Friday, September 30, 2011

The Symbolism of the Old Oak Tree

In our class discussion on Thursday, Iulia’s question about the association between the ephemeral oak tree and Prince Andrew’s transformation prompted me to wonder why Tolstoy chose an oak tree, specifically, to reflect Prince Andrew’s change. Is there greater meaning hidden in Tolstoy’s deliberate choice of an oak tree, which the reader easily overlooks? Or is an oak tree simply Tolstoy’s favorite tree? Why didn’t Tolstoy leave the tree’s type ambiguous as he did when Nicholas noticed the solitary tree dividing life from death on the battlefield? (P.162)

In Book Six the “aged, stern and scornful […]” oak tree mirrors Prince Andrew’s inner-turmoil (P.368) Prince Andrew is scarred from his near-death experience and the loss of his young wife, Lise. He is scornful of Pierre’s religious enlightenment and the joyousness of budding springtime that surrounds him. Prince Andrew maintains a tough exterior in order to avoid vulnerability and pain; however, after encountering Natasha his perspective on life shifts. The oak tree’s physical appearance subsequently changes, “Through the hard-century old bark, even where there were no twigs, leaves sprouted such as one could hardly believe the old veteran could have produced.” (P.371)

The below excerpt explains the symbolism of the oak tree, which coincides directly with the context of Prince Andrew’s transformation.

“The ancient Romans thought oak trees attracted lightening and thereby connected the oak tree to the sky god, Jupiter and his wife, Juno, the goddess of marriage. Thus, the oak is a symbol of conjugal fidelity and fulfillment. The oak tree was regarded by Socrates as an oracle tree. The Druids likewise ate acorns in preparation for prophesying. In addition, the Druids believed the leaves of the oak tree had the power to heal and renew strength.”[1]

This symbolism foreshadows the love between Natasha and Prince Andrew. The physical appearance of the oak tree serves as an oracle, suggesting fulfillment, marriage, healing and renewal. The strong connection between the oak tree's symbolism and the context of Prince Andrew’s inner-journey makes me believe that Tolstoy’s choice of the oak tree is anything but happenstance.

1 comment:

  1. That's an interesting analysis. I would like to add that oak trees are often known to be sturdy and enduring, so I take that to mean that Andrew will be able to survive his ordeals. Another thought I had is that the first description of the oak when it is barren and dead reminds me of Andrew's father. Old, jaded and critical of the world. Although this might just be because when Andrew sees the tree for the first time he is in a mindset very similar to that of his father's