Its “The Year of The Yearling,” the seventy-fifth-anniversary celebration of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s 1938 novel about a young boy whose pet deer unwittingly threatens the survival of his family farm.
The Yearling has been described as a magnificent, transparent, slow-moving river. Its style is direct and free of fireworks, its subjects planted at the beginnings of the sentences, solid as potatoes.In 1945 it was made into a motion picture starring Gregory Peck.
The Yearling reflects a world we’re losing, and does so in an orgy of carnage. Among the things killed and (mostly) eaten in the book are alligators, rabbits, deer, raccoons, squirrels, gopher tortoises (threatened), bass, bream, turkeys, foxes, possums, rattlesnakes, black bears (threatened), lynxes (endangered), panthers (endangered), curlews (endangered), and the last great wolf pack east of the Mississippi (critically endangered). Marjorie wrote of one of the final American frontiers, where nature hadn’t yet been swallowed by civilization, but she came at it with sympathy for the killers, the people who slaughter the beasts in order to survive, and these days that feels odd.
With the predators of Florida pretty much wiped out, and the deer population almost unmanageably large. Perhaps those who choose to remain will be the kind of gun-loving, off-grid survivalists to whom The Yearling’s own gun-loving, off-grid survivalists will speak loudly and beautifully.
Florida is the state where grown women impersonate mermaids for a living, where a family of egomaniacs is trying to build the nation’s largest private home (they’re calling it Versailles). Florida is where an armed adult can stand his ground before an unarmed teenager.
Because she concentrated her work in Florida, Marjorie is seen as a regionalist. In this country, literary tastemaking begins in New York City, and regionalists can appear diminished by sticking to one place that is perceived to be less important. Florence Turcotte, the archivist in charge of the Rawlings papers at the University of Florida, believes that Marjorie would have broken out of her regionalist reputation had she lived longer.
Students often have difficulty with the book. It is long, and there’s so much description. The plot is slow.
The average child who picked up The Yearling when it was released, during the Great Depression, would have heard the book speaking directly to him, in his world not unlike Jody’s, with hunger and poverty all around.
Steven Noll, another historian, sees the history of Florida as a battle against water up until 1970, with dredging and drying up the Everglades and handling mosquitoes and humidity; since then, the battle has been to keep the water that remains. By 1990, Florida had wiped out 46 percent of its wetlands, and the flora and fauna of the state suffered catastrophically. The aquifer is diminishing at an alarming rate, though the politicians in Tallahassee don’t seem to be noticing. The more that is pumped, the more brittle the limestone layer between the aquifer and the surface becomes, leading to more sinkholes. The more they deplete the freshwater aquifer, the more the salt water of the ocean will intrude, hastened by rising sea levels. Once polluted by salt water, freshwater deposits are gone forever. The state of Florida will no longer be able to support its agriculture, its tourism economy, or its population of 19.3 million.