The Learning Tree (1969) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • The story, set in Kansas during the 1920s, covers less than a year in the life of a black teenager, and documents the veritable deluge of events which force him into sudden manhood. The family relationships and enmities, the fears, frustrations and ambitions of the black teenager in small-town America are explored with a strong statement about human values.

  • It's sometime during the 1920s in the town of Cherokee Flats, Kansas. Stemming from their differing backgrounds, black mid-teens Newt Winger and Marcus Savage take different approaches to life, especially in coexisting in town with white neighbors, many who are inherently racist, something largely taught to them by their parents and their parents before them. From a loving, supportive family, Newt would like to do the right thing to have a good life, but is often scared to do so. Newt ultimately wants to attend college despite one of his white teachers constantly devaluing him and the other black students in believing they will amount to nothing more than laborers at best. He has to deal with an issue indirectly involving race differences concerning his black girlfriend, Arcella Jefferson, his first love. And he wants to make amends for stealing apples from the white Kliners' orchard with some other boys, regardless of Mr. Kliner's initial reaction in and of itself being excessive, probably because black boys were involved. Conversely, Marcus, who has never been shown real love in his life, not even from his abusive widowed father Booker Savage, believes the world, especially the white world, is out to get him, he whose reaction is twice as excessive as any excessive action taken against him. Marcus even believes that Newt is out to get him in quietly not agreeing with the way Marcus deals with his troubles. Newt and Marcus' relationship has the potential to come to an explosive head when Newt clandestinely witnesses a murder, the truth, contrary to the circumstantial evidence, coming to light which could be the match that lights the powder keg of tense race relations in general in town. As such, Newt has to decide whether to come forward with what he saw.



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