Countryman, poor farmer, and hard worker. These were the humble beginnings of the American author Jesse Stuart. Born on August 8th 1906 in a small place known as Greenup County in Kentucky. To the uneducated eye, Jesse Stuart may seem like any ordinary farmer at the time. Stuart and his family had struggled to survive for the majority of their days. Working many hours a day in both school and on his father’s farm, Jesse had a ton of work on his plate. Stuart however, had an insatiable work ethic and an unmatched passion for writing, traveling, and education.
With these tools he went from a poor farmer who had to work just to survive, to one of the most iconic American writers in all of history. Jesse Stuart’s experiences and passion for nature and education are shown in the majority of his stories through his choice of characters and setting. Despite the difficult times that he had faced as a young farmer, Stuart had a deep appreciation for the countryside. When he felt overwhelmed by his work, he enjoyed taking nature walks through the mountains of Kentucky and calming himself by experiencing nature.
His parents always wanted to do what was best for him. Both of them were illiterate and never attended school, but they wanted Stuart to get an education so that he could be better off than them. When Stuart turned seventeen he became the youngest teacher, this is where he first discovered his passion for education (Kerin). He viewed teaching as the most important factor in a person’s life. He believed that teachers should always put the the student’s needs before theirs and that everything they do should be to benefit their students.
After teaching for a few years, he went on to college in Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee. Jesse worked extremely hard in college, “When not hitting the books hardand often having little to eat-he was at work in the school kitchen or out laying water pipes in all sorts of weather, among many other jobs” (Kerin). After graduating from college Stuart went back to his hometown of Greenup County Kentucky where at the age of twenty-six he took his job as the youngest school superintendent in his state (Clark).
At this point in his life is when he began to write many poems, short stories, and novels. A few years later Stuart applied for a fellowship in Scotland and got accepted. This is where his love for travel first began. Stuart traveled to many different countries during his time in Europe. He greatly appreciated all of the different types of culture that he was able to witness during his travels. When Stuart returned to Kentucky however, his job as a superintendent was no longer available. His job was taken by a new and corrupt county administrator.
This new administrator went against everything that Stuart valued in education. He valued his own needs over those of the students. In response to this, Stuart started to write his own local newspaper to help raise awareness against this type of poor and corrupt education system (Kernin). With Jesse’s job taken and him only earning about $10,000 during his entire teaching career he decided to drop teaching and start his own farm, raise animals, and continue writing. Soon he would marry ife, Naomi Deane and begin writing some of his most famous works of literature (Kernin).
Within many of these works, Jesse’s past experiences as a farmer, teacher, and traveler are referenced to in many different ways. An example of this would be in his short story “Split Cherry Tree”. In this story, the main character Dave Sexton lives on a small farm with his mother and his father Luster Sexton. His family is relatively poor and as a result Dave has to balance both school and working on his father’s farm everyday. The story begins when Dave is on a field trip with his classmates.
He and his friends end up accidentally destroying someone’s property nd as a result they have to pay for the damage. All of the students had enough money to pay the debt off except for Dave. Because of this, his teacher, Professor Herbert made him stay after school to work in order to pay the debt off in a different way. When Dave gets home and explains what happened to his father, Luster becomes very anger. Luster had never gone to school, but he did not want Dave to live as difficult of a life as he did. Luster believes that it is unfair for Dave to suffer an extra punishment just because he comes from a poor family.
Luster then decides to go to school with Dave the next day to confront his teacher. Once he arrives, he angrily explains to Professor Herbert his opinion on the matter. Professor Herbert acknowledges his concerns and then begins to explain to him how school works and why it was helpful for the students to go on a field trip. By the end of the school day Luster and Professor Herbert become friends and Luster decides to stay with Dave after school to finish paying off the debt. Throughout the story Professor Herbert is depicted in a very positive manner.
He explains to Luster his exact reasoning behind making Dave work after school, while at the same time trying to understand Luster’s own opinion on the matter. He spent the entire day conversing with Luster about how school works and his reasoning for the field trip. After talking to Luster and learning about the hard times that his family is going through, he said to him, “I’m going to cancel the debt… it’s all on me” (Stuart). This kind, understanding, and intelligent portrayal of a teacher is exactly what Jesse Stuart believed that the ideal teacher should behave like.
He believed that the teacher should always put the student’s needs first and do what was in their best interest. Stuart, who was a teacher at one point in his life, said that during his travels to other countries he did not just want to educate students, but anyone who was willing to learn. This is similar to how professor Herbert educates Luster and is willing to listen to his reasoning. In addition, Dave’s family life and farm is very similar to Jesse Stuart’s actual childhood. Stuart, like Dave, also had to balance going to school with doing work on his father’s farm.
Both were the first in their families to go to school and get an education because their fathers wanted to do what was best for them. Another story that is relatable to Jesse Stuart’s past experiences is Love. In this story, a boy, his father, and their dog, Bob live on a small farm in a secluded area. The father finds a snake and orders the dog to kill it. The boy then argues with him saying that the snake is not poisonous and in fact it is beneficial because it kills mice and other rodents. The father then responded by saying that snakes are bad and that they should be killed.
The dog then obeys him and kills the snake. The boy then begins to think about how the snake was innocent and had no chance of fighting back. He states that “… the strong devour the innocent. ” The next day the father finds a poisonous snake by his dead mate’s body. The father finally begins to understand what the boy was saying about the strong killing the weak just for sport without any real reason. Because of this, rather than killing the snake, the father decides to put it on a stick and throw it far away so that they do not bother each other anymore.
This story exemplifies Stuart’s opinion on both nature and the importance of education. The father in this story was clearly not as educated as his son because he believed that the harmless snake was poisonous. This caused him to make the rash decision of ordering his dog to kill the snake. The father made this decision purely off of emotion rather than logic. He said, “A snake is an enemy to me… I hate a snake, kill it” (Stuart). This one bad decision then caused problems for the dead snakes mate, who now had to suffer because of this.
This shows Stuart’s opinion on education being a very crucial factor in a person’s life. This one bad decision caused negative effects to an animal who was not even involved in the event. This shows how delicate nature is and why being knowledgeable can be very beneficial. Also, the boy’s opinion on nature is very similar to Stuart’s. They both find nature to be beautiful and very delicate. The father in the story is also similar to Stuart’s father because both of them were uneducated farmers. From poor farmer to a wealthy iconic man, that is the story of Jesse Stuart.