Like many people my age, I have been familiar with The Yearling for most of my life; however, I had never taken the time to read it. A few months ago, I heard Andrew Peterson make mention of the novel in several of the songs on his new album, so I decided to give it a try.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ classic work is often thought of as a children’s book or even adolescent literature. While it is something that will appeal to a child or young adult, the overarching themes of the book are certainly most appreciated by adults. There are some exciting hunts and humorous scenes that will be enjoyed by all ages, but these are mere brush strokes of the artist, painting a larger portrait. The portrait is complete at the end of the novel when we listen in on a man-to-man talk between the father, Penny Baxter, and the son, Jody. We hear explicit statements about the hard life that Rawlings has illustrated so well throughout the novel.
Rawlings presents in a very subtle way, a parallel to the return of the prodigal son parable. She gives us the emotions and thoughts of a young man struggling with his place and his role in life. She gives us the most simple, yet profound, sentence in the novel: “He was wanted.” This sweet realization stands equal with the ring, the robe and the fatted calf of the biblical story.
I sense that many of my generation are wrestling with the disappointing truth that the vast majority of us have been raised as consumers, without much training in productivity or self-sufficiency. Getting a glimpse into the world of the Baxters makes me aware of how easy our everyday lives are compared to that of our ancestors. Theirs was a simpler life, but more difficult than we can imagine. It was a life that demanded wisdom, prudence, strength, and trust—a life from which we can learn much.