Where the Red Fern Grows

by Wilson Rawls

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What is the "central idea" in Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls?

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Every piece of literature has a "central idea" which the author wants to share, and in literature this is often called the "theme." The eNotes link (attached below) defines "theme" this way:

Theme - the central and dominating idea in a literary work.... In addition, the term means a message or moral implicit in any work of art.

When reading a novel or short story, you will find that you can often express the main idea of the selection in a sentence or two; that is the "theme" or "central idea." It may be helpful to think about the most important thing about the book that you would explain to someone else about the piece of writing; that is generally the "theme" or "central idea."

In Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, the central idea centers around the love and friendship Billy shares with his beloved dogs. It could be expressed in many ways, both simple and complex, such as the following:

  • Both Billy and his dogs display tremendous determination throughout this novel. (example below)

I made a bargain with my dogs. I told them that if they would put one in a tree, I'd do the rest. Well, they fulfilled their part of the bargain. Now it's up to me to do my part, and I'm going to, Papa. I'm going to cut it down. I don't care if it takes me a year. 

  • Loyalty and love are the two qualities which connect Billy and his dogs. (example below)

I figured the lion had scented my pups. The more I thought about anything harming them, the madder I got. I was ready to die for my dogs.

  • Billy demonstrates perseverance as he saves to buy his dogs; in turn, Old Dan and Little Ann persevere through many trials with their young owner.

Each of these is a central idea (theme) which is applicable to this novel; you must determine what moral lesson or message you most connect to and write a central idea which reflects that. Notice that each of them has a slightly different focus, but all of them center around the relationship between the boy and his dogs. Whatever you see as being the most significant and powerful aspect of that relationship should probably be reflected in the central idea.

This principle is applicable to any work which delivers meaning, such as written work, music, and art. Finding the central idea or theme is just a matter of figuring out--as you read, listen, or look--what the primary message or moral of the selection is.

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