The Education of Little Tree

On the surface this novel is the story of an orphaned Cherokee boy, who is raised in the moun- tains by his wise Granpa and Granma. In this warm and loving “coming of age” story, Little Tree learns about life, death, and man’s relationship to nature. This sometimes hilarious novel highlights the importance of family and family history to a young boy.

By the end of this Unit, the student will be able to:

  1. define vocabulary words from the story.
  2. point out examples of the following literary devices:
    • alliteration
    • personification
    • sensory images
    • allusion
    • stereotype
    • simile
    • flat character
    • inference
    • flashback
    • paradox
    • symbolism
    • theme
    • allegory
  3. recognize that this is an episodic novel and discuss the extent to which each chapter is a complete story with all five plot elements.
  4. point out the incidents in this novel that satirically poke fun at politicians and at religion.
  5. discuss the hunting terminology used in this story; include: “dens up,” “hot trail,” “bluffer dog,” “swapping out,” “cheater hound.”
  6. point out instances of irony in the story.
  7. give the context for the following life lessons Little Tree learns from his grandparents:
    • If a person speaks to you, give that person your full attention.
    • If you find something good, share it with others so the good will spread out.
    • Anything in life that is pleasurable also comes with some kind of pain.
    • A man must rise on his own in the morning.
    • People who are ruled by their feelings rather than by good sense often make fools of themselves.
    • It is important to understand the past in order to understand the future.
    • It is important to listen to a person’s tone instead of just listening to the words.
    • Everyone must have a feeling of self-worth.
    • A man cannot cheat without making trouble.
    • In time, a person forgets the pain of loss and only remembers the love.
  8. define everyday words and phrases used in the dialect of mountain folk; include: “I kin ye,” kinfolks, “law-dogs,” “bust up,” “Laying-by,” “jumped teeth.”
  9. discuss the significance of the Trail of Tears and how knowledge of it helps Little Tree understand his Indian heritage.
  10. point out instances when the author uses descriptions of nature as metaphors to describe a character.
  11. discuss the differences between Little Tree’s “spirit-mind” and his “spirit-body,” including the importance of Little Tree’s “secret place.”
  12. point out examples of superstitions in the story including the significance of the different species of birds, the rules for planting, and how to determine when to pick a watermelon.
  13. discuss whether or not the story about the Union soldier and the Confederate family is an allegory for the destructive role of government in the lives of ordinary people.
  14. discuss the extent to which the Indians in this story are stereotypical rather than accurate, realistic representatives of Cherokee Indians.
  15. cite incidents from the story which are bigger than life, unrealistic, or more like legends than life.
  16. discuss the extent to which Mr. Wine is a stereotypical Jewish man, the ways he contributes to Little Tree’s education, and the significance of Mr. Wine’s candle.
  17. cite incidents that support the coming of age theme in this story.
  18. discuss the ways Granpa teaches Little Tree to handle the bigotry of others.
  19. comment on the morality of the trade and work ethic Granpa is teaching Little Tree.
  20. discuss the life lessons the dogs in the story teach Little Tree.
  21. point out the significance of the marriage stick to in the lives of Indians.
  22. discuss, the extent to which the following are symbols in the story.
    • Willow John
    • Wilburn
    • Little Tree’s yellow jacket
    • the mountain
    • ol’ Sam
  23. discuss the Indian way of giving and receiving gifts as portrayed in the story.
  24. discuss the Cherokee belief called “The Way.”
  25. in light of the book’s format, point out why this book is a novel, not an autobiography.