Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Yearling is an initiatory tale in which an innocent and happy twelve-year-old boy passes into young adulthood. Some of his youthful illusions are shattered by the end of the year in his life that the book chronicles, but Jody emerges with a substantial hold on the adulthood that stretches ahead of him.

Jody Baxter lives in the scrubby inland country of central Florida not far south of the Georgia line, the area out of Gainesville in which Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings herself lived intermittently. He is the only child of Penny and Ora Baxter, two people who barely scrape by on what they can grow or catch when Penny goes hunting or fishing. Jody accompanies his father on his food-seeking adventures and also helps with the family’s minimal farming. Despite the Baxter’s poverty, Jody’s childhood seems ideal by most standards. The boy has a particularly strong bond with his father. He is less sure of his feelings toward his mother, a large, dominating woman who rules a roost that clearly someone has to rule. Penny is easygoing and not always practical. Ora’s temperament complements his. She views life realistically, forcing practicality upon her two men, even though they do not always appreciate her efforts to control them in this way.

By drawing Ora as she does, Rawlings defines important lines of conflict in her novel, which was awarded the 1938 Pulitzer Prize in fiction. Although The Yearling is sentimental, it had...

(The entire section is 591 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Yearling was perfect for its time: In 1938, Europe was arming for a war into which the United States would inevitably be drawn. The reading public badly needed a book that glorified innocence and reflected a less complicated era than the one facing a populace still suffering from the Great Depression, shocked by the Spanish Civil War and its atrocities, and apprehensive about the rise of fascism in Germany, much of Eastern Europe, and Italy.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings did not live in an age notable for the kind of feminism that emerged in the United States during the 1970’s and 1980’s, although in her early years, suffragettes were active in seeking the voting rights that women were finally accorded in 1920. In The Yearling, Rawlings certainly did not set out consciously to make a statement about the status of women. Nevertheless, she makes two important points about matters that are important in terms of feminist issues.

First, in her depiction of Ora Baxter, Rawlings creates a strong, almost overpowering female character who, if her actions are at times distressing, can at least be justified. The Baxters live at the edge economically. Not only does their farm produce little, but Penny’s bouts of illness leave him unable to hunt for the food that the family needs and render him powerless, at times, to prevent the onslaughts that bears and wolves make on his livestock. Viewing the Baxters’ situation realistically,...

(The entire section is 462 words.)

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Baxter’s Island

Baxter’s Island. Farm of the Baxter family covering one hundred acres of Florida scrubland in the middle of a dry forest. Penny Baxter bought the land from the Forrester family, whose neighboring farm is called Forrester’s Island. The Baxter farm is covered with hardwood trees and rich foliage, representing a place of refuge, an oasis in a harsh natural environment.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who lived in Cross Creek between the towns of Gainesville and Ocala, not far from the places her novel describes, admired the independence of the people who lived in Florida’s backwoods. Her fictional Baxter evidently chose to farm on this land because of its isolation. Shunning city life, which makes “intrusions on the individual spirit,” Penny settles on the Florida scrub because the “wild animals seemed less predatory to him than the people he had known.” He learns to live in harmony with nature and to subsist on what his land has to offer. The challenge is great, however, because Baxter’s Island is “ringed with hunger,” and the family’s survival is constantly threatened by natural hazards, including harsh weather, predatory animals, and even the docile deer that Jody Baxter adopts as a pet—the “yearling” of the novel’s title.

*Ocklawaha River

*Ocklawaha River. Florida river that originates in several lakes near the center of the state and flows northward along the edge of what is now the Ocala National Forest before it joins the St. Johns River south of Palatka. Lined with cypress trees, swamp maples, and sable palms whose growth is dense enough to form a canopy above its channel, the river symbolizes the danger and beauty that humans must learn to respect, and understand.

After his mother shoots the yearling that has been destroying the freshly planted corn, Jody decides to run away from home. He heads for the river, on which he sets off in a dugout canoe. After several days without food, he is picked up by a river mail boat and returned home, ashamed and penitent.

*Juniper Creek

*Juniper Creek. Exceptionally clear stream fed by a spring that for Jody is a natural sanctuary.

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The Yearling is an excellent example of frontier regional literature. The resilience and earthiness of the characters is vividly...

(The entire section is 153 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The story of The Yearling takes place in the 1870s in the untamed wilds of inland Florida. The Baxter family has settled in a clearing...

(The entire section is 750 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The relationship of people and animals to one another and to the land is one of the basic themes of The Yearling. Issues of loyalty...

(The entire section is 97 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

When Maxwell Perkins suggested to Rawlings that she write a "boy's book," he mentioned Huckleberry Finn (1884), Treasure Island...

(The entire section is 112 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Many of Rawlings's other works examine characters, settings, and themes similar to those in The Yearling. South Moon Under...

(The entire section is 126 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

In 1946 MGM adapted The Yearling into a motion picture starring Jane Wyman and Gregory Peck. Twelve-year-old Claude Jarman, Jr., won a...

(The entire section is 106 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bellman, Samuel. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. New York: Twayne, 1974. A basic beginner’s overview of Rawlings’ life and artistic output. The section on The Yearling provides good background information regarding its composition and the people who inspired Rawlings.

Bigelow, Gordon. Frontier Eden: The Literary Career of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1966. An important study of Rawlings’ complete works and a source of interviews and eyewitness accounts of Rawlings’ life in Cross Creek. The last chapter, “The Literary Artist,” focuses on Rawlings’ philosophy of composition.

Parker, Idella, and Mary Keating. Idella: Marjorie Rawlings’ “Perfect Maid.” Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1992. An entertaining, fascinating look behind the scenes of the Rawlings’ household in Cross Creek from the perspective of Rawlings’ maid, who worked for her from 1940 to 1950. The most disturbing revelation surrounds the visit of Zora Neale Hurston, whom Rawlings sent to sleep in the servants’ quarters.

Silverthorne, Elizabeth. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings: Sojourner at Cross Creek. Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press, 1988. A readable biography that is not too academic. Contains interviews with Norton Baskin, Rawlings’ second husband.