On Killing a Tree

by Gieve Patel

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How can the poem "On Killing a Tree" be interpreted as a protest?

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Gieve Patel, the author of “On Killing a Tree,” grew up in Mumbai, India. India gained its independence in 1947 and the 1960s saw the city of Mumbai expand rapidly into an urban metropolis. Using this background for context, one can read Patel’s poem as an environmental protest against urban expansion. He seems to be arguing that Mother Nature’s claims to the land are just as valid as any human’s. It takes immense effort to fully uproot a tree, and once destroyed, nature never returns to the way it once was. Patel seems to lament the idea that nature is viewed as an inconvenient enemy to urban sprawl, and that it has to be treated with complete, surgical extraction, like a pest infestation or a cancer. Patel’s imagery of genocidal “scorching and choking” seems to be a strong protest against destroying Mother Nature’s defenseless presence.

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