In the short story “Sunflowers” by Sam Roddan the narrator explores how two people in a similar position can have opposite values.
Two teachers, Mr. Duncan and Mr. Small have a contrasting outlook on life. Throughout the story there are symbols that represent Mr. Duncan and Mr. Smalls personality traits. Mr. Duncan is empathetic, approachable, and always checking in with his students. Mr. Small however, is far too caught up in his own affairs to take an extra step in knowing his students. He is difficult to talk to, and unable to fully listen when a student has concerns. These two personalities are noticed by the students, and shown in their attitude towards their situation.
The first symbol is the shingles on the old school roof. When the school was new, the shingles never flew off. Mr. Duncan was the principal, and the students were content. Throughout the years, Mr. Duncan grew older, and so did the shingles. The shingles are a symbol for Mr. Duncan. Even though they would fly off every winter, he kept a positive outlook, and would joke to his students about them. The narrator also showed his philosophical outlook on life when talking about the shingles. Mr. Duncan always told the boys to work hard for their successes, and stay focused because “What matters is not what flies past the window but what sticks inside the head”. When the school was torn down and the shingles were gone, Mr. Duncan noticed the school “had a good foundation”. He wanted what is best for his students, and that meant providing them with a good foundation in life.
The second symbol explored is the flag pole. The flag pole is important both before, and after the death of Mr. Duncan. Both him and Mr. Small had their own thoughts regarding it, both different. Mr. Duncan always told the boys that they must do their best to stay “alive and keep the old flag flying”. Mr. Small however, did not like to discuss the flag pole. He did consider the boys feelings when they asked Mr. Small to lower the flag at half-mast for Mr. Duncan. This shows the insensitivity of Mr. Small, and his inability to take his students seriously.
The final symbol is the sunflowers. Throughout all the years Mr. Duncan had served as a principal, he would slip the boys “a handful of sunflower seeds to chew on while he” gave them one of his pep talks. The boys enjoyed this tradition, saying that “after one of them you really wanted to breathe deep and get the old chest expansion going. ” Following his death, they no longer got any pep talks. Not from Mr. Duncan nor Mr. Small. What the boys did have however, were sunflowers. The act of spreading sunflower seeds “around the schoolyard fence, ” under the windows, in Snub Coopers garden, and of course, underneath the flagpole. While Mr. Duncan was gone, the boys were still able to remember him by the sunflowers that livened their town. They would remember his pep talks, shingles, and life philosophy each day when they walked into the new school. Despite their being differences between Mr. Duncan and Mr. Small, the boys had learned to adapt, be respectful and knew they were “here to be men, ” or more accurately, gentlemen.
In the end, the lessons taught by Mr. Duncan had a significant impact on his students, and his connection with the boys will leave a lasting mark on each and every one of them.
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