David Bruce: Forrest Carter’s THE EDUCATION OF LITTLE TREE: A Discussion Guide — Chapters 1-3

Chapter 1: Little Tree

Why do Little Tree’s kinfolk put up a fuss when Little Tree wants to live with Granpa?

We can only guess here, but probably it’s because of prejudice against Indians, aka Native Americans. Throughout The Education of Little Tree, we will find prejudice against Indians. The Education of Little Treeis set in the 1930s, when there was still a lot of prejudice against Indians. Granpa is half Cherokee, while Granma is a full-blooded Cherokee.

Little Tree himself chooses to go with Granpa. He hugs Granpa’s leg and refuses to let go, even though his kinfolk try to take him away from Granpa.

What kind of a narrator is Little Tree?

Little Tree is a naive narrator. As a little boy, he frequently doesn’t understand what is happening around him. Thus, when the white adults are acting in a racist way, he doesn’t understand what they are doing.

We see this in the scene on the bus back to Granpa and Granma’s home. The bus driver raises his hand and says “How!” This causes everybody on the bus to laugh, and Little Tree is relieved because he thinks that this means all the people on the bus are friendly.

Little Tree is also naive when he sees a woman on the bus and thinks that she is ill because her eyes are black around their edges and her lips are blood-red. Of course, the woman is wearing makeup, but Little Tree doesn’t realize that. When the woman hollers “Wa … hoo!” and laughs, Little Tree thinks that the pain of her illness has passed.

What kind of a person is Granpa?

Granpa is illiterate. It is Granma who reads the destinations posted on the fronts of the buses. Granpa comments that “Granma could read fancy as anybody” (2). This shows that Granpa considers Granma’s reading worthy of comment, possibly because he himself can’t read.

We will learn that Granpa and Granma are not vegetarians. They eat meat, and Granpa is a hunter.

Granpa is a kind, considerate man, as we will learn in his interactions with Little Tree. When Granma tells him that Little Tree is growing tired, Granpa slows his pace. Little Tree, who as we know is naive, thinks that this means that Granpa is also growing tired.

Granpa is also patient. Although the people on the bus are racist, Granpa turns the other cheek. He doesn’t act angry; he simply ignores the racists.

What kind of a house does this family live in?

The house is made of logs. It is divided into two sections; in between the two sections is an open area in which the dogs can roam. On one side of the cabin is a large living area for cooking, eating, and sitting; on the other side are two small bedrooms, one for Little Tree and one for Granma and Granpa.

Chapter 2: The Way

What do we learn about Granpa in this chapter?

Once again, we learn about the considerate way in which Granpa treats Little Tree. He tells Little Tree that he can go with him on the high trail, but only if he wakes up by himself. However, although Granpa does not wake Little Tree, he gives Little Tree lots of help in getting up by being especially noisy that morning, bumping against Little Tree’s wall and talking loudly to Granma. Granpa is “surprised” when he finds Little Tree has gotten up by himself.

We also learn just how good a hunter Granpa is. He knows much about animal life. We certainly see that in the way that he traps turkeys. Granpa also gives names to the birds and animals. The names are apparently Cherokee names.

What is the Way?

Granpa does have a philosophy that justifies his hunting and puts it in harmony with Nature. After all, Granpa is like the hawk, a natural predator that kills a quail. Granpa sees the great circle of life. The hawk kills the slow quail, which keeps the slow quail from breeding and passing its genes on to the next generation. This helps the quail species to stay quick, although it doesn’t do any good for the slow quail. The hawk also helps the quail in other ways. By killing ground rats, which eat quail eggs — whether they are the eggs of fast or slow quail does not matter — the hawk helps the quail species to survive.

Similarly, Granpa is careful in his hunting to take only the weak and the slow. By killing (and eating) the weak members of a species, Granpa helps to ensure that the species will survive harsh winters, thus perpetuating the species so that Granpa can continue to eat during the next year. If Granpa were to kill the strongest members of a species, the species may not survive the winter.

Contrast this to white people. Most white hunters, if they are hunting deer and see a big deer and a little deer in a clearing, will shoot the big deer.

This is how Granpa describes the Way:

“Take only what ye need. When ye take the deer, do not take the best. Take the smaller and the slower and then the deer will grow stronger and always give you meat. Pa-koh, the panther, knows and so must ye.” (9)

Granpa knows how to learn from nature.

In addition, Granpa does not take more than he needs. He takes only what he needs, and that is all. He does not store up treasures on this Earth. According to Granpa, if you take more than you need, soon someone will come along and take what you have away from you, the way the bear and the Cherokee take honey away from bees. If you don’t have more than you need, you can better avoid this problem.

Granpa is also a fine teacher; he teaches by allowing the student to do. He allows Little Tree to choose which three of the six turkeys they have caught to keep to eat. Little Tree chooses the three smallest — Granpa then lets the other turkeys go. Granpa also shows that he is pleased with Little Tree by saying, “If ye was not Little Tree … I would call ye Little Hawk” (11).

Chapter 3: Shadows on a Cabin Wall

How literate are Granpa and Granma?

Granpa is illiterate; however, Granma is literate. The family borrows books from a public library. (They haven’t enough money to buy their own books; indeed, the family is quite poor when it comes to having money.) Granma and the family are quite fond of William Shakespeare, but the family doesn’t read modern authors. Mr. Shakespeare is always on the list that Granma writes for the librarian. The librarian ends up keeping a list of books that the family has read, because Granpa is illiterate and doesn’t remember the titles of the books that Granma has already read to the family. The librarian is quite nice; she sends books that the family may like, even though Granma doesn’t know the names of the authors (Shelley, Byron).

How open is the family about sex?

Sex is a part of life, and it is accepted. Granpa believes that the trouble in Macbethhappened because Macbeth was unable to keep Lady Macbeth satisfied in bed. If he had, she would not have caused the trouble.

What culture does Granpa have?

Granpa is both a Cherokee Indian and a mountain man. He is an Appalachian. All of us should ask ourselves whether we would like Granpa if we were to meet him. After reading this book, of course we like Granpa, but if we were to meet him without knowing who he is, there is a very good chance that we would dismiss him as an illiterate hillbilly.

Granpa is suspicious of the government. He runs a still, and he avoids paying taxes on his whiskey. (The still is very important in keeping the family financially sound.)

When Granma read about George Washington, she censored the book. She skipped the parts about George Washington fighting the Indians, and she unfortunately read about George Washington and the whiskey tax before she could catch herself. President Washington started a whiskey tax even though Thomas Jefferson advised him not to. This upset Granpa greatly.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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