Nothing but the Truth Essay - Critical Essays

Edward Irving Wortis

Nothing but the Truth Summary

In Nothing but the Truth, budding track star Philip butts heads with his new English teacher, Miss Narwin. He's suspended after his "disrespectful" humming of the National Anthem. This causes a media storm in which he's falsely dubbed a patriot.

  • Philip needs to pass English to stay on the track team. He doesn't like reading, however. He disrupts class with dumb jokes and disrespectful behavior. Miss Narwin finally reprimands him for humming rudely to the National Anthem.

  • Philip is suspended for his behavior. Newspapers pick up on the story, casting him as a hero and Miss Narwin as an unpatriotic tyrant. Miss Narwin gets suspended despite the fact that she is a popular and talented teacher.

  • Philip's classmates get mad at him because of Miss Narwin's suspension. He refuses to go back and later transfers to a private school. When his teacher asks him to lead them in the National Anthem, he finally admits the truth: he doesn't know the words.

Analysis

Avi’s Nothing but the Truth is told through a series of documents, including school policy statements, conversations, diary entries, telephone conversations, newspaper articles, transcripts of a talk show, letters, and memoranda. When Philip Malloy’s low English grade prevents him from joining the track team, he creates a disturbance during homeroom in order to be transferred to a more sympathetic teacher. Philip’s juvenile stunt of loudly humming along as the national anthem is played on the loudspeaker during school opening exercises is blown out of all proportion. The author shows how through a series of misrepresentations, misperceptions, and hasty conclusions, the alleged facts of the incident are used by a political candidate as evidence in a crusade for increased morality in the schools. The national news media make matters even worse as they join the parade of misunderstanding that obscures the real truth. There are ramifications to Philip’s actions: The career of a popular and highly respected teacher is jeopardized through innuendo, and Philip is forced to transfer to a school without a track team.

Nothing but the Truth presents a stark picture of the self-centered thinking of the young, the preoccupations and poor listening skills of parents and teachers, the prejudice and posturing of politicians, the timidity of school administrators, and the hasty and shortsighted assumptions of journalists. While all these people pay lip service to high ideals and patriotism, their actions raise important questions about the believability of what is said, reported, and written. This story challenges the reader to think carefully about human communication and value systems.