The Yearling

Indonesian edition’s cover

Sometimes, a book is so hard to devour, not because it’s very complicated nor using a too florid language not all readers can take in, but because it makes us think hard. It makes us want to run away because the world is too cruel for us to live in. It makes us realize that living in idealism is such an impossible thing because what we need is what we eat, not what we love and cherish. That’s pretty much what I felt when I read The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, a Pulitzer Prize winning classic. Reading it was like swallowing a bitter pill, unpleasant and so difficult. But, I have to say, that’s why it makes for a good read, and a great work as well.

It talks about the Baxters living in 1800s’ Florida. They’re a farmer family, relying heavily on their crop production and game for food. With his Pa and Ma, Jody lives on the Baxter Island in the middle of a dense forest full of wild, predatory animals. But it’s not only bears and wolves they have to deal with, but bad weather, severe winter, storm, flood taking turns to blast them all year. And that’s not to mention their fierce, bad-tempered, drunkard but helpful neighbors who always get them into troubles and dilemma, leaving them with a restless relationship with their closest relatives. But, of all the ordeal they have to face, Jody’s domestic pet is the hardest. Flag, a yearling Jody finds in the woodland when he and his father go for a hunt and takes into his care, is at first so gentle and docile. But the bigger it grows, the bigger the trouble it brings. Flag becomes very wild and uncontrollable, eating the family’s plants and crops, robbing them of their food to survive. Penny, Jody’s father, has been so patient and understanding about the young animal and its troublesome presence. But their lives now are at stake. They cannot live with another cropless season, and they need to, have to survive. This is no longer about having and loving a pet, or even about caring for a living creature. This is about survival, about doing everything to stay alive, including killing our beloved one. This is about how life goes.

The Yearling is actually a simple story with simple characters. However, there are certain complexities in them. Jody Baxter is a childish, spoiled boy, getting too much love and trust from his father. But he’s also brave and a hard worker, eager to learn anything and bear any responsibility. He’s also lonely and a loving person, hence the need to have something to love and pet, to ease his loneliness and need of friend. And once he loves something, he will do everything to keep it and not share his love with something else, not even think about anything else. But beyond all that, he’s only a child, an inexperienced, innocent child. His character, more or less, is the reflection of his father’s. Penny Baxter is also a gentle and loving man, and a hard worker, too. He’s portrayed as understanding and strong-willed, but he can also be annoyingly stubborn and firm. He’s physically small and short, but he’s as strong as the Forresters, their raucous neighbors. And those raucous neighbors are the most interesting characters of all. They are a bunch of loud, drunk, coarse, rude men. Ma Baxter even describes them as having a black heart. They’re mean and cruel in some ways, but they’re also helpful and friendly. Sometimes, as I read through the narrative, they are quite forgiving. Most of the times they are disgusting, but they have their own white sides. It was their characters that stuck me to the pages when I started to feel like I almost fell into boredom at some point along the book. They truly kept my interest.

This book has a gripping narrative, unfortunately the plot doesn’t seem to have any direction. All the events, all the problems and their solutions are told one by one, without being overlapping nor woven neatly into one whole story. They seem to stand on their own, segmented parts put into cubicles. One thing comes after another, and then another, and then another until the storyline arrives at the point where Jody has finally to sacrifice his beloved pet. It’s not like one story as a whole, it’s more like LEGOs with bits arranged together into one shape. Luckily, it has stunning characterizations. As simple as they might be, they are still portrayals of real people, ones that we can deem so close to the reality. The circumstances they bring also picture what truly happens around us. Rawlings describes them in great detail and very vividly. They are one of the factors that boost up the atmosphere so it feels so strong and utterly absorbing. I was so caught at the end of the book, which is very touching and sad and emotion-draining, though doesn’t feel right in my opinion. However, this book is still amazing in how Rawlings delivers a humanist message and creates such an imaginative, believable setting.

In conclusion, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ The Yearling is a pretty great work of classic literature, such a shame it lacks the nice plot and an exciting ending. But I can say that I can absolutely take the message in, and quite agree with it. The Yearling is a book that leaves you thinking, trying to make of the world.

Rating: 3.5/5

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