What did I know about The Yearling before reading it? Let's see:
1. It's about a boy and a deer.
2. It's sad.
3. It won a Pulitzer.
4. It was a movie. Father Mulcahy goes on and on about the movie in a particular M*A*S*H episode.
5. Have I mentioned the deer?
Well, I am now pleased to inform you that I know much more about The Yearling, having finally read it and checked off another Pulitzer winner/classic/book-we-should-have-read-in-high-school/American gem from my list(s). I savored the experience of reading it and promptly gave it five stars on Goodreads.
I want to talk like the Baxters and Forresters and other people around those parts where the book is set, in northern late 1800s Florida. Pa Baxter, aka Penny, is maybe my new hero, although I sure do like Buck Forrester as well. Jody's Pa is just so wise and wonderful, though, and I love when he says things like, "There's dogs is bear dogs, and dogs that jest isn't bear dogs" and "When there's trouble waitin' for you, you jest as good go to meet it" (promptly followed by a snake bite -- ouch!) and, in response to Ma saying that he would stick up for the devil himself, "I reckon I would. The devil gits blamed for a heap o' things is nothin' but human cussedness." This man, simply put, rules.
Neighbor Buck, on the other hand, won my heart when he said, "I git that-a-way. I like to come and I like to go. Wherever I be, I'm content a while, and then I jest someway ain't content no more." - p. 185 He was also nice enough to help out the Baxters while snakebit Pa was lying in bed recovering. I might add that another wonderful character in that chapter was the drunken Doc, who admitted that he did little to actually help cure Pa, and who was funny about the whiskey and other things, like in this exchange:
Jody said, "I'll be back shore, before dinner."
"Reckon you'd not git home a-tall," she said, "if 'twasn't for dinner-time."
Doc said, "That's man-nature, Ma'am, Three things bring a man home again -- his bed, his woman and his dinner." -p.166
There is also the use of the marvelous word "faintified," more than once, in this book. I swoon.
But in addition to the perfect vernacular of certain characters' dialogue, there is also the subtle philosophy to consider.
"He climbed to the top of the load of hay and lay flat on his back, staring at the sky. He decided that the world was a very peculiar place to live in. Things happened that had no reason and made no sense and did harm, like the bears and panthers, but without their excuse of hunger. He did not approve." - p. 269
This is just a really well-crafted story, a gem of a book, that speaks to all of us with life experience who have ever had to go through the loss of something and learn things. (All of us.) Like Moby Dick and pretty much all of U.S. History class, I think The Yearling is wasted on young'uns.
"None of us don't know what we want 'til it's mebbe too late to git it." - p. 347
The way nature is woven into this book is well done. Some people don't really go for a lot of nature in their books. Sparkly vampires are apparently OK, but actual frogs and panthers and trees are "boring." However, the whole point of this entire novel is how these people live off the land and depend on the Earth and on one another. It's a different kind of community, and the fullness of emotions that Jody feels when at the sink-hole or on a hunt suck the reader in. I especially relate to this: "He decided that sunrise and sunset both gave him a pleasantly sad feeling. The sunrise brought a wild, free sadness; the sunset, a lonely yet a comforting one. He indulged his agreeable melancholy until the earth under him turned from gray to lavender and then to the color of dried corn husks. -p. 397
Of course, what many people remember about The Yearling is the sad ending. Naturally, I knew a sad ending was coming and I braced myself for it, but I found it not nearly as gut-wrenching as I expected. I think it's because I was so philosophically prepared for it not just because the book is so famous and all but because I was so wrapped up in what this book teaches us about the way life's cycles invariably complete themselves, not to mention the inevitable fact that life is hard. Totally awesome, and totally hard.
"He lay in a stupor of weariness. He hung suspended in a timeless space. He could go neither forward nor back. Something was ended. Nothing was begun." - p. 422
And then it was over, and I moved on from reading The Yearling. But not before telling you to read it, too!