In Old Yeller by Fred Gipson, what is the author's writing style? Please provide three details from the book.

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

An author's writing style is comprised of many separate aspects that all work together to represent that individual's unique personality as displayed through their authorial "voice" and their unique choices when it comes to:

  • sentence structure (syntax) and sentence type (simple, complex, compound)
  • punctuation choices
  • word choice (vocabulary: e.g., rock versus stone versus sandstone)
  • diction (e.g., conversational, Old Yeller; formal "Jihad vs. McWorld")
  • tone (the emotional quality in the author's "voice"; Jane Austen: ironic)
  • rhetorical skill / literary device choices
  • cadence of prose and rhythm of poetry
  • wit and humor versus seriousness
  • literalness versus figurativeness (e.g., literal language or figurative language)
  • verbal, situational, dramatic irony
  • character development (e.g., action-physical orientation, James Bond; thought-psychological orientation, Raskolnikov)
  • concrete versus abstract words and concepts (e.g., talked (concrete, physical) versus realized (abstract, psychological)
  • chronological structure (e.g., flashbacks, frame-story)
  • dialogue, direct and indirect
  • descriptive choices (e.g., very little detail, Jane Austen; much sensory detail, Hemingway)

As you see, there are many choices that go into developing a writer's authorial style. Styles are so unique and distinctive that many people can identify the writer of an unfamiliar passage just by style alone. For example, many readers will recognize this passage (even with the hero's illustrious name deleted) as being written by, and only by, Charles Dickens:

There sat the man who had traced to their source the mighty ponds of Hampstead, and agitated the scientific world with his Theory of Tittlebats, as calm and unmoved as the deep waters of the one on a frosty day, or as a solitary specimen of the other in the inmost recesses of an earthen jar. And how much more interesting did the spectacle become, when, starting into full life and animation, as a simultaneous call for '_____' burst from his followers, that illustrious man slowly mounted into the Windsor chair, on which he had been previously seated, and addressed the club himself had founded. (The Pickwick Papers)

So when you ask what the writer's style is in Old Yeller, you're asking a rather large question. Since you ask for three details, you seem to be expecting only a brief overview of Fred Gipson's style. Considering all the aspects of writing that go into authorial style, I'll try to consolidate some to give a three-point representation of Gipson's style.

  1. Rhetoric: rhetorical elements anaphora (repetition of beginning), ironic humor.
  2. Sentences: sentence structure/style, flashback and frame story, emotionality, tight element construction.
  3. Concrete v. Abstract: concrete abstract action psychology: nouns verbs, character development/dialogue.
  • Style Weakness: ineffective indirect and direct dialogue; narrator's first person voice is much more effective.


Gipson's style is grounded in the devices of rhetoric. For instance, he uses the rhetorical device of anaphora quite a bit. Anaphora is repetition of the first part of a sentence. For example, Gipson writes:

 I remember the way it was the day Papa left. I remember his standing in front .... I remember how tall and straight ... he looked, ... And I remember how Mama was trying ....  

Ironic humor is another rhetorical device that Gipson often employs to very good effect. Humor is something that amuses you or makes you laugh. Ironic humor makes you laugh because the humor is paradoxically based on the occurrence of something that is the opposite of what you expect to happen. For instance, Old Yeller's name is described as befitting the sound he makes, which is "closer to being a yell than a bark." Hence, he is old yeller. This reason behind the name is quite unexpected and quite ironically humorous.

Word play is another device in rhetoric that Gipson employs. For instance, Papa and Travis have rhetorical word play about wanting or needing a dog or a horse worst:

"What you're needing worse than a horse is a good dog."
    "Yessir," I said, "but a horse is what I'm wanting the worst."


Gipson combines sentence styles by switching between short simple sentences and longer compound or complex sentences. Compare the sentence styles in this quote:

"You act a man's part while I'm gone, and I'll see you get a man's horse to ride when I sell the cattle. I think we can shake on that deal." He reached out his hand, and we shook.

Papa's spoken words are structured as two complex sentences while what follows are two short simple sentences compounded by joining with the conjunction "and."

His sentences subtly incorporate flashbacks that establish the time element of setting and develop a frame story simultaneously. The flashbacks develop an emotional involvement through providing foreshadowing of emotional events to come as the framestory gives way to the chronology of Travis's account of Old Yeller's life.

Concrete v. Abstract

Not only does Gipson choose to use concrete nouns and verbs in combination with abstract nouns and verbs, he chooses to use abstractions to develop psychological insight into his characters.

Examples of concrete words Gipson uses are:

  • standing
  • cabin
  • horse
  • gun
  • bedroll
  • coons got to eating
  • corn
  • bears got to killing
  • hogs
  • talked
  • decided
  • told

Examples of abstract words he uses are:

  • realized
  • risks
  • remember
  • foolish
  • teasing
  • needing
  • wanting
  • solemn
  • important
  • worth

Concrete words, especially nouns and verbs, like bedroll, hogs, talked, decided, establish the physical world the settlers live in and the ideas that occupy the settler's attention in that physical world.

Abstract words, especially nouns and verbs, like worth, remember, realized, wanting, reveal the psychological world the principal characters live in and the concepts that occupy the principal characters' attention in their psychological worlds.

Gipson's authorial style, although geared for readers who are not adults yet, is complex since it incorporates rhetorical skills, complicated sentence structures (although the sentence syntax--what part of speech goes where--is itself simple), and a combination of the concrete physical with the abstract psychological.

Gipson's stylistic weakness, that which is less effective than it might be, is in his construction of both indirect and direct dialogue. Indirect dialogue is when the narrator tells us what someone said. Direct dialogues is when the character speaks on the page; this is conventionally shown by quotation marks. Gipson's direct and indirect dialogues lack confidence and believability; the result is they are each a bit clumsy.

Indirect dialogue (this one transitions into direct dialog):

As Papa pointed out the day the men talked ... we had plenty of grass, wood ... We had wild game for killing ... [and] U.S. soldiers [in] the Texas forts.
   "In fact," Papa wound up, "all we lack ... is a little cash money."

Direct Dialogue:

   He pulled up his horse and twisted around in the saddle. "Yeah, boy," he said. "What is it?"
   "That horse," I said.
   "What horse?" he said, like he'd never heard me mention it before. "You mean you're wanting a horse?"
   "Now, Papa," I complained. "You know ... I've told you time and again."

Read the study guide:
Old Yeller

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