Old Yeller


Points to Ponder

1. Travis’ narrative is unsentimental. What is it about his perspective that allows him to tell his story without appealing first and foremost to the emotions?

Flannery O’Connor stated once that one of the sins against literature was sentimentality. By this she meant that sentimentality appeals first and foremost to the emotions and is designed to trigger an emotional response that is unworthy of the material. Travis’ narrative is unsentimental in the fact that it does not try to trigger undeserved emotions. If the story does cause the reader to weep or laugh or cry, it is a deserved reaction. The characters are true to life and are substantially fleshed out. The story is episodic but told with the eyes of a 14-year-old with a sharp intelligence and a desire to be good. Travis’ intention is not to make the reader feel anything at all, really, but rather to get the reader to see. There is the difference.

Old Yeller appeals primarily to the intellect. If it touches the emotions, it does so because our emotions are connected to our intellect. It does not attempt to bypass the intellect in order to stimulate unworthy feelings of grief, gladness, or longing for “the good old days.” It reflects a time and place as any work of art should do, and that includes the joys and sorrows and trials which Travis experiences in 1860s Texas. His perspective is one that is almost hard-boiled, a perspective that delights in relating the facts and is not interested in syrupy feelings or in unnecessary details. Old Yeller is not just a story about a dog; it is a story about a family and a way of life that once existed. It is a story about growing up, “acting like a man,” sacrificing oneself for the good of the whole. If one mistakes this for sentimentality, it is because he fails to see the intellectual processes behind these themes. Travis is a character of principle, raised by his father to know right from wrong, to keep a “handle on things,” and to be strong. Old Yeller is a helpmate in...

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Essays About Old Yeller