Split Cherry Tree

by Jesse Stuart

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Explain the following quotation from Split Cherry Tree: "Make a gentleman out'n one boy in th' family and this is what you get! Send you to high school and you get too onery fer th' buzzards to smell!"

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This quote comes from the short story "Split Cherry Tree." It is spoken by the narrator's father and is in a regional Kentucky dialect.

The narrator has had to stay after school to work off the cost of replacing a cherry tree that he and his five high school peers have destroyed by climbing it to find a lizard for their science project. The narrator comes from a poor farm family and rushes home, knowing his father will be angry he has not been there on time to help with chores.

When he gets in, his father is predictably angry at him. In the quote, the father is saying that the son is putting on airs and thinking he can get away without working because he is the one person in the family being sent to high school. His father is implying it was a mistake to send him to get educated because he is starting to think he is superior to the rest of them. The father says he is too out of control or self-willed ("ornery") for the buzzards to smell him. Buzzards can smell dead human flesh: the father means that the son thinks that he is more than a mere human like the rest of them.

The statement shows how little the father understands his son's situation at school or his son's mindset. Not educated himself, the father has little idea what school is like for his son and wonders if sending him has been a waste of time when he could be working at home. The father also clearly feels threatened that the son will think he is better than the father for having more education.

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