“This American Life” recently featured the little-known backstory of Forrest Carter, author of the book The Education of Little Tree. The book has become a modern classic and is read in high school literature classes across the country.
“The American Life” traces the genesis of this book through the dark past of its author Forrest Carter. The result is a riveting piece of Southern history. But it is also a story about hermeneutics. Perhaps what it illustrates above all is the central role that authorial intent plays in our interpretation of texts. Is The Education of Little Tree a story of humanity and conservation, or is it a thinly veiled tribute to Jim Crow racism? I don’t know if we know the answer to that question. But the answer really does come down to what the author intended when he wrote it. Once you hear the author’s story, there is more than a reasonable doubt about his good intentions.
You can listen to the story below beginning at 7:15. Highly recommended.
Thanks for this in-depth look into our history and its connection to literature through the writer Carter.
It is very touching how Carter’s niece. Carol, still believed her uncle found a ‘softer side’ in his older years, although friends of Carter did not support her hope . . .
for an interesting journey into the racial identification of some in the KKK with American Indians, people can research a unique Southern racial group called the ‘Melungians’ . . .
strangely, it has been discovered that today many who are of ‘Melungian’ descent admit to some black ancestry as well as Indian blood (which many Americans have, BTW)
. . . perhaps Carter was ‘Melungian’ by descent ? If so, was his KKK involvement a kind of ‘denial’ of his true racial heritage ? The surname ‘Carter’ is identified as among the many Melungian names, and descendants of Melungian people can readily learn their connection to the group through DNA testing, as there have been research projects that have done this.
Now, the literary implications of this . . . that’s ANOTHER fascinating angle on this amazing story. It would make a great research project for an American Literature or an American History doctoral candidate as it is full of possibilities to explore. Great stuff, this.