On Killing a Tree

by Gieve Patel

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Student Question

From Gieve Patel's "On Killing a Tree," how does modern man's selfishness lead to uprooting nature?

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Patel describes the process of killing a tree as something deliberate and thorough in its intent.  Patel's rendering is not murder as a rash and thoughtless act.  Rather, it is shown to be a deliberate process, driven by individual ego.  Consider when Patel argues that one cannot kill a tree in the cosmetic sense: "Not a simple jab of the knife will do it..../So hack and chop/ But this alone wont do it./Not so much pain will do it./ The bleeding bark will heal."  In this sense, Patel argues that in order to kill a tree, there is a deliberate process in which human beings embrace the uprooting process and seek to negate the presence of the natural world:

The root is to be pulled out -
Out of the anchoring earth; 
It is to be roped, tied,
And pulled out - snapped out
Or pulled out entirely,
Out from the earth-cave,
And the strength of the tree exposed,

In this stanza, one sees how Patel believes that modern man, out of a sense of selfishness, seeks to uproot nature and its essence.  The lines "the root is to be pulled out/- of the anchoring earth" convey this deliberate and almost cruelly indiscriminate nature.  The soul of nature is removed as the tree is "pulled out entirely/ out from the earth- cave/ and the strength of the tree exposed."  This helps to convey the process of uprooting is deliberate and intentional, an act of violation in the most gruesome and savage of senses.  It is indiscriminate, seeking to remove the very soul of the natural world.

The final stanza reflects the brutal and indiscriminate condition of selfishness that motivates the individual to kill a tree, a reflection of a natural "consuming of the earth."  The "scorching, choking" and "twisting, withering" condition of seeking to eliminate the presence of nature is how Patel articulates the sense of selfishness that drives the killing of a tree.  It is not an act of rash miscalculation.  It is not an accident.  It is deliberate.  It is thorough and it seeks to negate the presence of nature.  In this process, man's indiscriminate selfishness is demonstrated, one that brazenly dares to uproot nature and its very soul.

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