Saturday, April 18, 2015

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings - The Yearling

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
While preparing an article about Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, I decided to read her tearjerker, The Yearling. It has been decades since I read it, and I find the story even more depressing than I remembered.  

It’s a young adult novel about Jody Baxter growing up in North Central Florida. It takes place close to Gainesville, home of the University of Florida Gators. They have a dormitory, Rawlings Hall named after the author. There is also a Florida State Historic Park comprised of the property where Rawlings lived and wrote the book.

The story occurs around 1870, and the Baxter family farms a parcel of land they cleared. It’s a piece of scrubland in the middle of some Florida swampland. For a taste of what the Baxter’s must have endured, go for a walk in the Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park just south of Gainesville.

Imagine Jody’s life. He has no cell phone, no cable, no bug spray, and no air conditioning. He had to be fairly hardy to survive under those conditions. In the brief year we join the Baxter’s in the story, they encounter drought, disease, bear attacks, a hurricane, a rattle snake bite, and less than pleasant neighbors.

Poor Jody gets mentally and physically clobbered through out the story, but he keeps on going. He encounters death on many occasions, and each time it hits closer to home and has more impact. We watch Jody turn from a little boy into a man.

Rawlings’ uses dialect for her dialogue. It makes the story a bit difficult to read. It is very similar to the dialogue used by Mark Twain in Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. Be warned, in the version I read, the text hadn’t been sanitized like Mark Twain’s books. The language could be offensive.

Rawlings demonstrates her love of nature throughout the book. She describes the plants and animals in great detail and correctly. Her story follows the seasonal changes accurately. Her story demonstrates the cycle of life, and the dependence of animals, plants and man on each other.

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