GCSE OCR english opening worlds- the winter oak

notes on the short story the winter oak

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  • Created on: 27-05-11 10:48
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This story has two settings ­ the school and the forest ­ and covers one working day in the
life of Anna Vasilevna. The main events of her day are: the teaching of parts of speech,
Savushkin's late arrival to class, her encounters with Savushkin both in the classroom and the
staffroom, her journey through the woods (to Savushkin's house) and her encounters with
nature therein and finally the point where she reaches some kind of understanding of
The story focuses around Anna and Savushkin. Anna is clearly a hardworking, dedicated
teacher, however, she is inexperienced and doesn't really know her pupils nor understand the
lives they lead. She jumps to conclusions about her students (especially Savushkin) and fails to
see that the subjects she teaches do not touch the lives of her pupils. It is perhaps ironic that
she corrects their language but doesn't always listen to what her students are saying. In the
school section she comes across as efficient, but narrowminded. However, by the end of the
story she has developed into a more understanding (and likeable) character.
The school section appears to be based on the conflict between a dedicated teacher and a
difficult pupil, building up to a showdown with the boy's mother. However, the plot changes
direction in the forest section. When Savushkin notices that Anna is interested in the tracks in
the snow and says: `An elk has been here' there bebins a shifting in their relationship ­ that
leads to him becoming the teacher, and ultimately Anna's carer: `He was guarding his teacher
from afar.'
The journey is an education for Anna in two ways ­ firstly it pens her eyes to natural beauty
but it also allows her to see Savushkin in a different and positive light: `the most amazing thing
in the forest was not the winter oak, but the small human being in the worn felt boots.'
This is clearly a story where the teacher learns the lessons and her lessons could be many:
It is important not to judge people until you get to know them by sharing their
Learning through experience is more effective and enjoyable than classroom study
It is important to admit your mistakes and learn from them
You should time out to appreciate the beauty of the natural world
It is possible to be poor in material terms but rich in your appreciation of the world
around you
Although we see most of the story from Anna's point of view the writer (Nagibin) suggests to
us that this view is often mistaken e.g. there is irony in lines 1416 because it is in fact her that
does not understand the students. Also in lines 117118 her dismay at Savushkin's `lies' is
misplaced ­ because he is actually telling the truth.
Between lines 7993 Nagibin introduces the oak tree ­ it's mention interrupts a dull lesson on
nouns. He shows its importance to Savushkin through his description of how Savushkin says
the words ­ as if they were `torn out of his soul.' Anna's failure to understand is highlighted
by her irritation and her focus on parts of speech: ` `Oak' is a noun.' She seems to
understand parts of speech but not the beauty of what language represents (until she visits the
forest). It is interesting to note that when she first sees the tree in the forest Nagibin holds
back the word `oak' until the end of the sentence (lines 207208). The personification of the
oak here and elsewhere brings it to life. Nagibin gives the impression in this story that the
forest and the oak are part of a magical world, which keeps its secrets covered up and only
gradually reveals them e.g. lines 165167 ... Perhaps his intention in doing this is to show that
the world and the people in it cannot be reduced to parts of speech ­ they are more complex
and more wonderful than that. This is echoed in the penultimate sentence:
`a mysterious and wonderful future citizen.'


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