Where the Red Fern Grows is a love story about Billy Coleman and two redbone coonhounds during the Great Depression. Ten-year-old...
(The entire section is 896 words.)
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Chapter 1 Summary
The narrator exits his office on a beautiful afternoon, contemplating the perfection of the day. He whistles a tune that expresses his peace of mind and contentedness. Suddenly, his calm is disturbed by the sound of a vicious dogfight. Before he can react, a throng of dogs rushes toward him from an alley, and he takes refuge near the edge of the sidewalk. As the dogs move past him, he realizes that a single dog is being attacked by the horde of others. He fears that the lone dog will be killed by the pack if he does not intervene or call for help. As he considers his decision, the dog under attack makes a stunning impression upon him. He rises from the midst of the throng, courageously fighting against the other dogs and gaining a strategic position underneath some shrubbery. With his back to the tree and facing the other dogs, the narrator gets a glimpse at him. He is astonished to see that the courageous dog that has braved this fierce battle is a red hound.
One after another, the dogs in the pack swiftly attack the hound. The succession of defeats by the hound is equally swift. After the hound decisively defeats several of the dogs, the narrator intervenes. First he screams and thunders at the dogs in an attempt to scare them away. When these efforts fail, he uses his jacket to smack the dogs away and disperse the throng. Once the dogs have scattered, the narrator approaches the hound and coaxes him from beneath the bushes.
The narrator is moved with pity when he sees that the dog is filthy and malnourished. He examines the dog’s paws and realizes that the dog has traveled a great distance and is likely far from home. He takes the animal to his home, where he tenderly bathes and generously feeds him. He allows the hound to rest for the entire night and most of the next day. That night, however, the animal becomes so restless that the narrator mercifully sets him free. Surprisingly, the act of freeing the animal brings the narrator to tears.
As he releases the hound, the narrator considers the dog’s probable history. He believes that the dog, whose collar was inscribed with the name Buddie, is probably in search of his home. He speculates that the dog is determined to find his way back to his home and the owner who must love him.
The narrator re-enters his house in a contemplative mood. He prepares to lounge in his rocker in front of a warm fire. As he strikes a match to light his pipe, his eyes rest on two trophies that decorate his mantle. These prizes remind him of significant events from his past, and he is in the perfect mood for reminiscing.
Chapter 2 Summary
The narrator’s recollections begin with experiences when he was ten years old. He remembers the beginnings of an intense desire that was the strongest of his young life: he wanted dogs. He recalls the first time he petitioned his father for them. With good-natured patience and understanding, his father considers his request. Then he speculates that one of their neighbors, whose dog was expecting a litter, might give him a puppy. The narrator adamantly rejects the suggestion, informing his father that he must have two dogs and that he only wants hounds—hunting dogs.
Sadly, the narrator’s father explains, hunting dogs are expensive and the family cannot afford such a luxury. Although the narrator understands his father’s response, he does not accept it. Rather, he approaches his mother and begs her for the two hounds. Unlike his father, whose only objection was cost, his mother dislikes the idea entirely. She thinks he is too young to hunt and reminds him that he will not even be allowed to use a gun until he is at least twenty-one years old.
His hopes dashed, the narrator is further disheartened to observe that his home is perfectly situated for hunting. He notes that his home is seated snugly in a fertile area near a forest, a river, and a mountain range. He also marvels that the sheer variety of plant and animal life near their home is too tempting to resist. In fact, he feels that he was born to hunt. He studies tracks of the various animals that inhabit the area near his home, especially those of raccoons. The more he sees, the more difficult it becomes for him to be without dogs. He simply cannot quench his longing for hounds and the hunting experience, so he approaches his parents again. Again, he fails.
This time the narrator is crushed, and his inward disappointment is reflected in his outward manner. He loses his appetite; becomes less active; and suffers conflicting feelings because, as badly as he wants...
(The entire section is 748 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
The narrator—Billy—finds temporary solace by working alongside his father on his family’s farm. He still longs for hound pups but fears that his family will always be too poor to afford them. Just as he is coming to terms with his disappointment, he finds reason to hope.
