Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Forrest Carter’s The Education of Little Tree begins in the winter of 1930, when Little Tree is orphaned at the age of five and goes to live with Granma and Granpa Wales in the mountains near Chattanooga, Tennessee. The chapters are largely episodic, with more emphasis on the daily lives of Granma, Granpa, and Little Tree than on narrative movement and action, though humor and excitement abound. The grandparents are depicted as loving and nurturing guardians who are sensitive to the needs of their five-year-old charge.

As the title promises, the focus of the book is on the education of Little Tree—his formal education and his introduction to “The Way” of the Cherokee. Although Granpa was illiterate, on winter evenings Granma read aloud such classics as William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (15991600) and Macbeth (16051606) and Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (17761788). In addition, each week Little Tree learned five new words from the dictionary, making up sentences with the words and working his way through the alphabet. Mr. Wine, a Jewish peddler, helped him with math. In these ways, his grandparents took great care with his formal education. More important, however, was his instruction in “The Way” of the Cherokee, which became the core of Little Tree’s schooling—Cherokee history, philosophy, and life.

Little Tree’s first year in the mountains...

(The entire section is 462 words.)