The Yearling traces the struggles of the Baxter family and their neighbors, the Forresters as they survive in the scrub forest of Florida after the Civil War, in the 1800s. Jody's father, Penny does his best to keep their clearing safe and the biggest threats are mainly the bears and wolves that kill their livestock. Jody will have to learn to "be a man" in order to face the challenges that the family faces. Even Jody's pet fawn, which he rescues when Penny shoots its mother in order to assure his own survival, using her liver for his wounds, will ultimately die because it eats their precious crops, despite Jody's best efforts.
Jody's mother, "Ma," Ora Baxter, is harsh, very large and a complete contrast to Jody's father. She has suffered as, except for Jody, all her children have died as babies and "Seems like bein' hard is the only way I kin stand it." She ensures that she does not get too attached to Jody as a baby in case he also dies. She really cannot allow herself to be emotional and therefore appears distant and removed, always practical.
There is not much money and so Jody has collected Cherokee beans from the pine woods so that he can make a gift for his mother. These are red seeds, "as hard as flint" and Jody works a little each day to make her a necklace for Christmas, of which he is very proud.