Billy’s family farm is located adjacent to a river. One day, as he is performing his chores in the field, he notices the remains of a fishermen’s camp. Even before completing his chores, he rushes to the abandoned camp to see what the fishermen may have left behind. He excitedly explores the site, hoping to find discarded or forgotten treasures. To his surprise and delight, he finds that the campers have discarded a sporting magazine. Within the pages of the magazine is an advertisement for hound pups. In the advertisement, a kennel in Kentucky is offering two hound pups for fifty dollars. Although Billy does not have the money, he is determined to find a way to earn it.
Finding the means to purchase the hounds in the advertisement begins to preoccupy Billy’s thoughts. As he considers the cost of the pups, the he realizes that although he does not have the money, he possesses the earning potential. He can harvest and sell vegetables, wild berries, and fishing bait. He can also trap animals and sell the hides at his grandfather’s store. He immediately puts his plan into action. He begins by finding an old baking powder can and depositing twenty-three cents into the can. This is the money he has already saved. All summer, he works tirelessly to earn more. His grandfather is curious about why he works and earns yet never spends, so he asks him about his plans for the money. He explains that he is saving fifty dollars to buy two hound pups. He asks his grandfather to help him make the purchase once he saves the money. His grandfather agrees to do so and to keep his plan a secret from the boy’s parents.
After two years, Billy’s industrious...
(The entire section is 641 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
The baking soda can finally contains the fifty dollars Billy needs to buy the hound pups, and his grandfather has written to the kennel in Kentucky to see if the pups are still available and if they still cost fifty dollars. Billy races to his grandfather’s store day after day to see if the kennel has written in response to their inquiries. Again and again, he is disappointed to find that they have received no response.
Then one day, his grandfather gives him good news. The kennel has finally responded and the pups are available. Furthermore, the kennel had reduced the price from twenty-five dollars per pup to twenty dollars each. But there is still one obstacle: Billy will have to travel to the distant town of...
(The entire section is 822 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
Billy decides it is time to collect his puppies, so he walks to the depot. Upon arriving, he looks inside and sees the stationmaster at work. He becomes very anxious and paces back and forth along the platform. The stationmaster notices him and comes out. To break the ice, the stationmaster strikes up a casual conversation with Billy about the weather. Then he scans the boy’s appearance and asks him where he lives. When the narrator tells him, he informs him that he is waiting for a boy from that area named Billy Colman to take delivery of two hound pups. He answers that he is Billy Colman. Then the stationmaster takes him inside the depot to get his puppies.
When the stationmaster shows Billy his puppies, he feels...
(The entire section is 512 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
At daybreak, Billy is pleased to find that the mountain lion has given up and gone away. He prepares his breakfast and eats. Then he feeds his pups and resumes his walk homeward. He realizes that he has yet to name the puppies and begins to consider a catalogue of possible names for his dogs. His thoughts are so preoccupied by his task that he does not realize he is almost at home. He sees a tree where someone has etched two names within a heart. He names his pups Dan and Ann, the two names carved in the center of the heart.
Satisfied that he has chosen well, Billy surveys his surroundings and is astonished to find that he is at the fishermen’s campsite where he discovered the advertisement for the puppies. While he...
(The entire section is 463 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
Billy’s puppies are equipped with proper collars and a proper home. Now he needs to teach them to hunt. To teach them properly, he will need a coonskin, so he renews his efforts to capture Mister Ringtail. For three weeks, despite his dogged efforts, the crafty raccoon eludes him. Perplexed and annoyed, Billy goes to his grandfather’s store to ask for advice.
Billy’s grandfather offers him straightforward and simple advice for catching the large raccoon. He instructs Billy to use a brace and bit to drill a hole into a sturdy, hollow log. Then he should bait the raccoon by placing a shiny object into the log. Finally, he needs to drive several nails into the log around the area where he has drilled the hole. He...
