The Hoosier Schoolmaster
Edward Eggleston


This novel about an enlightened schoolmaster in a fictional Indiana community is famous both for its enduring popularity and for its innovative use of regional dialect. The first four chapters, which are included here, contain a wealth of information about Hoosier culture, community, and education in the 1850s, and the chapter on the Spelling School is possibly the best description of this popular rural amusement to be found anywhere.  Go to the tale

   B a c k g r o u n d

  • Story Setting: Flat Crick, Indiana
  • Story Date: The 1850s
  • Publication Date: 1871
  • Edward Eggleston: 1837-1902

  •    T h e    S t o r y
    (The links bookmark the tale.)

  • The beginning of the tale
  • The schoolmaster arrives
  • Schoolmaster on a raccoon hunt
  • Schoolmaster wins over the family
  • The first day of school: problems
  • The second day of school: success
  • Spelling-school time approaches
  • Schoolmaster is loved, hated, loved
  • The Spelling-school
  • An ex-schoolmaster presides
  • Schoolmaster outspells the champ
  • Schoolmaster meets his match

  •    T h e    T h e m e s
    (The links bookmark theme-related passages in the color-coded version of the tale.)

  • Students at Work: 1
  • The Schoolmaster: 1, 2
  • Punishment, Revenge:1, 2, 3, 4
  • School & Community: 1, 2, 3
  • Romance: 1, 2

  •    R e l a t e d    S i t e s

  • Edward Eggleston


  • Edward Eggleston (1837-1902)

  •    I n t r o d u c t i o n

       "THE HOOSIER SCHOOLMASTER" is a novel about a first year schoolmaster teaching in a fictional Indiana community. Written in 1871 as a fourteen part magazine serial, it was reprinted in other magazines almost immediately, then published in book form. The book gained worldwide popularity in English speaking countries and was translated into French, German, and Danish. It even started a brief revival of spelling competitions as public entertainment, based on the chapter, "Spelling Down the Master," which describes a typical rural spelling school. Spelling competitions inspired by the book could be found in English speaking countries as far away as Australia -- even in urban settings, to the author's surprise and delight. But the book's literary and historical importance comes from its innovative use of authentic regional dialect as part of the storytelling. Many other authors soon followed and incorporated realistic regional speech patterns in their writing. The most notable, of course, is Mark Twain in books like "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn."

       Edward Eggleston knew the country he wrote about in "The Hoosier Schoolmaster" intimately. He was born in Indiana and later traveled around the area as a minister teaching and delivering sermons. (These traveling ministers were known as "Circuit Riders," which is the title of another of Eggleston's novels). However, he was not a schoolteacher. The school scenes in the book are based on his brother's experiences, who had been the schoolmaster of a one room Indiana schoolhouse. This may be the reason the book leaves the classroom after the first four chapters, never to return at any length; once the author ran out of his brother's stories, he had no personal classroom experience with which to build further scenes. In the book, the author tells us the story is set "twenty years ago," so the educational practices he describes date from the 1850s.

       The schoolmaster of this tale is not the minimally educated, marginally competent pedagogue who is the subject of so many fictional portrayals of the time. He is educated, knowledgable, and clever, and though winning over his students is a challenge, he meets and conquers all classroom-related obstacles with intelligence and cunning. He is not so lucky with the rest of the community, however. A band of thieves led by respected members of Flat Creek try to shift the blame for their crimes onto the schoolmaster, whose combined status as an educated man and a stranger make him a likely target for community suspicions. It takes the persistent efforts of one of his students on his behalf to save him. Goodwill generated in the classroom bears fruit for this talented teacher.

       The schoolmaster is the hero of this tale in all meanings of the word. He is the central focus of the story and the character we most identify with and admire. The students and community members, on the other hand, are portrayed in either a negative light or, if they are decent people, with a good measure of condescension. Many of them are shown to be schemers who are mean spirited and even villainous. Those with good qualities tend to be portrayed as helpless puppydogs who need the schoolmaster to bring out their good qualities or rescue them from their miserable circumstances. Though the novel is not religious in nature, the author's training and vocation as a minister spreading the gospel pervades this tale, with education standing in for religion. The schoolmaster is a kind of educational missionary who finds his flock in the bondage of ignorance, shows them the enlightened road to knowledge and understanding, then is saved from the evil forces of the community by one of his grateful converts.

       Eggleston published another school-based novel a decade later: "The Hoosier School-Boy." It's a thin, mildly amusing tale he wrote more to make money than to create something of literary merit. The book is consciously nostalgic, recreating the Indiana schoolhouse and the typical boyhood amusements of the first half of the 19th century. Though both novels remained popular and in print as late as the 1940's (both were made into films in 1930s; "The Hoosier Schoolboy" was Mickey Rooney's first starring role), they are currently out of print and are not available on the web.