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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The primary theme of The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings is growing up in hostile and sometimes violent surroundings. Jody Baxter has a pet deer from which he is inseparable. The deer Flag grows up and starts eating the family vegetable garden. This is wholly unacceptable because their surroundings make food from the garden an irreplaceable necessity. Jody runs away when Flag has to be shot to preserve the family food source.

Jody's father, who has plenty of hardship and suffering of his own, isn't sympathetic in the sense that he encourages Jody to feel sorrow and grieve for Flag, but he is sympathetic in the sense that, because he lives in the same harsh environment and has suffered terribly himself, he teaches Jody that hardships have to be accepted without permitting them to cripple you. He tells Jody it's part of learning to be a man. The theme can be controversial because of its emphasis on killing and negative emotions as being needed to become a man.