Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Education of Little Tree (by Forrest Carter)

I decided to wait until I had attended our Book Club meeting before I wrote my review of this book. Then, fiasco hit and I was unable to stay for the Book Club meeting and never got back on to write about the book.

I did learn quite a bit from the few minutes I was there about the author and while this knowledge is a bit disappointing, it does not take away from the lessons that can be learned from Little Tree.

The book's introduction touts it as an autobiographical account of the author's life with his grandparents. The truth is that Forrest Carter was born Asa Earl Carter and was a known segreagationalist and unofficial speech writer for George Wallace. It is unknown if there is any Cherokee ancestry for him to claim. Though many claimed he was Asa Carter, the author denied these claims. And though he was indeed Asa Carter, can anyone wonder at his decision to deny his identity? It is quite possible that he recognized the wrongs he had done and, in making a break from that life, simply decided to denounce the man he had been and allow himself a new life.

The book, now known to be a fictional account of a young Cherokee boy raised by his grandparents, offers many life lessons. It does portray the white man critically and embellishes the Cherokee Way. But as I look at the world we now live in, the book invoked a desire to return to a society in which decisions were not dicated by the almighty dollar.

Lessons Learned

Children will learn by example and by doing. Many times throughout the book, Little Tree learns how to do things because his grandpa does them with him. Though Little Tree is only five years old at the start of the book, and has lost both his parents, he is not coddled or mollified into being useless. He is expected to work, but not alone. He and grandpa till the field, make whiskey, carry their wares to the store, gather nuts, berries, and other food, and collect wood. He is not expected to do much, but he is given the opportunity to do his full share. As he and grandpa get older, the tables turn and Little Tree now takes on a greater portion of the burden and grandpa's abilities lessen.

The only way you will learn is through experience. As parents, we often want to protect our children from the harshness of the world. We want to limit their exposure to failure, greed, cheats, and bad judgments. Yet, if they are to truly learn, we cannot shield them from the bad parts of life. Little Tree is paid for the work he does with his grandpa and saves up with the intention to purchase a present for his grandma. However, at market one day, he chooses to purchase a calf from a young man claiming to be a Christian. He gives all his money (50 cents) in exchange for the calf. Unfortunately, the calf is sick and doesn't even make it back up the mountain. His grandpa explains that he had to let him make the purchase so that future purchases would be made with more caution.

Teaching a man is better than providing for the man. This is the old adage "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." This is one of those lessons that I wish more people would learn - especially our government leaders. I received an email about a woman on welfare who was complaining because her house wasn't good enough and her television wasn't a plasma. She had lived in government housing since she was born and had worked for only one year. She claimed the experience was so horrible, she just couldn't do it anymore. Heaven forbid she provide for herself.

It's Not All Good

Although the book was enjoyable, I disliked the way it portrayed "civilized man." The lesson that Little Tree failed to learn was that you can't just lump everyone into a category. If a person was dressed up, he was automatically a politician and you couldn't trust him. Religious people were scoffed at simply because different factions disagreed on religious points. The young man selling the calf claimed to be Christian and the lesson Little Tree got out of that experience was to never trust a Christian.

I would give the book 3 out of 5 stars. It's a quick read, once you get into it. It offers some great lessons, but remember that the book is told from the point of view and a 5-8 year old so some of the lessons and observations are skewed.

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