Rawlings uses the first part of her novel to establish the relationship between Jody and his parents as well as to suggest the relationship between Penny and Ora, who emerges as a dominant, although not very appealing, figure. Jody, because of the physical isolation of his surroundings, has few playmates, but Rawlings establishes that he and Fodder-Wing Forrester are good friends. Fodder-Wing, however, is the atypical child in his large family. Crippled, he is kinder and more appealing than his violent, lawless brothers. Rawlings also sets up Penny and Jody’s friendship with Grandma Hutto and establishes that Penny and Oliver Hutto, Grandma’s son, are close friends.

When Oliver returns from sea, he is drawn into a barroom brawl with Lem Forrester over Twink Weatherby, Oliver’s fiancée. When the Forrester boys join the fray, Penny and Jody try to protect Oliver. This fight is necessary to the story because it establishes the Oliver-Penny-Jody underdog status, but Rawlings also uses it to show that these simple folk, when a crisis occurs, can let bygones be bygones.

Bad blood has existed between Penny and the Forresters for some time. Penny is basically moral, but, desperate for a hunting rifle with which to hunt Old Slewfoot, the bear that has been ravaging his crops and killing livestock in the area, he traded the Forresters a worthless dog in return for a rifle that, with minor repairs, was perfectly good. Penny forewarned the Forresters that the dog was not trainable, but that made them the more eager to trade. They thought that Penny was trying to deceive them because he really wanted to keep the dog.

When Penny discovers that his hogs have disappeared, he suspects that this is the Forresters’ way of repaying the disadvantageous trade that they made with him. Penny and Jody strike out to find the missing hogs, and when they wander into the swamp, a rattlesnake bites Penny. He shoots a doe, using her liver to draw the poison from...

(The entire section is 808 words.)