Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction The Thread That Runs So True Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 607

In his preface to the 1958 edition of The Thread That Runs So True , Stuart makes clear that his book is intended as a testimony to teachers and the importance of teaching, which Stuart considers the greatest profession in the world because it nurtures all other professions. The book...

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In his preface to the 1958 edition of The Thread That Runs So True, Stuart makes clear that his book is intended as a testimony to teachers and the importance of teaching, which Stuart considers the greatest profession in the world because it nurtures all other professions. The book offers a case history of a young, vigorous, and idealistic person entering teaching under extremely difficult circumstances and learning from that experience. By the end of his story, Stuart, at the age of thirty-two, has served as elementary teacher, high-school teacher, principal, and school superintendent.

As a teacher, Stuart learned the importance of interesting students and involving them actively and competitively in a gamelike atmosphere. As a principal, he learned that parents and members of the community must become involved in fostering a learning environment in home and in school. As a superintendent, he learned the negative effects on teaching and learning of ill-informed interference, poor funding, and political conflict. He was devastating in his condemnation of the old trustee system and the dual system, which favored city systems and discriminated against rural schools. Stuart’s key for excellent education was to put interested, dedicated, and well-educated teachers in all classrooms.

Unfortunately, the Kentucky of his generation was an educational wasteland in which support for schools was sadly lacking. Stuart condemns a system that underpays and overworks teachers. He deplores the fact that the teachers of his day earned less money than illiterate workers in steel mills. At the same time, he praises the dedication of teachers who work tirelessly and imaginatively for meager pay, and sometimes, as in the Great Depression, for no pay at all during lengthy periods.

While the book is intended primarily for teachers and for the general public, it also appeals to young readers. The reasons for this appeal are evident. The protagonist is himself a teenager in his first teaching position, and most of the characters are young people. There is much dramatic action, including several fistfights in which Stuart thrashes oversized bullies. There are several academic competitions involving poor schools against larger rivals. There are several sports stories, some with comic overtones. There are inspiring success stories concerning underprivileged young people who raise themselves up through education and go on to achieve success in the world. Moreover, there is much for idealistic young people to admire in Stuart, as he walked twenty miles in snowy, subzero weather to get books for his bright but print-starved students.

Although Stuart has assured the public that the contents of The Thread That Runs So True are factual, the book resembles fiction. Stuart has altered most of the names of places and of persons beyond his own family, some of them only slightly, but the events portrayed are generally accurate. The characters are sharply drawn, often with the clear implication that they are either heroes or villains. In addition, the episodes are filled with dramatic conflicts in which good generally triumphs over evil.

The book has poetic qualities, beginning with its organization. The titles of the six parts are adapted from a play-song, “The Needle’s Eye,” which was sung by mountain children on the playground. Stuart finds much significance in the first two lines: “The needle’s eye that does supply/ The thread that runs so true.” For Stuart, “the needle’s eye” is the teacher, who must supply guidance and stimulate interest for students. “The thread that runs so true” is the work and play of the students themselves. The poetic qualities of the book extend to Stuart’s frequent use of metaphors drawn from the beautiful mountain area that he so clearly loves.

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