Old Yeller


Chapter 1 to Chapter 4

Chapter 1

The first line of the book identifies the dog at the heart of the tale: “We called him Old Yeller.” The narrator of the story does not immediately reveal his own name directly to the reader, referring to himself by the first-person personal pronoun “I.” We later learn that his name is Travis. Travis is an interesting narrator because although this is a boy-and-his-dog story, it is told without sentimentality. In fact, Travis quickly shows a stark degree of anti-sentimentality when he states of his initial encounter with Old Yeller that the dog “made me so mad at first that I wanted to kill him. Then, later, when I had to kill him, it was like having to shoot some of my own folks.” Travis’ voice is similar to that of another American folk character, Mark Twain’s Huck Finn. Like Huck, Travis is a realistic, pragmatic boy, raised on the edge of civilization. Travis informs the reader that the dog is named Old Yeller for two reasons: He has a “dingy yellow” color, and when he opens his mouth he seems to “yell” rather than bark.

Travis sets the time of the novel in the late 1860s, which would make it post-Civil War America. His father leaves to get “cash money,” like many other Texans at the time, by selling cattle in Abilene, Kansas. Abilene is 600 miles away and is a journey that will take months. While the men of Salt Licks, Texas, the settlement of Travis and his neighbors, are away, the women and children must look after things.

Travis recalls the day Papa left. He admires his father for looking tall, straight and handsome, and for being strong and stern. He recalls his mother weeping because her husband was leaving, and how his little brother Arliss was weeping because he wanted to go, too. Travis gives his age as 14 and states that he was not about to cry because he wanted to look like a man like his father. Travis wants to be respected in his new role as “man of the family.” Papa tells Travis to take care of Mama...

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Essays About Old Yeller