The Education of Little Tree Analysis
by Forrest Carter

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The Education of Little Tree Analysis

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Although The Education of Little Tree was not written specifically for young adults, it has become popular with all age groups largely because of the balance between the naïveté of the narrator, Little Tree, and the quiet wisdom of Granpa, Granma, Willow John, and Mr. Wine—all of whom are more than seventy years old. The story is told from Little Tree’s first-person point of view with an innocent voice that relieves the author of the burden of objectivity. Little Tree identifies all unsympathetic outsiders as “politicians,” a category that includes everyone from college professors and social workers to Chicago gangsters.

Much of the humor comes from Little Tree’s innocent vision of bigotry and hatred. For example, in the first chapter, when Little Tree, Granma, and Granpa board a bus, the driver turns to his passengers, lifts his right hand, and says “How!” Everyone laughs in ridicule of the Native Americans, but Little Tree interprets the gesture and the laughter as genuine and friendly, a misinterpretation that even the youngest reader can penetrate.

In contrast to Little Tree’s naïve voice is the voice of the Cherokee, deeply spiritual and wise, that is present in the teachings of Granpa, Granma, Willow John, and Mr. Wine. It is also present in the poetic passages interspersed among the chapters, lyrical interludes that capture the underlying spirit of the prose. One such example is Pine Billy’s fiddle tune “Red Wing.” Another is the lullaby that Granma sings to Little Tree on his first night in the cabin, a comforting song that reassures him that all of nature has sensed his coming and welcomes him to the mountain: “And Little Tree will never be alone.”

As Carter defines Little Tree’s life in the mountains, the story becomes a chronicle of the Cherokee, with Granma and Granpa as examples of the few who did not acquiesce to the Cherokee removal but hid in the mountains and survived. In the tradition of Robert Newton Peck’s A Day No Pigs Would Die (1972) and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods

(The entire section is 535 words.)