By 1936, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings had begun her story of a boy Jody and his pet deer. It was published in 1938 and became an immediate and widespread success. Fourteen days after publication The Yearling was on most lists of bestsellers. It quickly
moved upward and reached the top of the lists, where it remained for ninety-three weeks. It has been read in translation all the way round the world. At home it seems to be comfortably established in the literature of America, partly for its contribution
to our knowledge of our own country, but most of all as a heartwarming story of the struggles Jody encounters growing up and losing his best friend, a pet deer. Taking place in northern Florida shortly after the Civil War, The Yearling presents se
veral episodes in the life of the Baxter family as they carry out their daily lives of farming their small portion of land, hunting, and visiting their neighbors in the Florida woodlands known as the Big Scrub. Today we are still fascinated by the story o
f lost innocence and youth, and that is what has kept it at the heart of American literary tradition.
It is important to remember the times during which this novel was written. In 1938, the twenties were in the distant past; yet the Age of the Modern American Woman that had sprung from them was still in its developing stages. The feminist movement that pr
eceded it gave rise to self-esteem, assertiveness, and great expectations- all traits that Rawlings possessed. Her invasion of the workplace was a small victory; and her Pulitzer Prize in 1939 was of larger scale.
While The Yearling was written towards the end of the women's struggle for equal rights, it was also available to the public three short years before the onset of World War II. During the 1940s, adults (and children) could venture into the past an
d experience Florida in the late nineteenth century as though they were vicariously a part of the Baxter family and its peaceful setting. During the course of a year, Jody Baxter participates in a bear hunt, survives a terrible flood, sees a close friend
die, and helps nurse his father back from a life-threatening rattlesnake bite. He also experiences the beauty of his surroundings in the Florida backwoods, witnesses the dance of a whooping crane, and befriends an orphaned fawn, which he names Flag. Jody
is an only child who craves companionship and ultimately finds it in Flag . The death of Flag at the end of the novel brings much pain; yet Jody tries to accept this as a step in his increasing responsibilities as an adult. "In the beginning of his sleep
, he cried out, 'Flag!' It was not his own voice that called. It was a boy's voice. Somewhere beyond the sink-hole, past the magnolia, under the live oaks, a boy and a yearling ran side by side, and were gone forever" (Rawlings 428).
When Rawlings received the Pulitzer Prize in 1939, she became an instant celebrity and she was in constant demand. The story of the deer and his friend Jody is timeless. Set in the Florida backwoods, its theme is universal. Children of all ages find love
in animals (real or stuffed) and even objects like dolls and action figures. Without spoken words shared in conversation, children can expand their imaginations which are an integral part of childhood. Jody can relate to his pet friend better than his par
ents, and their closeness is defined by the fun filled times they share together: "He knew that the same restlessness came to the fawn that came to him. Flag merely felt the need of stretching his legs and exploring the world about him. They understood ea
ch other perfectly" (Rawlings 276). Jody feels an emotional tie to the deer, one that is lacking from his family relationships.
Rawlings possesses in The Yearling a talent for drama. "She was aware of her audience always, as she learned how to develop the most action, how to pause, and how to end a story." Gordon Bigelow describes her as a "raconteur, a teller of tales," ve
ry much in the tradition of Mark Twain( Bigelow 27). She uses sentiment without apology. She appeals to the heart and the soul of her reader. The more configuration of her stories is intentional; she writes with a message. Rawlings's joy in her work is s
hown through the vitality of the characters and the empathy one feels for their hard and dangerous lives. There is much hardship and sorrow and tragedy in The Yearling; but she has conveyed the quality of these people of the Florida backwoods. They
have stimulated her sympathies with their gallantry, their grace of spirit, and the joy in living that they find in lives which appear to the audience to be bitter struggles for survival.
The Yearling received an abundance of rave reviews. Critics felt that her novel was a direct reflection of the love she shared for all living kind. Rawlings grew up visiting relatives on their farms, and her love and knowledge of the countryside ma
de for realistic and authentic descriptive narratives. The public cherished the book for its exotic nature depictions, its humor, and its poetic quality. The critics focused primarily on the message of the book that is delivered by Penny when he tells his
son: "Ever' man wants life to be a fine thing, and a easy...Life knocks a man down and he gits up and knocks him down again...What's he got to do then? What's he to do when he gits knocked down? Why, take it for his share and go on" (Rawlings 426). Th
is underlying theme of becoming a man can be understood by all generations, and this is what continues to attract readers young and old.
While the majority of praise was gratifying, there were some comments that were a little less appreciated by Rawlings. Clifton Fadiman of the New Yorker encouraged his readers to notice her book as a "regional novel that makes sense" (Silverthorne
150). Rawlings did not like to hear the word "regional"; it came as a harsh insult to her work. The term was misleading and limiting. It ignored the fact that it takes an artist to transform a place of one's personal upbringing into something universal.
