Split Cherry Tree

by Jesse Stuart

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Why is Dave late returning home in the short story "Split Cherry Tree"?

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Dave's returning home late because he was kept behind at school by the principal, Professor Herbert. Dave and a group of other boys broke a neighbor's cherry tree when they were out on a school field trip. He can't afford to pay for the tree's damage so Herbert makes him stay behind at school as punishment. For most children, this would be bad enough, but for Dave it's virtually unbearable. He lives on a farm and needs to help his dad with the chores.

We can see one of the story's main themes at work here: the tension between the demands of traditional rural ways and the needs of modern education. Dave's splitting of the cherry tree also symbolizes that tension, as he only climbed the tree—a vital part of the rural landscape—in the first place as he was out and about on a school field trip.

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Dave Sexton wishes he hadn't followed his five friends in climbing a tree during a school field trip in Jesse Stuart's short story, "Split Cherry Tree." When the tree splits and owner Eif Crabtree reports the matter to the teacher, Professor Herbert directs all six boys to pay $1 each as damages for the tree. Since Dave cannot afford to pay the dollar, Professor Herbert directs him to spend four hours after school (at 25 cents per hour) working with the janitor to pay his share. Dave begs the professor to whip him instead, since he knows that

"Pa will whip me anyway for getting home two hours late."
    "You are too big to whip," says Professor Herbert, "and I have to punish you for climbing up in that cherry tree. You boys knew better than that!"

Dave also knows his dad well. When Dave reports late for his own chores on the farm, his father, Luster, decides to pay Professor Herbert a visit himself--armed with a gun.

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