{August 16, 2012}   Little Tree

I read, “The Education of Little Tree” 10 years ago, before learning that the author, Forrest Carter, was actually the white segregationist, Asa Carter,  hiding from his shameful past.  He wrote by the name “Forrest” and denied his identity as “Asa”. He claimed that Little Tree was his memoir, addressing the impact of discrimination he experienced as a Cherokee boy raised by his illiterate grandparents in North Carolina. Curious subject matter for a former segregationist. But, as Wikipedia states, ” For fans who know of the controversy, many take the position of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who argued that Little Tree can be appreciated for its message of tolerance and its other qualities, despite the biography of its creator.”

I am one of those fans. I believe that people can have a change of heart, that they can learn from the horrible errors of their past and can go on to do good work.

Read the passages of “Little Tree” (pg. 59, 60) below and see if you agree.

“Granma said everybody has two minds. One of the minds has to do with the necessaries for body living. You had to use it to figure how to get shelter and eating and such like for the body. She said you had to use it to mate and have young’uns and such. She said we had to have that mind so we could carry on. But she said we have another mind that had nothing atall to do with such. She said it was the spirit mind./Granma said if you used the body-living mind to think greedy or mean; if you was always cuttin’ at folks with it a figuring how to material profit off’n them…then you would shrink up your spirit mind to a size no bigger’n a hickor’nut./Granma siad that when your body died, the body-living mind died with it, and if that’s the way you had thought all your life, there you was, stuck with a hickor’nut spirit, as the spirit mind was all that lived when everything else died. Then, Granma said, when you was born back–as you was bound to be–then there you was, born with a hickor’nut spirit mind that had practical no understanding of anything./Then, it might shrink up to the size of a pea and could disappear, if the body-living mind took over total. In such case, you lost your spirit complete./That’s how you become dead people. Granma said you could easy spot dead people. She said dead people, when they looked at a woman, saw nothing but dirty; when they looked at other people they saw nothing but bad; when they looked at a tree they saw nothing but lumber and profit, never beauty. Granma said they was dead people walking around./Granma said that the spirit mind was like any other muscle. If you used it it got bigger and stronger. She said the only way it could get that way was using it to understand, but you couldn’t open the door to it until you quit being greedy and such with your body mind. Then understanding commenced to take up and the more you tried to understand, the bigger it got./Natural, she said, understanding and love was the same thing; except folks went at it back’ards too many times, trying to pretend they loved things when they didn’t understand them. Which can’t be done….Granma said I could watch some of how it worked from my secret place… ”

Ah, Cherokee wisdom. Despite his past, Forrest Carter undertook the task to redeem himself by writing “The Education of Little Tree”. I believe he achieved his goal.



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