Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Truman Capote packs “A Tree of Night” with clues for many themes, all of which relate to the fact that the story is a rite of passage piece that captures the moment when a nineteen-year-old woman passes from childhood innocence to adult sexual awareness. The peach seed, for example, is both masculine and feminine in context: The seed that a male implants in a female produces new life. This shellacked seed in the story, however, is impotent, and thus serves as a symbol of sexual union without reproduction. The mute man’s handling of the seed arouses erotic and nameless responses in the innocent college sophomore, who flees to the platform of the car, only to yield compulsively to a desire to fondle the phallic lantern funnel. In doing so, she is fascinated by the tone and texture of her hands as they become luminous and warm while the funnel’s heat thaws her and tingles through her.

At this same moment the mute appears. Looking up at him, his arms dangling, Kay recalls the tree of night that she feared in childhood. She remembers that adults in her youth filled her with superstitious fears by saying that a “wizard man” would steal her if she did things that she should not. Back then, a tree tapping against her window played on those fears. Identifying the mute man with her childhood, Kay, at the very edge of passage into full adulthood, follows him back into the coach, where she begs the dwarf woman (a symbol of adult authority) to let her buy...

(The entire section is 454 words.)