Old Yeller


Symbols and Themes

Acting like a Man—Acting like a man is Travis’ main preoccupation. Put in charge of the house by his father, Travis is eager to succeed and doesn’t like it when he sees an 11-year-old girl (Lisbeth) fulfilling the role almost as well as he had when he was healthy. The fact that Travis consoles his wounded pride by telling himself that he can hunt and mark hogs and swing an axe and she can’t indicates the importance of being valued as a “man.” In the end, Travis is congratulated by Papa for acting like a man. While this is what he wanted all along, the price, it seems, is steep; having had to do something as hard as killing his dog, Travis has stepped from childhood to adulthood and found the great gulf in between disorienting.

Hierarchy in Nature—There are several times in the novel when characters have to show their dominance over animals. Jumper the stubborn mule is one who must be beaten into submission. Spot the heifer is another one. Old Yeller learns his place beside Travis almost immediately. He recognizes that the humans are both his friends and his masters. Old Yeller understands this so well that he doesn’t even think twice about sacrificing himself to save the humans. The domesticated animals have a sense that man is the true king of the beasts. The wild animals, on the other hand, cannot so easily be broken and kept in line. One is constantly guarding oneself and one’s possessions from them. In this sense, the king of the beasts might be that animal which is strongest. Surely, for example, Travis and his family were no match for the fighting bulls, who were trying to establish their own dominance over the other. Yet, the bulls also showed a lack of intelligence that would hardly make them good candidates as king of the beasts. Perhaps the truest king is Old Yeller, for like a good king he serves those he loves and is willing to die for them. He has an intelligence (albeit, of course, inferior to man’s) and a heart that will not quit. Thus, one may consider the many ways...

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Essays About Old Yeller