What is the  theme of "The Osage Orange Tree" by William Stafford?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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 Evangeline, as do so many young impoverished girls, tries her best to fit in at school. If that does not work, then quickly she learns to blend in so that she goes unnoticed.  With only two dresses, the other girls like to make fun of her behind her back.  Peer pressure would demand that Evangeline be shunned by those who have more than she does.

 William Stafford’s “The Osage Orange Tree” uses the new boy in town to narrate the story.  The unnamed narrator immediately finds himself drawn to Evangeline, possibly because she seems just as “out-of –place” as he does on the first day of school. 

This is the crux of the story.  The relationship that grows between the two of them centers on the narrator’s paper route.  Using it as a ruse to follow Evangeline home, the boy asks if her father would like to buy a paper.  Evangeline asks and says that he does.  Throughout the rest of the school year, regardless of the weather, the boy delivers the paper and the girl waits for him to bring it.  She pays him with a dime.

 The theme of the story comes from the need to be a part of something or connected to someone.  Evangeline lives out of the way and on the edge of town.  She has no friends, and nothing to attract any to her.  Yet, the narrator wants her friendship.  He needed her initially when he first came to town.  Just a few words assured him that she would be his friend.  As the school year progresses, he becomes friends with the other boys.  But always, he notices where Evangeline is standing or sitting.

A sad incident emphasizes this disconnection and mistreatment of girls without anything to offer.  It is witnessed by the boy.  One of the wealthier girls tells Evangeline that she likes her dress.  After Evangeline walks away, the girl and her friend snicker and laugh. Thankfully, Evangeline was unaware of being used as a target by a bully.

 Every day, he brought the paper, and every day, she waited by the tree for him. No dialogue needs to be exchanged between the boy and girl.  They had a relationship based on just liking each other.

I had to walk down the ruts of the road and leave the paper in the crotch of the tree, sometimes, when it was cold. The wind made a sound through the black branches. But usually, even on cold evenings, Evangeline was there.

 To further illustrate the desperate need of this young girl to have a personal connection to someone her age, the boy discovers that she was not able to participate in the graduation ceremony.  Her brother, a school janitor, tells the narrator that “Evangeline stole from her bank, so she couldn’t buy her graduation dress.”

As quick as possibly, the boy rushes to her house to see what had happened. Her mother would not let him talk to her. Then, just by chance, he discovers under a bridge, all of the papers that he had brought to her each day.  She had taken her dimes and given them to the boy, so that she would be able to see him each day.

Since the narration comes from the boy, the reader finds himself wondering as much as the boy does about so many things concerning the girl and her life at home.  The reader does know that it is unlikely that the narrator will learn much else because he is moving to another town.  With frustration, the reader has to say goodbye to Evangeline without really knowing her.


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