Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This story demonstrates Jesse Stuart’s concern with both the education of and the difficulty of life for rural Americans, especially those out of the mainstream of cultural change. While the story seems on the surface to be about Dave Sexton, it is really the story of Dave’s father, Luster: the inappropriateness of his untutored response to the modern world, his anger caused by ignorance, and his willingness to change when given the opportunity to see the facts for himself. Stuart sympathizes, and would have the reader sympathize, too, with those who hold on to ways of life that are no longer quite appropriate—especially if their roughshod ways are redeemed by virtues that tend to be undervalued in more recent times. Luster represents country folk in general. He is ignorant and stubborn, but he is not unreasonable and uncompromising. He finally comes to recognize the value and the importance—indeed, the necessity—of the kind of education his son is receiving, especially Dave’s more detailed knowledge of the natural world. The isolation of rural life quickly makes social knowledge obsolete, but it nevertheless keeps those who lead this life in contact with the more elemental knowledge of life and death, of honesty and virtue.

Dave represents young people in rural society. He lives in two worlds at the same time: the outdated world of his parents and the more current world of his school environment and friends. His struggle, the tension of his...

(The entire section is 450 words.)