Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Biography Series The Thread That Runs So True Analysis
In his preface to the 1958 edition of The Thread That Runs So True, Stuart makes clear that his book is intended as a testimony to teachers and the importance of teaching, which Stuart considers the greatest profession in the world because it nurtures all other professions. The book offers a case history of a young, vigorous, and idealistic person entering teaching under extremely difficult circumstances and learning from that experience. By the end of his story, Stuart, at the age of thirty-two, has served as elementary teacher, high-school teacher, principal, and school superintendent.
As a teacher, Stuart learned the importance of interesting students and involving them actively and competitively in a gamelike atmosphere. As a principal, he learned that parents and members of the community must become involved in fostering a learning environment in home and in school. As a superintendent, he learned the negative effects on teaching and learning of ill-informed interference, poor funding, and political conflict. He was devastating in his condemnation of the old trustee system and the dual system, which favored city systems and discriminated against rural schools. Stuart’s key for excellent education was to put interested, dedicated, and well-educated teachers in all classrooms.
Unfortunately, the Kentucky of his generation was an educational wasteland in which support for schools was sadly lacking. Stuart condemns a system that underpays and...
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Masterplots II: Nonfiction Series The Thread That Runs So True Analysis
Jesse Hilton Stuart wrote some thirty books about Kentucky during his lifetime. He crafted his love for his home state into poetry, novels, and the numerous short stories for which he is especially famous. He wrote two autobiographical works in addition to The Thread That Runs So True, Beyond Dark Hills (1938) and The Year of My Rebirth (1956). The first of these, Beyond Dark Hills, was truly an exploration of self. During Stuart’s year of graduate study at Vanderbilt University, his English instructor had assigned a “brief autobiography” with an eighteen-page limit. In eleven days, Stuart wrote 322 pages, “from margin to margin,” because “I couldn’t tell Dr. Edwin Mims what I wanted to tell him in eighteen pages.” The manuscript was eventually published as his fourth book.
The Thread That Runs So True appeared after many of Stuart’s stories and novels had been published. Like his fiction, it incorporates a profound love for nature, an appreciation for the soft rhythm and colorful metaphor of the Kentucky hill people’s speech, and a pride in human accomplishment. The audience for this work, however, was very different. In a post-World War II world, Stuart was making an eloquent and pointed protest to those who controlled the fate of public education in Kentucky and across the nation. The son of an illiterate father and a mother with only a second-grade education, Stuart wrote in his 1958 preface to The Thread That Runs So True, “I know as surely as I live and breathe the positive proof of what education can do for a man.” This work, then, is at once a plea for education and a testimony to its power. In it, Stuart acknowledges the important encouragement he received from his parents, teachers, and students: “I felt I could repay them by inspiring other youth. This means more to me than all the money in the world.”
Stuart’s natural ability as a writer is especially apparent in this book, with its skillful combination of narrative and analytical prose. It is a work that functions effectively at three levels. At its most basic, it is masterful storytelling. The characters described are interesting and recognizable; their conversation is colorful and holds attention. At this level, The Thread That Runs So True is a collection of integrated short stories, perfect for schoolchildren and readers of all ages. It allows readers to compare the problems of the Kentucky schoolchildren with their own and to be inspired by what these children were able to accomplish, despite the most primitive and impoverished circumstances. As Stuart intended, these stories are testimony to the love of learning. Just as important, they are fun and dramatic. As single selections or as a whole, The...
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Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Biography Series)
This autobiography has been one of Stuart’s most popular books. Its initial reception was quite positive, particularly among those interested in the improvement of education. In 1950, the National Education Association voted The Thread That Runs So True “the most important book in 1949.” The work has enjoyed steady sales over the years and remained in print decades after its initial publication.
The book’s popularity can be attributed to its strong and important message and particularly to Stuart’s method of communicating that message. Readers see Stuart’s courage, idealism, dedication, and love of learning (and by extension, that of other excellent teachers), and they also see the greed, ignorance, moral blindness, and political corruption that can get in the way of teaching and learning. Stuart’s message is not couched in the abstract language of bureaucrats but in the language of poetry, which sings to readers. Most important, The Thread That Runs So True is not a sermon but a story, sharing the attractive qualities of fiction to the extent that one critic characterized the book as an “autobiographical novel.” Some critics have compared Stuart’s work to Edward Eggleston’s The Hoosier Schoolmaster (1871) for its long-term value as both entertainment and inspiration.
While Stuart’s message is profound, it is also simple enough to be understandable and attractive to young readers, who appreciate its strong dramatic action, its humor, and its portrayal of the virtuous underdog often triumphing over avarice, stupidity, and political corruption. These attractive elements probably account for the fact that excerpts from The Thread That Runs So True have been anthologized in high-school textbooks over the years.
Critical Context (Masterplots II: Nonfiction Series)
Because of Jesse Stuart’s stature as a unique and beloved author, The Thread That Runs So True has an assured place in American literature. What makes this work especially noteworthy is Stuart’s use of it to make his case for public school education. Seldom have professional educators had at their side an author of such repute and, even more important, such wide and verifiable experience in the schools. Stuart has used his material strategically, couching it in writing so enjoyable that students, teachers, parents, administrators, and politicians can see the importance of their role in public education without being alienated by dull or preachy writing. In his selection of events and personalities, Stuart manipulates both his materials and his readers to make his case.
Stuart presented this work at a time when the nation was prepared to deal with the problem of illiteracy. Published in 1949, when the nation was recovering from decades of economic depression and war, The Thread That Runs So True reached a national audience eager to address the issues of education. Accordingly, the book was brought into the classroom by multitudes of teachers and was placed on recommended-reading lists. Students were inspired, teachers encouraged, and general readers informed by this gentle and enjoyable expose. For contemporary readers, The Thread That Runs So True remains a masterful example of the writer’s craft. It captures for all time the essence of the Appalachian heritage and remains an eloquent statement of the value of public education.