Summary – Chapter One, Chapter Two and Chapter Three
This novel uses a first-person narrator throughout and begins with the narrator (Billy Colman) as an adult as he describes a dogfight. He understands from the noise that several dogs are involved and when he moves out of the way of them he notices that the group are fighting just one dog.
As he decides to help break it up, an old redbone hound rears up out of the mass and fights his way through the pack. The narrator struggles as he watches this as it reminds him of events from the past when ‘an old hound like that had given his life so that I might live’.
The narrator takes off his coat and scares the attacking dogs off by waving it at them and by shouting. When they leave, he coaxes the hound out from the hedge wherein he has hidden. He sees the dog is starved and that he is a hunting hound. He notes the pads on his paws are worn down (and so has come a long way) and is wearing a home made collar with ‘Buddie’ scratched into it.
Seeing this dog brings back ‘wonderful’ memories and to thank him he feeds and bathes him. He also rubs the soreness from his muscles. The dog sleeps there that night and most of the next day and sets off again that evening after licking his hand and whimpering. After he leaves, he thinks of the dog making his way back home and believes ‘with the help of God, he would make it’. He then remembers his childhood, and an old K.C. Baking Powder can and two little red hounds.
He enters his yard and decides not to lock the gate in case the dog returns. Inside, he builds a fire and lights his pipe. He notices his two cups in the light and gets up and takes them down from the mantelpiece. The larger one gleams with a golden sheen and the other one is smaller and is made of silver. He ends the chapter by relating how there is a story in these cups and it is one that goes back for more than half a century.
Chapter Two begins with the narrator, Billy, at the age of 10 when he is first ‘infected’ with puppy love. He wants two dogs and they have to be a special kind and a special breed. He wants coon hounds but his father says they cannot afford them right now and his mother agrees.
He describes how they live in the finest hunting country in the world, in the Ozark Mountains, and they are on land that was allotted to his mother ‘because of the Cherokee blood that flowed in her veins’. This is fertile land and his father was the first to stick in the point of a turning plough into the virgin soil. He has hunted from the time he could walk having caught lizards, rats and frogs and is called a ‘young Daniel Boone’.
He repeatedly asks his parents for dogs and they say again that they cannot afford them. He begins to lose weight with this desire; however, he overhears his parents saying how little money they have and he relents and asks for just one instead of two. His father sits him down and explains how they have little money, and the narrator cries that night.
The next day his father comes home with three small steel traps for him. After catching their cat and then a prized hen, his father tells him to go out to the back of the fields and here he catches possums, skunks, rabbits and squirrels and tacks their hides to the smokehouse wall.
At first he is content with just the traps, but before long he hankers after having hounds again. At hunting time he barely sleeps as he listens for the hounds. His mother notices he looks unwell, as he has not been sleeping, and his father says he needs exercise. He tells him he will be working with him in the fields that summer and the narrator is delighted to be treated like a man at the age of almost 11.
Chapter Three continues with the theme of the Billy’s desire for hunting hounds and he explains that God lends him a helping hand. Some fishermen have visited the area and when they leave he finds a magazine they have forgotten. Here, he sees an advertisement selling redbone coon hound puppies for 25 dollars each. He prays to God to help him get two of these puppies.
On his walk home he decides to work and save the money himself. He has only 23 cents at the moment and finds a can to use as a savings bank. This is an old K.C. Baking Powder can and after washing it he drops his money in it.
To make money, he sells bait to fishermen and huckleberries to his grandfather. In the winter, he ‘traps’ and his grandfather sells the hides of the animals he catches in his store.
The next summer he follows the same routine and by the time he is 12 he has collected over 27 dollars. The following year he reaches the target of 50 dollars. After he counts the money and puts the can back in the hiding place in the loft it seems to glow ‘with a radiant whiteness’ that he has not seen before. He thinks of the prayer he has said before, and thinks God has helped him.
He takes the money to his grandfather’s store on the following day, and his grandfather looks astounded and visibly moved at the amount and how he has saved this over two years. His grandfather says how they will firstly get in touch with these kennels in Kentucky and reassures him that if they have not got any puppies they will try somewhere else. His grandfather gives him a bulging sack of candy to take home and he shares this with his sisters. On his grandfather’s advice, he does not mention the dogs yet.
Analysis – Chapters One, Two and Three
Chapter One is used to set the scene of the forthcoming events and introduces the readers to the adult narrator, Billy Colman. The story of the dogfight and how this triggers memories of the past is a useful technique for taking the narrative back to his childhood and to the story of his redbone coon hounds.
Even at this early stage, it is also strongly suggested that the tale that is about to unfold is one that is fraught with emotional upset. This occurs when he explains that ‘an old hound like that had given his life so that I might live’. Because of this statement, a hint to future events – prolepsis – is given and the readers are warned prematurely of a forthcoming death.
The early chapters concerned with Billy’s childhood also help to establish his characterization. He is depicted here and throughout the rest of the novel as a hard-working, loyal and god-fearing adolescent, and this is epitomized in his desire to earn the money to buy the desired dogs.