(The entire section is 654 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
The first day of hunting season finally arrives and Billy is ecstatic. He spends the seemingly endless daylight hours preparing for the night’s hunt. His father understands his excitement and tells him that, during hunting season, he is excused from his daily chores. Billy graciously thanks him, noting that his nightly hunts will likely leave him exhausted during daylight hours. His father tells him that his mother is still apprehensive about allowing him to hunt alone at night. Therefore, he tells Billy that it is important to tell them where he will be each night. Billy agrees. When his father leaves, Billy proudly reflects that his father speaks to him as if he were a grown man rather than a young boy.
(The entire section is 769 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
Billy continues to chop away at the tree, taking only momentary breaks to rest his hands and gather his breath. As night approaches, he is weary and fatigued. He is determined to chop down the big sycamore and capture the raccoon; nonetheless, he has spent one night in the woods and is not eager to do it again. Just as he feels that his physical and mental energy has been completely drained, his grandfather arrives.
Billy is relieved to see his grandfather and confesses that he is ready to surrender. He tells him that the big tree will take days to chop down and that he is simply too exhausted to continue. His grandfather first rejects the notion of giving up, telling him that he must never begin anything he cannot...
(The entire section is 901 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
Billy’s mother makes him a coonskin cap from the raccoon he captured in the big sycamore tree. Following his first triumph, Billy and his hounds spend every night in the woods hunting raccoons. He credits his hound pups for his success. Old Dan and Little Ann use their combined hunting skills to track even the most cunning raccoons, and Billy proudly displays the hides on the wall of the smokehouse.
Billy’s grandfather speculated earlier that raccoon hides would increase in value as people begin to use them to make coats and other fashions. Billy profits from the rising prices as his grandfather predicted. As Billy amasses the coonskins, he sells them at his grandfather’s store. His grandfather does not give his...
(The entire section is 705 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
Despite his passion for hunting, Billy has to discontinue his nightly pursuits when an unexpected winter storm hits the area. For nearly a week, the ice, sleet, and snow prevent him from hunting with his hounds. Once the storm passes, his parents give him permission to resume his hunting if he promises to be especially careful. He does as they wish, covering his ax blades with leather sheaths and promising to beware of the sheet of ice that lies beneath the three inches of snow.
After being caged for several days, Billy’s hounds are eager to hunt and begin the chase as soon as they enter the woods near the river bottom. Billy also feels liberated, and he yells excitedly to his hounds as they chase the raccoon over the...
(The entire section is 867 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
Billy and his hounds have a celebrated reputation in the area near his home. They capture more raccoons than any other team of hunters. His grandfather proudly sells the hides at his store. He also takes pride in boasting about Billy’s hunting skills, at times even exaggerating his successes. Billy patiently tolerates his grandfather’s embellishment of his hunting adventures.
One day, Billy takes a bag of corn into town to have it ground into meal for his family. When he arrives at his grandfather’s store, his grandfather is too busy to grind the corn immediately. As Billy waits for his grandfather to serve his customers, he sees two young boys approach. Rubin and Rainie Pritchard are mean-spirited bullies. Rubin...
(The entire section is 520 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
Just as Rainie and Rubin Pritchard predicted, Billy’s hounds chase the raccoon to the tree where it usually loses the hounds. Moreover, when Billy and the Pritchards reach the tree, the raccoon is nowhere in sight. Old Dan is at the base of the tree, barking wildly. Little Ann, on the other hand, is still following the raccoon’s scent along a fence near the tree. The Pritchard boys, who have seen the raccoon evade capture many times, ask Billy to concede his loss and pay the bet.
Billy is not convinced that his hounds have completed the hunt, especially because Little Ann has not barked “treed.” He climbs the tree to see if the raccoon is hiding in a hollow or on the limbs. He cannot find the raccoon and returns...
(The entire section is 903 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
A few days after Rubin Pritchard’s death, a young neighbor brings Billy a message that his grandfather wants him to visit him at the store. Billy loves his grandfather but he dreads the visit, presuming that his grandfather wants to discuss Rubin’s accidental death. The memories of that night incessantly haunt Billy, and he wants to forget the entire episode.
