The Town of Learning, Vermont
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
The town Rob lives just outside of is called Learning, eh? Hmmm... could the author be trying to tell us something? Considering how important the concept of education is in the book, we're going to go with yes.
We're looking at two kinds of a learning here, though: (1) common sense or "reason," as Papa calls it and (2) book learning. So let's dig into both.
(1) Reason. According to Papa, the townsfolk are missing some good ol' fashioned reason. They might have their book smarts, but they're close-minded. And that means that they see any way other than their own as the wrong way. Papa says:
"Back to reason. Something that modern townfolk don't care a lick for. They don't understand it, so they think it to be tomfool." (3.79)
So the townspeople write off Papa's knowledge as tomfool (a.k.a. nonsense), but does Papa do the same in return? Nosiree. And that brings us to…
(1) Book Learning. Papa is looked down on by the people of Learning because he can't read and write. According to them, he doesn't have the "right" kind of knowledge. But Papa doesn't just brush them off they way they brush him off. How do we know? Check out this moment, when Rob is looking around his dad's stuff after he passes away:
Under the tools, I saw an old cigar box that was gray with dust. Inside was a wore-down pencil stub and a scrap of old paper. Unfolding the paper, I saw where Papa had been trying to write his name. One of the "Haven Pecks" was near to perfect, and he almost had the hang of it. The paper was dry and brown, as if he had practiced for a long time. Carefully folding the paper back into just the way he had folded it, I rested it in its box and closed the lid. (15.23)
We can tell from Rob's discovery that Papa was trying his best to teach himself those school-smarts he never had. Papa sees the value in both book smarts and reason, and he does his best to make sure that Rob has access to both kinds of knowledge.
What do you think the author is trying to suggest by calling the town "Learning?" Is the name ironic in any way?