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Where the Red Fern Grows centers on the main character, Billy, and his adventures with his two hounds, Old Dan and Little Ann. While most of the action takes place around Billy, this touching story could not be told without the characters of Billy’s mother, father, grandfather, as well as others.
Billy: Billy is the main character (also known as the protagonist) of Where the Red Fern Grows. He is the narrator of the book. He tells the story of the Red Fern through flashback. (He tells this story as an adult looking back on his childhood.) At the beginning of the novel he is ten years old. Billy has three younger sisters and is a kind and likable character. Through his adventures, he learns about sacrifice and unconditional love.
Going Beyond: This story is told by Billy as an adult reflecting on his childhood. Would this story be as powerful if it was told by Billy when he was a ten-year-old boy? Why or why not?
Little Ann: Little Ann is the smaller of Billy’s two redbone hounds. While she is the smaller than Old Dan, she is smarter than he is. She seems to understand the raccoons and they cannot outsmart her. She is playful and loving.
Old Dan: Old Dan is the stronger of the two hounds. He is bigger than Little Ann, but not as intelligent. What he lacks in brains, he more than makes up for in brawn.
Going Beyond: Given that they are dogs, do you consider the Old Dan and Little Ann main characters? Why or why not?
Mama: Billy’s mother. She worries constantly about Billy while he hunts, but she is also proud of him. She is part Cherokee Indian and very religious. Billy talks to her about God and she loves answering his questions.
Papa: Billy’s father. He is proud when his son begins to hunt. He wants nothing more than to see his Billy happy. He is a farmer and does not earn much money, but is trying to save what he can to move his family to town. He talks to Billy’s mother and encourages her to not worry so much about Billy’s hunting.
Going Beyond: How does Billy’s relationship with both his parents influence his behavior? Do you think he would have been able to do the things he did without their support and pride? Why or why not?
Grandpa: Billy’s grandfather. He loves his grandson without question. He owns a general store in town, the place where the coonhunters of the town get together to discuss hunting. He promised Billy that he would help him get his dogs if Billy earned and saved fifty dollars, which was a huge sum of money during the Great Depression. When Billy came to Grandpa with the money, Grandpa was moved to tears he was so proud. He kept his word and helped Billy get his dogs, Old Dan and Little Ann.
Going Beyond: Is there someone in your life who relates to you the way Grandpa related to Billy? If so, who is it and what do they do to make you feel special? If not, think of other book or movie characters that have this special relationship and describe how it improves their lives. (This is making a text-to-self or text-to-text connection, which are valuable tools in reading comprehension.)
Ruben Pritchard: Ruben is a bully. He insults others and is always ready for a fight. Rubin dies during the book when he tries to save his dog by running after Little Ann and Old Dan with an axe; he trips and falls on the axe.
Rainie Pritchard: Rainie is Rubin’s younger brother. He is always making bets. Billy considers him a very mean boy.
Going Beyond: Why do you think the author makes the Rubin brothers such unlikable characters? Would the story have been as powerful if the Rubin boys were more likable? Why or why not?
Characters in Where the Red Fern Grows
The articles in this series cover characters, discussion questions, and themes from Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls.