The three main characters of Fred Gipson's enduring novel, Old Yeller, are members of the Coates family: Travis, the young boy who comes to love Old Yeller; his little brother, Arliss; and the title character, Old Yeller.
Travis is fourteen years old, and he serves as the "man of the house" while is father is on a cattle drive. Travis is proud and confident of his new responsibility of tending to the farm while his father is gone. He must also look after the five-year-old, Arliss. Old Yeller, an ugly yellow dog, arrives on the farm the same day as the father leaves. Travis immediately hates the dog, in part because he is still grieving from the loss of his old dog, Bell. But Arliss loves the new dog, and they become immediate playmates. Old Yeller eventually proves his worth, saving Arliss from a bear and Travis from wild hogs.
The three main characters in Old Yeller are Travis, Arliss, and Old Yeller.
Travis is fourteen years old when the book begins. His father is going away on a cattle drive, and he asks Travis to be the "man of house." Travis is confident in his own skills at this point and takes his father's job description seriously. Travis is a resourceful and brave young man, too. He doesn't hesitate to grab the whip in order to fend off the aggressive range bulls from the family house.
I reached for a braided rawhide whip that hung in a coil on a wooden peg driven between the logs. That scared Mama still worse.
“Oh, no, Travis,” she cried. “Don’t go out there!”
“They’re fixing to tear down the house, Mama,” I said.
“But they might run over you,” Mama argued.
The bulls crashed into the cabin again. They grunted and strained and roared. Their horns and hoofs clattered against the logs.
I turned and headed for the door. Looked to me like they’d kill us all if they ever broke through those log walls.
Travis especially tries to be the man of the house when it concerns his younger brother, Arliss. Travis frequently attempts to boss Arliss around, and Arliss consistently defies his older brother's wishes.
Old Yeller, in a lot of ways, is similar to Travis. That is probably why the two characters are able to form such a deep bond. Like Travis, Old Yeller is an invaluable member of the family. For example, it is Old Yeller that instinctively knows how to catch Spot, bring her home, and make her behave. Like Travis, Old Yeller also isn't afraid of a fight. For example, it is Old Yeller that comes roaring in "like a mad bull" to protect Arliss from an angry mother bear.
Then, just as the bear went lunging up the creek bank toward Little Arliss and her cub, a flash of yellow came streaking out of the brush.
It was that big yeller dog. He was roaring like a mad bull. He wasn’t one-third as big and heavy as the she bear, but when he piled into her from one side, he rolled her clear off her feet. They went down in a wild, roaring tangle of twisting bodies and scrambling feet and slashing fangs.
Arliss is five years old, and a typical little brother. He loves Travis and looks up to his older brother; however, that doesn't mean Arliss doesn't enjoy "bugging" his elder either. Arliss is also a wonderful combination of mischievous and hilarious. One of my favorite parts of the book occurs when he is found playing naked in the family's drinking water.
Arliss saw then that I meant business. He came lunging up out of the pool, knocking water all over his clothes lying on the bank. He lit out for the house, running naked and screaming bloody murder. To listen to him, you’d have thought the Comanches were lifting his scalp.
In fact, Arliss runs around naked quite a few times in the novel. He's definitely not shy about his body.