Most of us have at least heard or read Forrest Carter's The Education of Little Tree, a book published in the 1970s. Initially, the book was meant to be an autobiography of a Cherokee boy raised in the hills of the Appalachian Mountains by his loving grandparents. The story is really touching, which is evident by the reaction of readers to the Indian spirituality and naturalist themes of the book. All this makes it very popular with the audience. Through the book's carefully selected title, the interest in literature about the Native Americans is evident. Further, it has grown into an independent genre in its own right. On the other hand, the title has also caused consistent controversies and debates.
The publisher's patience was rewarded when the University of New Mexico republished the book and watched it grow after ten years of the book's original publication. Carter's modest tome was finally settled five years later in Hollywood and took the second place in the New York Times' business book list (Carter 17).
Little Tree's eerie capacity not only to prevail but also to survive throughout the narrative is evident. As the story opens, a five-year-old main hero is seen in the company of his grandparents. The boy is leaving his mother's funeral, and the readers are informed that his father had died the previous year in the mountains of Tennessee, namely in the Cherokees hills, where their remote cabin lies. The grandparents commence a gentle initiation, give the boy the Indian name, Little Tree, and enlighten him on the way people have lived for years. Little Tree gets acquainted with their land customs.
The Cherokee worldview is seen by the apt image of the standards and customs that they hold dear to. For instance, this is evident from the way the grandfather of Little Tree teaches him. He uses the turkey-hunting expedition as an example. This way, he explains the reason behind some of their ways, saying.
Take only what we need it is the way, do not take the best, when we take the deer. Take the slower and smallest and the deer will not only give you meat but it will also grow strong. Ye must know this as pakoh, the panther already knows (Carter 9).
The education of Little Tree's familiars and discovery of the needs of the spirit and body lead him to the new world as well as to sisters and brothers: a quail-hen "Min-e-lee", "babbling stream" "Lay-nah" and little deer "Awiusdi". His grandmother's songs help to imagine this new universe. She teaches Little Tree that through listening to the voice of the talking wind and by hearing the streams, trees, deers and birds, he will not live by himself (Carter 42).
Even though Little Tree and his grandparents live in a complete harmony with nature, they oppose the outside world. Civilizations and the first encounters are often befuddling, painful and sometimes funny. Therefore, a mountain grandfather is absolutely unable to adapt or understand how the white people think or behave. When the government finally takes Little Tree to an orphanage, the initial innocence that was present in the grandfather's thinking leads to the tragic consequences. Fortunately, the boy is finally seen coming back home through the grandparents' persistence.
In my opinion, one of the most important aspects of the book is its strong appeal to express the underlying moral certainty, which is mainly done through the epic use of changing tones. Even though the folksy wisdom of grandparents sometimes felt a bit careless, it still served as a reminder of a guiltless era. Therefore, the author brought more sentimental side for both the older and younger generations of readers. Another thing that helped to create the necessary appeal in the book was the memoirs of Forrest Carter that describe the spirit and shape of the globe that most people consider lost (Carter 53).
However, the drawback of the book, in my opinion, lies in the controversies surrounding the author and initial aim of the book. We see that the author, Little Tree aka Asa Carter aka Forrest Carter, is described as a nasty person who managed to use deceit and lies to perpetuate the supremacy of the dominant White race. He presented the image of the dying Indians' culture as his life's ultimate agenda. The negative depiction can be seen as a form of malice. Even though he manages to force his views to some extent, I still think that there is a complete ignoring of the authors' associated ideas behind his words. One of them aims to advance the Cherokee people's education and way of life (Carter 87).
In conclusion, it is evident that there is an incredibly positive impact that has been made by the book. It has not been long since films and books depicting savage Indians' stereotypes colored in red paint became a social norm. The mere fact is that the plight of Indians' popular culture has been a controversial issue in America. In summary, I can say that the book is great in terms of life and themes addressed personally by the author as well as controversial cultural and historical debates.
Carter, Forrest. The Education of Little Tree. New York: UNM Press, 2001. Print.