“Where the Red Fern Grows,” by Wilson Rawls, presents the theme that a person must learn to make sacrifices and accept suffering before he is truly mature. The main character of this story, Billy, is a young boy who lives in the Ozarks. Billy longs to own dogs, but not just any dogs. Billy wants two coonhounds. Billy’s family doesn’t have much money, so he has to sacrifice and suffer much to obtain his beloved dogs. Billy matures significantly throughout the course of the story.
Three instances when Billy matures are when he goes to Tahlequah to get his dogs, when he has to chop down the sycamore in the forest, and lastly when he experiences the death of his dogs. We first see Billy maturing when he goes to Tahlequah to get his dogs. He leaves the house to go pick them up from the train station, but he doesn’t tell anyone where he’s going, or that he’s leaving. When he arrives in town, he begins to feel immense guilt for his actions, or lack of them. To make up for his wrongdoing, he buys gifts for all his family members.
He buys a new pair of overalls for Papa, several yards of cloth for Mama and the girls, and a large sack of candy for his sisters. Billy matures in this situation by realizing what he did was wrong. Not only did he acknowledge his wrongdoing, but he attempted to make up for it as well. Billy further matures when he has to chop down the big sycamore tree. One time when he is coon hunting with Old Dan and Little Ann, they manage to tree a coon in the biggest tree in the forest.
Usually, the coons would come down eventually, but this one didn’t. Billy made a promise to his dogs that he would chop down the tree to get the coon. He started chopping the tree with ease, but as he got farther into the job, it got more difficult, and he got painful blisters on his hands. At first, he gives up hope that he’ll ever be able to get the coon down, until his Grandfather comes along. His grandfather talked some sense into Billy and he continued to chop down the tree. A few days later, Billy had absolutely no strength left.
He asked God for the strength to finish chopping down the tree, but just after he finished his prayer, a huge gust of wind came and knocked down the tree, enabling Billy to catch the coon. Billy matured in this incident by learning the importance of keeping his word. He told Old Dan and Little Ann that he would chop down the tree and catch the coon, and he did. The last way Billy matures is when Old Dan and Little Ann die. One night, the dogs accidentally tree a mountain lion.
The lion pounced, eading straight for Billy, until Old Dan jumped in the way taking the hit from the mountain lion. Billy kills the mountain lion then takes his dogs home. Mama cleans their wounds and stitched up Old Dan, but it was too late. Old Dan died that night. After Old Dan was buried, Little Ann was heartbroken without her brother. Eventually, Little Ann lost her will to live without Old Dan, and died a few days after he did. Billy buried them next to each other, on a hill in the forest. He buried them there because it was a beautiful spot, and everything could be seen from there.
Billy matured in this situation by learning that everything does truly have a beginning and an end. Whatever doesn’t kill you does make you stronger. In real life, we find this out by persevering through hard situations, just as Billy does. Whether the event is a small trouble, or a huge problem, every single one will build the character of a person. Billy goes to get his dogs, chops down the biggest tree in the forest, and experiences the death of his dogs, all of which strengthen his maturity.