Study Guide

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman Education

By Laurence Sterne


Like knowledge, education is a little suspect. The most highly educated people in Tristram Shandy are also the stupidest: the scholars who endlessly debate pointless questions; Walter Shandy, who's so busy reading books that he forgets about common sense; and even Tristram, who has a hard time getting out from the shadow of all the books he's read. But Tristram's way too cool for school. Everyone in Tristram Shandy is self-educated, and it doesn't seem like the best choice. We might romanticize the idea of the self-educated man, but education needs to be tempered with a solid dose of good sense.

Questions About Education

  1. Some characters, like Bobby, Le Fever's son, and Toby, spend time at school when they're young. Others, like Mr. Shandy, do not seem to have gained their education at school. What's the role of school in education? Is school portrayed positively or negatively?
  2. Tristram's journey to Europe is considered part of his education. What does he learn? What role does his previous education play during his trip?
  3. Why does education get a bad rap? What's wrong with education as it's represented in the novel that makes it mess people up so badly?

Chew on This

Tristram Shandy is Tristram's Trista-paedia—his book written for the education of his readers.

In Tristram Shandy, public school seems to produce better people because it exposes you to different ways of thinking.

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