These sort of arguments were few, and they were quickly taken back by Edith Wharton of the New York Times: "The Yearling-and this is the best tribute one can pay it-is nothing so narrowly limited as a 'local color' novel. Rather, it recasts with
unusual beauty the old, timeless story of youth's growth to maturity." Likewise writers of the North American Review thought the label "regional" shrouded the importance of her work.
The Yearling carries the reader into an unknown but beautiful countryside and into a way of life that was reminiscent of an earlier period in American life. It is rich in details of animals and birds, of bear hunts in the wilderness, of rafting alo
ng the rivers; it had such wide appeal that by the early forties she had become something of a national celebrity and something of a legend. She was represented in magazines as an outdoors woman in boots, breeches, and a slouch hat. Her perceived passions
when she was not hunting quail were cooking up swamp cabbage and roasting alligator tail or other forest delicacy in her kitchen. This image was true in a way, but it was only part of the reality of Rawlings's personality. By birth she was a northern ci
ty woman, and until she moved to Florida she knew little of the outdoors: "All this strenuous outdoor stuff is new to me since coming to Florida," she writes "I've taken to it naturally, but my chief claim to capability in such matters lies only in being
game for anything" (Bigelow 3). One can see at once in her person an extraordinary individual: warm and vital and generous. Her achievements are greatly due to her talent and intelligence, as well as her own ambitions and independence of spirit.
After the success of The Yearling, Rawlings continued to write, only this time she attempted short stories. They were not as well received. She tried to hold her readers with the novel of South Moon Under and while cordially received by cr
itics, it was not especially popular with the public. Her readers wanted more of the portraits from The Yearling. The immense popularity and fame she won left her with a difficult decision. She debated writing a sequel to capitalize on the story;
yet she felt that this might jeopardize the art of the original work. Instead, Carl Brandt sold the movie rights for The Yearling for $30,000. It was made into a film starring Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1946. Though in a
sense Hollywood exploited her talents, it was a box-office sensation. Her popularity remained relatively undiminished. For the first time in her life Rawlings was concerned about receiving too much income.
One is left to wonder how Rawlings's popularity would have been affected if it had come out the same year as Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Other winners of the Pulitzer Prize for the year of 1938 included Carl Van Doren's biography of Benjam
in Franklin and Robert E. Sherwood's play Abe Lincoln in Illinois. While she enjoyed the honor and the accolades she received, she said it was impossible for her to take "any of those things too much to heart" (Silverthorne 162). She claimed that
the competition had not been great. It included Kenneth Robert's Northwest Passage, Louis Brombfield's , Esther Forbes's The General's Lady, and Sinclair Lewis's The Prodigal Parents.
Most of Rawlings's fiction uses Florida as a backdrop and was written after she moved there in 1928. Since her death, Rawlings's place in fiction has steadily declined. She is at present known principally for The Yearling, which continues to sell
briskly, though primarily as a children's book. She joins the likes of Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Mark Twain, who became the epitome of children's literature. In the planning stages for this novel, Rawlings and her publisher Maxwell P
erkins agreed that The Yearling was to be written for adults but in the spirit of what would appeal to children. One critic William Lyons Phelps of Time that I is "tremendously interesting and wholly charming," and that it "stands a good cha
nce, when adults have finished with it, of finding a permanent place in adolescent libraries" (Silverthorne 149). Rawlings was forever proud that children loved The Yearling, yet she was altogether not happy that her other works seemed of little im
portance in the aftermath of its success. Accepting the praise and endless fan mail of her young readers, and at the same time realizing that such adulation made it harder for her to be accepted by adult readers put her in a difficult situation.
Rawlings had a theory that she expressed in The Yearling, along with many of her other works that human happiness relates directly to place. Places, like her Florida home, have character, and as there is people have an attraction to certain people,
one can be attracted and attached to a place. She was at ease in Cross Creek, Florida, and this is what she shared with her readers, so we could experience the same sense of harmony and peace that she was raised with. Margaret Mitchell, winner of the 193
6 Pulitzer Prize for Gone With the Wind wrote an admiring letter to Rawlings that said the following: "There have been all too few writers like you in the past. Yours is truly an American gift" (Tarr 25). Such compliments were typical of the opinio
ns and the respect Rawlings held from her contemporaries. They admired her for her inspiration and writing talent. The best of her writing as seen in The Yearling, is close to the land and to those who she had a connection with. Through them she ha
s earned her place in American literature, and the American people in turn have been granted the fortune of her achievements as an outstanding writer.
Bigelow, Gordon, ed. Selected Letters of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. University Presses of Florida, Gainesville: 1983.
Bigham, Julia Scribner, ed. The Marjorie Rawlings Reader. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York: 1956.
Rawlings, Marjorie Kinnan. The Yearling. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York: 1938.
Silverthorne, Elizabeth. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Overlook Press, New York: 1988.
Tarr, Rodger, ed. Short Stories by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. University Press of Florida, Orlando: 1994.