you like that the story is told in first-person, from Billy’s perspective, or would you have enjoyed getting to know other characters’ thoughts, feelings, and observations? Why?
Where the Red Fern Grows is told in flashback. What is flashback and what is its significance in the novel? Flashback is a literary element that allows an event that happened in the past to be placed into the normal chronological sequence of events. It is significant to Where the Red Fern Grows because a child’s story is told through an adult’s eyes. We know that the story took place years ago so the narrator has had time to reflect on the events of those days.
Think About It: Would you like the story as much if is had been told in “real time” without flashback? Why or why not?
God is mentioned throughout Where the Red Fern Grows. What role does God and religion play in the novel? God and religion play a central role in Where the Red Fern Grows. Mama is very strong in her faith and she and Billy openly discuss religion and God in the novel. Billy prays for his dogs during the story and his prayers seem to help them survive some hazardous events. Finally, at the end of the story, when Billy finds a red fern growing over his dogs’ graves he realizes that his dogs’ lives really were special and perhaps they had a higher purpose here on earth than simply being hunting dogs. Religion gives comfort to Billy and his family throughout the book, but especially at the end, after the deaths of Old Dan and Little Ann.
Think About It: In your opinion, is God sending Billy and his family a message through the red fern? Explain.
What is the significance of family in the novel? The role of family and its importance is displayed throughout the novel. It is seen through Billy’s father hard work in his quest to earn more money so he can move his family to town, where his children will have a better education and life. It is seen through Mama’s worrying about Billy’s safety while hunting and through the conversations they take the time to have. We see that Billy and his grandfather love each other dearly. His grandfather stands by his promise and helps Billy get his dogs after Billy raises earns money to buy them. Family members display a mutual respect for each other; they do not always agree but they take the others’ feelings into account nonetheless.
Think About It: Give an example of a time when the members of Billy’s family showed respect for each others’ feelings, even if they disagreed.
These sample questions will strengthen your comprehension of the story. Be sure to complete the "Think About It" sections for even greater benefits.