Themes and Meanings
There Is a Tree More Ancient Than Eden blends realistic passages with sections consisting of poetic monologues, surreal episodes, sermons, and letters. The novel contains many aspects of the African American vernacular tradition in its concentration on language, music, and religion. Within the oral tradition of black Americans, the text can be seen as one long piece of signifying or verbal play on the theme of a collective black identity. Through a combination of memory, imagination, and multiple narrative techniques, Forrest presents a spectrum of African American voices that create a cohesive worldview of black America.
With language that often resonates with biblical images and Shakespearean eloquence, the narrative takes readers on an intense journey. The kernel of this journey is the maturation process of Nathaniel Witherspoon. In this sense, it functions as a traditional bildungsroman, pinpointing important episodes in a young man’s life that lead to his growing up. Many of the sections turn inward into Nathaniel’s consciousness, illustrating through the use of symbol and archetypal images his legacy and connection with a mythic past.
The narrative of Nathaniel’s story is fragmented by the entry of other voices into the narrative. These voices amplify his story by introducing readers to ancestral figures as well as members of his surrounding black community. Readers learn of Nathaniel’s troubled upbringing and his need...
(The entire section is 599 words.)