Where the Red Fern Grows

by Wilson Rawls

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What was the initial name Billy gave to the tree in Where the Red Fern Grows?

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In chapter 8, Billy names the big sycamore tree in the woods. He describes this tree as "Like a king in (its) own domain." In other words, the tree is gigantic and towers majestically over all of the other trees in the woods. Billy initially calls the tree "the chicken tree," because he says it reminds him of "a mother hen hovering over her young in a rainstorm." This name, however, does not seem quite right, so Billy tries to think of a better, more suitable name.

After some thought, Billy decides to rename the tree "the giant." This name better captures the size of the tree. However, this new name does not last very long either, mostly because Billy remembers a story that his mother used to tell him about a monstrous giant that "ate little children." As soon as he remembers this story, Billy tries to think of a different name again. The sycamore tree is, after all, a majestic rather than a monstrous tree.

Billy thinks of a third name for the tree while "lying in the warm sun staring at (the tree's) magnificent beauty." This time, Billy renames the tree "the big tree." This is a rather simple epithet which seems to fit the sycamore tree perfectly, and it does not have any of the unsavory connotations of child-eating giants. Billy also names the "bottoms" around the base of the tree "the big tree bottoms."

Later in the story, in chapter 9, Billy cuts down the big sycamore tree because his dogs have trapped a raccoon in the tree. He cuts down the tree for the sake of his dogs;nonetheless, he feels sad to cut it down. He says to the tree, "I'm sorry...I didn't want to cut you down, but I had to. I hope you can understand."

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