Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Critical Essays


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Whether they first encounter The Yearling as children or as adults, few readers can remain dry-eyed during the scene at the end of the book when the young protagonist, Jody Baxter, is forced to kill his pet deer. However, that memorable episode is just one of many incidents in Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s fiction that illustrate her uncompromisingly realistic view of life. Indeed, it is ironic that for so long Rawlings was thought of as a children’s writer, for in fact her rural world is as grim as that of Victorian author Thomas Hardy. Penny Baxter, Jody’s father, describes growing up as learning that life is hard, that human beings can be malicious, and that feelings of insecurity and desperate loneliness are just part of being human. Though Rawlings and many of her characters display a mystical appreciation of nature, she never permits us to forget that living in a natural environment means accepting ugliness as well as beauty, suffering as well as joy, and death as a part of the daily routine.

South Moon Under

In Jacob’s Ladder, Florry and Mart wandered from the piney woods and the Florida scrub to the Gulf Coast and back to the woods. By contrast, South Moon Under and The Yearling are set entirely in the “Big Scrub,” a plateau bounded on the east by the St. John’s River and on the west by the Ocklawaha. Before beginning South Moon Under, Rawlings spent several weeks in this wilderness area. Piety Fiddia, with whom she stayed, became the model for Piety Jacklin in the novel, and her moonshiner son became the character of Lant Jacklin.

Like Mart and Florry, old Lantry has had difficulty putting down roots, but he is propelled by fear. As he tells his daughter, Piety, when he was making moonshine in North Carolina he killed a federal revenue agent, and he has been on the run ever since. However, the scrub is so remote, and his home there so isolated, that Lantry’s worst...

(The entire section is 808 words.)