What are the major themes of The Winter Oak and how does the author use the characters of Anna and Savushkin to develop these themes?
There are four major themes in The Winter Oak. There is one obvious, very important theme, which is the huge contrast between both the settings and environments of the classroom and forest, and the ways the two main characters, Anna Vasilevna and Savushkin, behave in these places. Also, there is the theme of education, and how it continues from the classroom into the forest yet changes its ways. There is a less obvious political side to the story, where the classroom atmosphere and events stand for communism in Russia, the forests qualities point to freedom, and the winter oak is seen as a royal, godly protector and single ruler (this idea is very anti-communist). The final theme is one of the more important themes in the story, the role reversal of teacher Anna Vasilevna and pupil Savushkin, and the way Savushkin becomes more of a teacher in the forest.
One of several contrasting factors in the story is the way Anna feels towards Savushkin, and how it changes. When Savushkin arrived late to that mornings English lesson, Anna questions Savushkins lateness, clearly not for the first time, only this time her question sounded plaintive, as if she felt saddened by his repeated lateness, and at how her efforts at changing him were failing. Later, Anna fails to understand Savushkins excitement when he calls out Winter oak, and she finds herself hiding her irritation with difficulty. This suggests she is finding Savushkins behaviour annoying, and she soon snaps and tells him to see her at break. To herself, she thinks him to be a difficult boy. Her attitude towards Savushkin soon changes in the forest. The first sign of Anna appreciating him is that upon being corrected by Savushkin about the current in the stream, she simply bit her tongue, instead of being annoyed at what she might earlier have interpreted as answering back. Her attitude towards Savushkin changes so significantly throughout the events in the forest that as she leaves, she is looking on him as the most amazing thing in all of the forest, a mysterious and wonderful future citizen. The great contrast between this point and the start of the story is there to emphasise the power the forest has on people.
Another contrast is the way Annas behaviour differs in the schoolroom to that in the forest. She starts of the morning feeling very self-confident, thinking back on how she used to feel about teaching a lesson. The fact she smiled at this memory suggests she no longer fears her class. Her trail of thought after Savushkins late arrival makes her think of the shrivelled little old geography mistress, and how she had complained about how difficult the first lesson is. It made Anna feel self-assured that it wasnt that difficult for her. As well as confident, Anna Vasilevna also seems authorative and in control. When she said thats enough, the class had fallen silent, showing her power over the class. However, in the forest Anna behaves very differently. She allows herself to be led by Savushkin, and is more relaxed. Have you seen one? asked Anna Vasilevna excitedly. Her excitement was definitely not seen in the schoolroom. This excitement and loss of control increases and she gets enthralled by a creature in the snow. Annas authority can be seen to be lost when she timidly approaches the oak. Until this point she had been looking down on everything and everyone-they were inferior. Again, the forests effect can be seen.
The banging of desk lids, squeaking of benches, and the sound of a heavy lorry with a trailer outside make for a noisy, packed atmosphere in the schoolroom. There is a hint of tension when Anna says Thats enough, and Quiet. In contrast to that, the forest feels serene and tranquil: not a sound could be heard, even though there was the movement of birds above. It is described by the author as an enchanted world of peace and silence. This is a very strong sentence- the word enchanted gives