What is the central idea of The Palace Thief by Ethan Canin?

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The main point that Ethan Kanin is trying to convey is that no one is immune to corruption. Even people who consider themselves dedicated to living according to the highest ethical standards are susceptible to hypocrisy and immorality.

Professor Hundert enters the teaching profession with high ideals and lofty goals....

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The main point that Ethan Kanin is trying to convey is that no one is immune to corruption. Even people who consider themselves dedicated to living according to the highest ethical standards are susceptible to hypocrisy and immorality.

Professor Hundert enters the teaching profession with high ideals and lofty goals. He takes very seriously his mission to educate the boys in his charge. He becomes so concerned over Sedgwick Bell Jr.’s poor performance in class that he even travels to Washington to meet with his father, Sedgwick Sr.

During the exam, when the boy seems to have turned the corner and is performing well, at first Hundert believes he has succeeded in his mission. However, he soon realizes that Bell is cheating. His first instinct is to expose his transgression, but the headmaster advises him not to do so.

Hundert must then admit to himself that his standards were not absolutes. He wants to keep his job. Hundert rationalizes that he can do more good for many more boys if he stays in his position. But he also must admit to himself that he is ambitious, not just practical. He does not just want a job, he wants a career—and one at this prestigious school. His cowardice in not exposing the boy’s cheating is as bad as the cheating itself.

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