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In a story the center of the plot of which involves a young boy’s love for the fawn he finds in the woods, there is no shortage of examples of text illuminating that affection. Jody develops an immediate bond with the fawn, which his friend Fodder-wing names “Flag,” in reference to the young deer’s tail (“'A fawn carries its flag so merry. A fawn's tail's a leetle white merry flag. If I had me a fawn, I'd name him "Flag." "Flag the fawn," is what I'd call him.'"). One example of Jody’s enjoyment in raising the fawn comes early, in Chapter 15, when he first finds and adopts the young animal:
“He dipped his fingers in the milk and thrust them into the fawn's soft wet mouth. It sucked greedily. When he withdrew them, it bleated frantically and butted him. He dipped his fingers again and as the fawn sucked, he lowered them slowly into the milk. The fawn blew and sucked and snorted. It stamped its small hooves impatiently. As long as he held his fingers below the level of the milk, the fawn was content. It closed its eyes dreamily. It was ecstasy to feel its tongue against his hand. Its small tail flicked back and forth. The last of the milk vanished in a swirl of foam and gurgling. The fawn bleated and butted but its frenzy was appeased. Jody was tempted to go for more milk, but even with his father's backing he was afraid to press his advantage too far. A doe's bag was as small as a yearling heifer's. Surely the fawn had had as much as its mother could have given it. It lay down suddenly, exhausted and replete.
“He gave his attention to a bed for it. It would be too much to ask, to bring it into the house. He went to the shed behind the house and cleaned out a corner down to the sand. He went to the live oaks at the north end of the yard and pulled down armfuls of Spanish moss. He made a thick bed in the shed.”
This, admittedly lengthy, quotation from The Yearling is an early indication of the affection Jody will develop for this infant animal dependent upon others for its care and protection. As mentioned, the plot of Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s novel implies numerous examples of Jody’s love for Flag and the enjoyment he derives in its raising. So close, in fact, does the bond become that Jody even begins sleeping with the fawn, as described in Chapter 23:
“He rolled over on his side and stretched one arm across Flag. The fawn lay asleep, his legs tucked under his stomach, like a calf. His white tail twitched in his sleep. Ma Baxter did not mind his being in the house in the evening, after supper. She even turned an unseeing eye on his sleeping in Jody's bedroom, for at least then he was into no mischief.”
Another appropriate quote from Rawling’s text is provided in Chapter 29, in a scene involving the increasingly large and assertive deer’s tendency to raise havoc in the Baxter home. Jody’s reaction to the deer’s intrusion into the house is to come to Flag’s defense:
“Flag had leaped onto the table, seized a mouthful of the peas and sent the pan sprawling, the peas scattered from one end of the kitchen to the other.
“Jody said, "That were my fault, Ma. I shouldn't of left him. He were hongry, Ma. The pore feller didn't git enough for breakfast. You should of beat me, Ma, not him."
"Now see, Ma," he said, "they's no harm done. Ary leetle harm Flag do, you kin depend on me to take keer of it."
Any child who loves his or her pet, be it dog, cat, ferret, horse, or deer, will reflexively come to that animal’s defense when it is threatened. Jody is no different. He loves Flag as people love their pets. The following passage, also from Chapter 29, illuminates the bond that has developed between boy and fawn:
“Flag did not return until sunset. Jody fed him outside and waited to smuggle him into his bedroom after Penny and Ma were in bed. Flag had lost his fawn's willingness to sleep long hours and had been increasingly restless at night. Ma Baxter had complained that she had heard him tripping about in Jody's room or the front room several times. Jody had invented a plausible tale of rats on the roof, but his mother was sceptical. Perhaps Flag had had a sleep that afternoon in the woods, for this night he left his moss pallet and pushed open the rickety door of Jody's bedroom and wandered about the house. Jody was aroused by a piercing shriek from his mother. Flag had awakened her from a sound sleep by pushing his wet muzzle against her face. Jody slipped the fawn out by the front door before she should do a more thorough job of it.”
Jody clearly loves Flag, and considers the deer a part of his family. The bond he has developed with the fawn is unbreakable, which serves to make the novel’s climatic moment all the more painful.
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