Does Patricia commit suicide in The Overstory?

It is unclear whether or not Patricia actually commits suicide in The Overstory.

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The Overstory is a 2018 fictional novel that was written by American writer Richard Powers. The novel addresses several environmental issues and tells the individual stories of nine Americans who are all connected to each other via their love and interest in trees.

One of these people is Dr....

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The Overstory is a 2018 fictional novel that was written by American writer Richard Powers. The novel addresses several environmental issues and tells the individual stories of nine Americans who are all connected to each other via their love and interest in trees.

One of these people is Dr. Patricia Westerford, whose character is presumably based on ecologists Suzanne Simard and Diana Beresford-Kroeger. Patricia is a plant ecologist and field biologist; she believes that all humans are part of the ecosystem in a much deeper way than they think, which is why they should take greater care of its preservation. She discovers that plants are actually alive and have a way of communicating with each other, and she hopes humans can learn to better "communicate" with plants and with the earth, as well. She teaches botany but soon loses her job, as her work is ridiculed by many of her fellow ecologists. Thus, she isolates herself and lives a quiet life, avoiding contact with others. After some students renew her work and do further research, she is persuaded to write a book, The Secret Forest, which gains massive success.

After several years, she is invited to give a speech in a scientific conference, in which many important businesspeople and industrial moguls have gathered to discuss the future of the world. Patricia delivers a very powerful speech, explaining how trees and plants are actually social and conscious creatures. She concludes that the civilization is in dire need of a social change and insinuates that the best thing humans can do for a better world is to kill themselves—perhaps not literally, but metaphorically. In other words, they need to kill their tendency for self-destruction and their selfishness.

At the end, she drinks an extract from a poisonous plant (Tachigali versicolor—also know as the suicide tree) in order to prove her point, but it is unclear whether she actually kills herself or not. It is believed that Powers left the ending of her story open to interpretation on purpose, so that the audience can better understand the message.

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