Uploaded by Mihir

black walnut tree

Mister 1
Dogs and Ducks
Mr. John
AP Literature and Composition
11 November 2021
The Black Walnut Tree Analysis
In the poem “The Black Walnut tree” by Mary Oliver, the author talks about a family that
is struggling with money and must come to a hard decision regarding whether they should keep
or get rid of a walnut tree. Getting rid of the tree would help them financially, yet they must also
weigh the sentimental value that the tree holds in their family. By using poetic techniques such as
personification, oppressive imagery, and allusions, Oliver is able to develop a familial
relationship between the tree and the family, with the tree coming to represent the late father of
the narrator.
In the first half of the text, Oliver starts to make the tree symbolize the father, however in
doing show she showcases the oppressive nature of the father, making him seem patriarchal. She
first does this using personification, stating that the tree, “will churn down its boughs, smashing
the house,” (Oliver 8-9). In stating this Oliver personifies the house as violent and aggressive,
specifically using the word “smashing” to describe its actions. Given that we later find out that
the tree was planted by the father, this characterization of the tree falls to the father as well,
making him seem like a threatening and forceful character. This suggests the idea that the father
was a cruel force in the household and starts the idea of patriarchy being present in the house.
The author then transitions to oppressive imagery when describing the tree, stating that the
“leaves are getting heavier,” (Oliver 13) and the “fruit harder to gather away,” (Oliver 14-15).
Through these two statements, the tree seems to serve as a burden for the family, dragging the
Mister 2
women down by making them have to do more work to maintain it. This characterization of the
tree once again shifts onto the father, with him being seen as a repressive force that put
additional burdens on the mother and daughter. This adds to the idea of the patriarchy that is
being created around the household, with the women being suppressed by the man.
In the second half of the text, Oliver further develops the connection between the tree and
the father, but contrary to the first half, she talks about the father in a more affectionate light.
Oliver first does this by first using an allusion, stating that “something brighter than money
moves in our blood [...] so we talk, but don’t do anything,” (Oliver 16-21). In this statement, the
idea that love is more valuable than money is alluded to, with the author implying that the love
that the family has for the tree is preventing them from selling it and gaining financial benefits.
With the tree’s connection to the father, this is transferred onto the father, showcasing the love
that the family has for the father and developing a more fond characterization of the father.
Further, by using this allusion, Oliver creates a reverent and respectful tone around the tree, with
it holding an emotional value to the family that overcomes their destitution. This also serves to
characterize the father, with the respectful and reverent tone being reflected onto him, making
him seem like a more refined and cultured man. Next, Oliver uses nostalgic imagery to connect
the tree to the father, with the narrator stating that if the tree was gone, she would crawl into “the
emptiness we’d made in our own and our fathers’ backyard,” (Oliver 28-29). By stating this, the
narrator creates a reminiscent tone around the tree would it have been removed, and hence a
reminiscent tone around the hard work that the father went through to plant the tree. Moreover,
the narrator shows how she would miss the tree, just as she misses her father, furthering the
symbolism between the tree and the father. Lastly, Oliver uses personification to make the tree
feel like more of a member of the family, specifically the late father, by stating that the tree
Mister 3
“swings through another year,” (Oliver 31). Generally, when one thinks about swinging, they
often are reminded of swinging on a playground and the better memories of their childhood with
their parents. Hence, through this personification, the tree has come to symbolize some of the
fonder memories that the narrator has with her family, and specifically her father. This
romanticizes the relationship between the daughter and the father, making it seem as though
there was a very loving and close relationship between the two of them.
All in all, by using poetic devices such as personification, oppressive imagery, and a
reverent tone, Oliver forms a familial relationship between the tree and the family, with the tree
coming to represent the father. However, in doing so, the tree comes to symbolize both the
patriarchal and the affectionate natures of the father. This is important as it highlights the
bittersweet nature that the family has with the tree, and exacerbates the primary conflict of the
poem regarding whether they should sell the tree. On one side the tree reminds them of their
worse experiences and selling it would solve their financial problems, however, on the other side,
the tree also symbolizes all the good times they had with their father.