On Killing a Tree

by Gieve Patel

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Why is the tree's bark described as leprous in "On Killing a Tree"?

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The bark of the tree is leprous due to its color. Over the years, amidst everything that Mother Nature has thrown at it, the tree's bark has become discolored. So much so that, according to the speaker, it resembles the skin of a leper. Years of sunlight, air, and water have been absorbed into its crust, changing its whole appearance entirely.

Leprosy is a highly-contagious and disfiguring skin disease that is still common in some parts of the developing world. It's possible that the speaker is drawing from his own personal experience of having witnessed first-hand the appalling effects that this terrible disease can have upon its victims.

In some sense, the speaker is trying to justify the killing of the tree by comparing the color of its bark to leprous skin. Although leprosy can be cured these days using multiple drugs, it's unlikely in the extreme that they would be available in this part of the developing world. That being the case, the tree, including its leprous bark, must be killed.

The tree has had a long, natural life, but that life is now about to come to an end. The speaker sees himself as a kind of doctor, a tree surgeon, who has decided that his "patient" can only be cured by the unkindest cut of all.

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