43 pages 1 hour read

Richard Peck

The Teacher's Funeral

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade

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Coming of Age: Balancing Freedom With Family and Personal Responsibility

Writing in Literature for Today’s Young Adults, Richard Peck declares that he has “only one theme […] It is simply that you will never grow up until you begin to think and act independently of your peers.”

In The Teacher’s Funeral, Russell and Tansy must make their own choices and learn from them as they navigate their paths to adulthood. Both teens must balance their desire for freedom with their ties to, and responsibility toward family.

At the start of the novel, Russell is on the cusp of manhood, and he faces a pivotal decision: run away to the Dakotas, which he associates with freedom and adulthood, or stay “penned” in school and home with his family on the farm where he feels he would still be a boy (74). Looking back on his youth, Russell comments, “If there’s one thing you can’t see at the age of fifteen, it’s ahead” (150). Russell itches for the future he imagines but cannot see clearly because of his youth. He appreciates the drama and romance of hopping a train, admitting that he likes “the sound of riding the rods, however you did that” (134), even more than the prospect of earning a wage.