Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 385

Big Red is a young-adult novel published in 1945 written by Jim Kjelgaard. The story follows a boy, Danny, and his relationship with his new Irish Setter, Red. Danny is first introduced to Big Red when he is helping a neighbor to kill a bull. Danny expresses interest in Mr. Haggin's dog, Red, and he claims, "you waste a dog like that just gettin blue ribbons?" (5). Red escapes from his master in the middle of the night to visit Danny. Danny and Red encounter a bear on their way back to Mr. Haggin's estate. Haggin, impressed by Danny's demeanor with the dog, invites him to join his other employee, Robert Fraley (who treats Red harshly), to bring Red to a dog show in New York. Danny and Red become close friends, and Danny even asks if he can ride in the baggage car with Red, though Haggin advises against it.

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The primary theme in the novel is Danny's development—specifically his transformation into an assertive and sensitive individual. Danny carefully and commendably tows a line between respect for Mr. Haggin and his property, and also an assertiveness inspired by his affinity for Red. Danny matures into an individual who is uniquely capable of caring for an animal. These character traits earn him employment with and respect from Haggin, his social superior and elder. Danny also exhibits a spirit independent of his father, who encourages him simply to give Red back to Haggin, and focus on economic enterprises of the moment (such as hunting and trapping). He claims that show dogs are something "rich people" keep, (9). Thus, Danny's interest in Red is entirely his own, and his developing relationship with Red is not inspired by his father, with whom he has the closest relationship of any other human.

The other major theme of the novel is following one's passion. Danny's natural passion for animals gives him especially mature and respectable character traits, which in turn inspires Mr. Haggin to give him the dog as a gift by the novel's close. Danny then sets his mind to breeding puppies, whose rare breed will earn him more money that he likely would have made as a trapper. Because Danny boldly and aggressively follows his unique passion, he reaped the reward of the dog he admired from their first meeting.

Form and Content

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 558

Big Red is told in the third person almost entirely from the point of view of Danny Pickett, a young man intimately familiar with and deeply fond of the Wintapi, a wilderness area on the border of thinly settled farm and ranchland. Danny is introduced to a tantalizing new world when he first sees a splendid Irish setter being groomed as a show dog by Dick Haggin, who owns the estate on which Danny and his father, Ross, live in a squatter’s cabin. Danny is following in his father’s footsteps, helping him make their living off the land as trappers and hunters. Danny has a chance to explore a new way of life, however, when Mr. Haggin, recognizing the camaraderie between the dog and the young man as well as Danny’s innate dog-handling skills, asks Danny to take care of Red and learn how to train and breed show dogs while training Red as a bird-hunting dog. Danny and Red grow significantly through the course of the novel, both as individuals and closer together as comrades. By the end, they are well prepared to face their greatest challenge—the threat of Old Majesty, a powerful, dangerous black bear who seems to prey at will on livestock and who eventually badly hurts Ross when he tries to track down the wily old marauder.

The novel is divided into twelve titled chapters, each recounting a key experience in the lives of Danny and Red. In “Irish Setter,” Red picks up the trail of Old Majesty and tracks the big bear to a standstill, “the only dog with the heart to do it and the brain to handle the bear after he did,” in Danny’s admiring words. Yet, Danny is worried that Red might get injured and be ruined as a show dog; he does not take a shot and brings Red home safely. In “The Journey” and “The Dog Show,” Mr. Haggin takes Danny to New York City, where Red competes in a dog show. In “Danny’s Humiliation” and “Red’s Education,” Danny has to struggle with Red’s undisciplined energy and his sensitive, proud nature in order to train the dog in the ways of the woods and to harness his hunting instincts without resorting to the traditional, harsh training methods that his father suggests. In “The Leaves Rustle” and “Partridge Dog,” Red protects Danny from a lynx and finds Ross in a snowstorm. Danny discovers, just when he was beginning to doubt Red’s abilities, that Red is everything that he hoped the dog would be.

In “Read the Sign” and “Trap-Line Pirate,” Danny and Red’s relationship solidifies. Working together as a close-knit, mutually supportive team, they capture an escaped convict. They also kill a wolverine that had been threatening their livelihood by stealing animals from their traps and that turned the tables on Danny and Red by stalking them. By the chapter entitled “Sheilah MacGuire,” Danny and Red have become as close as brothers, and Red has a difficult time accepting the new mate that Mr. Haggin sent for him. Finally, in “Old Majesty” and “Trophy for Red,” Danny and Red come into their own as they hunt down Old Majesty and Danny and Ross embark on a new life as dog breeders, beginning with the pups of Red and Sheilah.

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