AP Literature and Composition
The Black Walnut Tree
February 13, 2015
In “The Black Walnut Tree”, Oliver creates a symbol of the tree to the past to explain the connection between the land and her family. This relationship keeps her and her mother from using their available means to pay off the mortgage. Oliver compares and contrasts the positive and negative reasons to sell the tree, but the symbolic connection of the tree to her family’s history wins in the end.
The positive reasons to the sell the tree are logical and relevant. The tree could “pay off the mortgage” which is a “whip-crack…month after month” (Oliver 5, 34-35). The tree could be the saving grace for the family. Sadly, one situation is that “likely some storm anyway will churn down its dark boughs, smashing into the house”, meaning that the tree could also be very destructive to the family (6-8). Physical descriptions of the tree also support the selling of the tree. The tree has “roots in the cellar drains”, and “the leaves are getting heavier every year…the fruit harder to gather away” (11, 13-15). The tree is growing larger every year, becoming more useless and more of a hazard to the family.
The reasons not to sell the tree are symbolic. The poet explains the emotional connection to the tree as “something brighter than money moves in our blood- an edge sharp and quick as a trowel that wants us to dig and sow” (Oliver 16-19). This statement also alludes to the digging and sowing of her ancestors on this same land. The tree and the land have been in this family for generations. Selling the tree would be like selling her heritage of “my fathers out of Bohemia filling the blue fields of fresh and generous Ohio” (22-24). The poet describes the punishment of selling the tree as “we’d crawl with shame in the emptiness we’d made in our own and our father’s backyard” (26-29). The tree symbolizes her past, and removing the tree would be treason to her...
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