Split Cherry Tree

by Jesse Stuart

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Discussion Topic

Dave's relationships with Professor Herbert and his father in "Split Cherry Tree"

Summary:

In "Split Cherry Tree," Dave's relationship with Professor Herbert is initially strained but evolves into mutual respect as he learns the value of education. His relationship with his father, Pa, is based on traditional values and hard work, but Pa comes to understand and support Dave's educational pursuits after visiting the school and meeting Professor Herbert.

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Compare Dave's relationship with Professor Herbert and Pa in "Split Cherry Tree".

Dave's relationship with his Pa at the beginning of the story is based on a clear understanding that physical punishment awaited him if he crossed his father's ways or rules. "He might be called a little old-fashioned. He makes us mind him until we're twenty-one years old. He believes: 'If you spare the rod you spoil the child.'" Dave realizes why his Pa is the way he is, knowing that his Pa has had very little formal education but has formed strong opinions based on the life experiences he has had. "I wasn't ashamed of Pa. I wouldn't be as long as he behaved."

By the end of the story, however, Dave has gained insight into his father's values and is proud of the way Pa handles himself.

I'm behind, Dave. I'm a little man. Your hands will be softer than mine. Your clothes will be better. You'll allus look cleaner than your old Pap. Jist remember, Dave, to pay your debts and be honest. Jist be kind to animals and don't bother th' snakes.

Dave sees Professor Herbert as someone who doesn't understand the kind of home situation Dave has. He feels that Professor Herbert is too isolated from the kind of life Dave leads to understand the hardship he is imposing when he requires Dave to stay at school late to work off his debt. 

Professor Herbert really didn't know how much work I had to do at home. If he had known he would not have kept me after school...He had never lived in the hills. He didn't know the way the hill boys had to work so that they could go to school.

After Professor Herbert and Pa meet, Dave is relieved to realize that Professor Herbert is more understanding than he had thought. "I'm going to cancel the debt," says Professor Herbert. "I just wanted you to understand, Luster."

In the end, Dave realizes he looks up to both men, for different reasons. He appreciates Professor Herbert's understanding and compassion; he appreciates Pa's ability to learn and his honesty.

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What does Prof. Herbert's address to Dave's father in "Split Cherry Tree" suggest about his intentions?

When an irate Luster Sexton accompanies Dave to the high school, Professor Herbert is accosted by Pa, but he remains calm and civil, and speaks warmly to him.

When Dave and Pa arrive early at the school, Dave is very anxious because he is worried about what his father may do since he has carried a gun with him. When Pa sees Dave's teacher, he accosts him, "You're th' Professor here, ain't you?" and Professor Herbert replies, "Yes...and you are Dave's father." 

This addressing of Pa as "Dave's father" indicates that Professor Herbert has individualized the man. That is, rather than calling him the impersonal title of "Mister," Professor Herbert demonstrates a personal warmth in attaching Dave's name to Luster Sexton. Clearly, Prof. Herbert makes a sincere effort to put Luster at ease. Nevertheless, Luster aggressively questions the teacher about the circumstances of the incident with the cherry tree. Furthermore, Luster even threatens Herbert by showing him his "long blue forty-four" and standing close to him:

Pa stood there, big, hard, brown-skinned and mighty, beside of Professor Herbert.

Professor Herbert maintains his composure, however, and tells Luster, "I was only doing my duty...and following the course of study the state provided us with." Further, he reasons with Luster, explaining in detail and pointing to the logic of what he did with the class outdoors on the day in question, and how he had to punish Dave in a different way from the other boys.

Despite all his ire, Luster is still reasonable, and Prof. Herbert discerns quickly that he can explain things to Luster in the hope of ameliorating matters. By calmly addressing Luster in a cordial manner, and by taking him around the school and demonstrating newer teaching methods, Professor Herbert wins over "Dave's father."

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