Setting is supremely important in this novel, and even the title indicates that: where the red fern grows is a place. Setting includes several components, including time, place, and mood. All three are significant factors in Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls, and contribute to the meaning of the work.
The time in this story is the Great Depression. Even saying those words conjures up a picture of life as it must have been during the 1930s in America. Even a young boy would feel the impact of the economic conditions surrounding him. Immediately we sense that there will not be a surplus of anything but perhaps love in this story, and we are right.
Place is also important, especially in terms of the Great Depression. The hardest hit areas, of course, were those impacted by the Dust Bowl; Where the Red Fern Grows is set in Oklahoma, one of the places most devastated by the combination of economic and weather conditions which caused so many "Okies" to migrate West with the hope of finding work and a place to raise their families. Another aspect of place which is important in this novel is the Ozark Mountains in which Billy Coleman and his parents live. Finally he lives on a farm rather than in town, in a log house which was
nestled at the edge of the foothills in the mouth of a small canyon, and was surrounded by a grove of huge red oaks.
This rural setting allows a young boy the opportunity to grow up in a safe environment for hunting, exploring, and maturing.
The mood of the story is one of peacefulness and solitude combined with the sociability of neighbors and friends which Billy encounters at his grandfather's store. Even years later, Billy remembers the homely details of his setting.
Lying back in the soft hay, I folded my hands behind my head, closed my eyes, and let my mind wander back over the two long years. I thought of the fishermen, the blackberry patches, and the huckleberry hills.
If this story were set in a more sophisticated place or a much more modern time, Billy would not have enjoyed the freedoms he had or appreciated them as much as he did. If Billy had lived on a tropical island or a frozen tundra, for example, he would not have had the same experiences or been able to say this:
As I skipped along, it was hard for me to realize all the wonderful things that had happened to me in such a few short years. I had two of the finest little hounds that ever bawled on the trail of a ringtail coon. I had a wonderful mother and father and three little sisters. I had the best grandpa a boy ever had, and to top it all, I was going on a championship coon hunt. It was no wonder that my heart was bursting with happiness. Wasn't I the luckiest boy in the world?