Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Suprising Ending to The Education of Little Tree

I'm almost finished reading The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter and surprisingly, my review of this little book may be the most controversial post I've written to date. The book is a very enchanting and sentimental tale of a young Cherokee boy orphaned and raised by his grandfather and grandmother in the 1930's. The book claims it is based on the real life events of the Native American author.

The story is poignant and insightful. It show the ugliness of racism and class warfare of the South in the middle of The Great Depression. The raw energy of hatred and fear mixed with humor and satire are close to classic writers like Twain and Flannery O' Connor. The book has a lot of truth in it, except for one thing.

The author is not Cherokee and his name is not Forest Carter, but is in fact Asa Earl Carter a well known White Supremacist and Klan leader. According to Wikipedia,

"he (Carter) worked as a speechwriter for segregationist Governor George Wallace of Alabama; founded the North Alabama Citizens Council (NACC) and an independent Ku Klux Klan group; and started the pro-segregation monthly titled The Southerner.
I found this book in a dusty box in our garage. It must have been for a class that I or my wife had in college. The title looked interesting so I started reading it with no prior knowledge of it's controversial origins.

The language is primitive and harsh but the story itself is endearing. But I always imagined the author was Caucasian. The style was just too magical and fantastical to be written by a Native American. It just didn't feel authentic.

When I got around to reading the introduction, it said nothing of it's real origins but portrayed what the author, Asa Earl Carter claims about the book, "Little Tree is Carter's autobiographical remembrances of life with his Eastern Cherokee Hill country grandparents."

Now a strange thing happens - in my mind; as I continue reading I now think the events in the book are accurate and the feelings are reflective of the Cherokee People of the time. So, you can imagine the mental gymnastic flips my brain did when today as I near the end of the book I find out it was written by a Southern White racist.

And here is the controversial part - I think the book is more profound and insightful because it was written by white, Asa Earl Carter and not Cherokee, Forest Carter. Of course it offers no insight into the mind or spirit of the Cherokee people but does show the split personality of man (Carter) who is desperately trying to run away from his past.

This novel is not mocking or trivializing - I believe it's an honest attempt to tell a truth about fear, politics and the all-consuming-machine of the civilized Western world. It reminds me of Studs Terkel's book American Dreams: Lost and Found. In that book, a Segregationist like Carter discovers the big lie of racism and tries to repent of his past.

Carter discovered he was the monster. He was the machine. I think he just cognitively checked-out and invented a new personality. He was the orphaned son of a Cherokee father. Maybe it when it's impossible to repair yourself - you just throw it away and invent a new self? The person you want to be rather than the person you are.

More Reading - - The education of Little Fraud
All Things Cherokee - The story behind The Education of Little Tree

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