The next day, Billy begins his trip to town. He scolds his hounds for trying to follow him. Eventually, however, he relents, and the hounds contentedly accompany him to town. When he reaches the store, Billy’s grandfather asks him to recount the events on the night of Rubin’s death. Billy explains everything that happened. His grandfather states that he...
(The entire section is 525 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
Billy is traveling with his father and his grandfather so his hounds can compete in a regional competition. They journey all day and stop at night to rest. They make camp and prepare an evening meal. Billy’s grandfather insists that he feed his hounds corned beef hash rather than the corn meal mush they ordinarily eat.
Sitting before the campfire with his grandfather, Billy and his father share stories about the hounds. For instance, Billy explains that Old Dan will not eat before Little Ann has the opportunity to do so. Billy’s father recounts an incident in which two biscuits had been thrown from the house into the yard. Rather than eat the biscuits, Old Dan picked them from the ground and carried them around the...
(The entire section is 567 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
At dusk on Thursday evening, Billy’s hounds finally get the chance to hunt in the fourth round of elimination. The judge accompanies the team to a remote area away from the camp. Billy hopes his hounds will find amply quarry in this area, which has yet to be hunted. Almost in response to his expectation, his hounds immediately find a scent and begin chase.
Billy, his father, his grandfather, and the judge busily clamor to keep with his hounds. Unfortunately, his grandfather becomes entangled in some brush and loses his hat and eyeglasses. The excitement of the hunt is intensified when the hounds chase the raccoon through the campsite. All the hunters yell and scream in support of Billy’s hounds. When the hounds...
(The entire section is 429 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
Billy’s hounds are in the final round of competition, and they have secured the first hide of the night. However, as his dogs trail another raccoon, the weather becomes menacing. Billy only has one hide and fears he will lose the competition if he does not collect more. He continues to trail his hounds despite several warnings from his father, his grandfather, and the judge.
As expected, the area is hit by a searing blizzard. The hunters are blinded by the flying snow, and the wailing wind deafens them to the howls of Billy’s hounds. They all realize they are in jeopardy of becoming lost in this unfamiliar territory, so the judge suggests they find the wagon and return to the campsite. However, Billy is unwilling to...
(The entire section is 707 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
As daylight approaches, the blizzard subsides and a more peaceful snowfall settles on the area. Billy’s dogs have been outside all night long, and he had no idea where they are. As he listens for them, he hears the sounds of a rescue team that has been combing the woods in search of his team of hunters. Evidently, the horses had broken loose from the wagon during the night and wandered back into camp. Those in the camp realized the hunting team was stranded and organized a search party; the hunters had spent the entire night looking for Billy and his team.
When Billy explains that his hounds are somewhere in the forest stalking a treed raccoon, the hunters are amazed at their tenacity. Then one of them reports that...
(The entire section is 628 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary
After winning the hunting competition, Billy and his hounds fall back into their normal routine. At night, they hunt in the woods near his home. A few weeks after the competition, Billy is hunting with his hounds when they begin to stalk an unusual animal. Based on the animal’s activity, Billy soon realizes they are not stalking a raccoon. He assumes they are chasing a bobcat, but he is terrified to discover that the animal is a mountain lion.
Old Dan is staunchly determined to keep the powerful animal treed, and the mountain lion is irritated by the chase. Billy cautiously approaches the tree, hoping to seize Old Dan’s collar and lead him away from the deadly cat. Before he can reach him, the cat attacks. Old Dan...
(The entire section is 639 words.)
Chapter 20 Summary
In the spring after Billy’s hounds died, his family prepares to move to town. His entire family is excited, but his mother is excited more than the others are. Billy’s father is more animated than he has ever been. Once everything is packed and loaded, Billy asks his father if he can visit his dogs’ graves once more before he leaves. His father consents.
When Billy reaches the gravesite, he is astounded to find a beautifully luxuriant red fern growing between the two graves. He remembers an Indian legend he had heard as a child. The story concerns the disappearance of two small children. According to the legend, the children died in a blizzard. Their bodies were discovered during the spring thaw with a beautiful...
(The entire section is 521 words.)