Literature: The Yearling

The Yearling is a 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, which was made into a 1946 film directed by Clarence Brown, starring Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman. Ezra Baxter (Peck) and his wife Ora (Wyman) live on a hardscrabble farm in the backwoods of central Florida, along with their preteen son Jody, in 1878. Ezra is a loving father but Ora, haunted by the memory of her other children who died in infancy (six in the novel, three in the film), has a hard time showing affection for her son.

Jody, who has pestered his parents for a pet, finally gets a deer, with the support of his father and the grudging acceptance of his mother. Jody forms a deep bond with his little "yearling", whom he names Flag. But when Flag starts getting into the family's crops, he becomes a serious problem for the Baxters, who need to harvest their crops to survive.


Tropes:

  • Bambification: Jody and his pet deer. Killing the deer symbolizes the end of his innocence.
  • A Boy and His X: A boy and his fawn.
  • Bears Are Bad News: Old Slewfoot the bear will sometimes eat the Baxters' livestock.
  • Circling Vultures: How Jody finds the fawn. The vultures are circling over its monther.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: One of the themes is Jody growing up and accepting adult responsibility. At the end, Ezra notes that he's not a yearling anymore.
  • Cue the Sun: When the sun finally comes out after six days of rain that have badly damaged the crops, it's a dramatic moment, complete with a fancy long shot and a soaring musical cue.
  • Death by Newbery Medal: Really, that deer had to die.
  • Determined Homesteader: Ezra, hacking out his small farm in the jungles of Florida.
  • Determined Homesteader's Wife: Played With with Ory, who seems somewhat bitter about her circumstances, and is skeptical of Ezra's promises to dig a well.
  • Down on the Farm: A tiny little farm that Ezra has hacked out of the wilderness of central Florida.
  • The Film of the Book: Seven Oscar nominations, winning for Art Direction and Cinematography (color).
  • Ill Girl: Ill Boy, in the form of Jody's crippled, sickly friend Fodderwing. Jody learns a lesson about life when Fodderwing dies.
  • Infant Immortality: Jody's little buddy Fodderwing dies. And then there's all the other Baxter children who died in the backstory.
  • Schmuck Bait: After Ezra and his two hunting dogs nearly kill Old Slewfoot the bear, only for Ezra's gun to misfire, Ezra decides he needs a better gun. Ezra goes to see the Forresters. Without ever saying anything untrue, he manages to convince Lem Forrester that a third dog, which is actually quite harmless, is an excellent hunting dog. Lem Forrester trades him a gun for the dog.
  • Shoo the Dog: After his father tells Jody to kill Flag the deer, after Flag has wrecked their tobacco crop and two of their corn crops, Jody instead tries to shoo Flag away. Unfortunately Flag comes back, leading to...
  • Shoot the Dog: Ory does, but being a poor shot, she only wounds it. Jody has to put his deer out of its misery.
  • Suck Out the Poison: After being bitten by a rattlesnake, Ezra does this for himself. Then he has Jody shoot a nearby deer and cut out the liver to leach the poison out. Apparently it works—and this is how Jody acquires the deer. Flag the fawn is the dead deer's orphan.
  • Title Drop: A "yearling" is an adolescent deer. The word gets applied to Jody as well.