Old Yeller Analysis

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Old Yeller is a coming of age novel set in 1860s Texas that details the relationship between the Coates family, especially the 14-year-old son, Travis, and a stray dog named Old Yeller. The dog is named both for his dingy yellow coat (“yeller” as pronounced in the southern accent that permeates the narrative) and his bark, which sounds more like a yell than the standard animal call. Yeller comes into the Coates family’s life after Jim, the father of the family, leaves on a cattle drive to Kansas. Before he leaves, Jim tells Travis that he is now the man of the house until he returns home, a designation which motivates Travis to take responsibility and make sacrifices for the good of his family. If Travis can prove himself worthy of the designation of being a man, his father promises to give him a man’s horse.

Although the Coates family is at the center of the narrative, it is Travis’ relationship with Yeller that is the focus. When Yeller is first introduced, Travis not only finds him to be a nuisance but actively despises him. The first time the dog is seen by Travis and the reader is the day after Jim has left the family. Yeller has devoured a piece of meat that the family was about to prepare for a meal. Yeller continues to cause trouble, with only younger brother Arliss’ devotion to him keeping Travis from pushing him away from the household.

Travis changes his stance only after Yeller displays his singular heroism and instinct. Arliss, for whom collecting critters is
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