How did Oaks Tutt die in "Oaks Tutt" from Spoon River Anthology?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Masters' Spoon River Anthology has a piece entitled, "Oaks Tutt."  However there is no mention of his death in this piece or anywhere else in the anthology.

Oaks Tutt's mother was a suffragette, it seems; his father was a rich man, and Oaks grew up dreaming of righting the wrongs of the world. After his father's death, Oaks travels the globe to learn how he can reform the world.  He travels to famous places, including the necropolis at Memphis.  There he is caught up by "wings of flame."  As a Biblical allusion, the prophets often used fire to do God's ("a voice from Heaven said to me...") work or were called by God, with fire. (Elijah called fire down from the sky; Moses hears God in the burning bush.)  Oaks Tutt is directed (by God) to fight for justice.

Returning home to say his goodbyes to his mother, the people of Spoon River notice the gleam in his eye and surmise what his intent is; so he is challenged by Jonathan Swift Somers to debate the statement "Pontious Pilate, the Greatest Philosopher of the World."  Giving the name of "Jonathan Swift Somers" to Oaks' "nemesis" would allude to Jonathan Swift, the famous English writer, satirist and critic, which is certainly not done by accident on Masters' part, but indicates that this man is out to break Oaks' spirit,or at the least, cast self-doubt onto his new-found purpose.

Tutt argues to the negative and loses to Somers.  At the end of the debate, Somers asks this final question of Tutt: "...of Pontius Pilate: 'What is Truth?'"

The allusion here is to Pilate's part in the crucifixion of Christ, when he washed his hands of Jesus' fate and turned him over to the Jewish leaders.  "What is Truth?" would then refer to the age-old debate of whether or not Pilate was at fault by stepping away from this explosive political situation, or if the Jewish elders were to blame.  It would seem that Somers is asking Tutt if he knows the truth, as truth may be a different thing depending on who you talk with, and/or whose perspective you study regarding a specific situation.

In the piece entitled "Oaks Tutt," there is no mention of his death, but Oaks is challenged to know the truth before he tries to tell the world what the truth actually is.  The deeper challenge, of course, is how can anyone know what the truth really is?

Read the study guide:
Spoon River Anthology

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