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The Osage Orange Tree by William Stafford

In: English and Literature

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THE OSAGE ORANGE TREE

It’s fair to say that everyone wants to fit in. Everyone wants to get through life as best they can with some amount of respect and dignity from others. But can you forgive yourself if you pass up the chance to know someone you feel a definite connection to, in the chase of the above? This is an issue that is reflected in William Stafford’s short story The Osage Orange Tree. William Strafford was born in Kansas in 1914. He dealt with adolescence during the Great Depression in the 1930s - just as the boy in The Osage Orange Tree.

Osage Orange Tree tells the story about a boy who starts the year in high school in a small prairie town. On that very first day, he notices a girl who’s keeping to her self and for some reason - he wants to talk to her. But he doesn’t. He meets her, though, by an Osage orange tree near her house when he’s selling papers. Her name is Evangeline and she tells him that her father might want to buy the papers, and therefore he returns to the Osage orange tree everyday to bring them to her. Nevertheless, he doesn’t have the courage to talk to her at school so they only meet and talk by the Osage orange tree. When graduation day comes, the girl isn’t at school and the boy feels the need to see her. He finds the janitor at school who happens to be Evangeline’s older brother, who tells the boy, that Evangeline stole the money for her new graduation dress and that’s why she isn’t at school. The boy hurries to her house but doesn’t find her there. He returns to the tree, but finds all the papers he ever sold her, thrown under the bridge on the path between her house and the tree.

The narrator is the boy, which the story revolves around. At first he’s quite reluctant to talk to people, because he believes that “In a strange town, if you’re quiet, no one notices, and some may like you, later” (p. 1 l. 12). He thinks that if he’s not too loud or dominating, people might like him after a while. He doesn’t want to draw too much attention to himself, and thus he doesn’t talk to Evangeline at school. He might seem like a coward but he just wants to fit in and get through the year without too much trouble. Evangeline is a very timid girl. She blushes by the compliment that one of the girls at school pays her dress - even though it wasn’t meant to be nice (p. 4, l. 4-12). As she is described on the first day of school, Evangeline is standing alone at a corner - omitted from the crowd. She doesn’t show any sign that she wants to be included; like the boy she doesn’t look at the other people. She might feel the same way that he does - waiting it out, wondering if she’ll fit in later. She’s letting her shyness hold her back. The relationship that the boy shares with Evangeline starts out with a simple action: “Because we stopped we were friends” (p. 1, l. 21) is the thought that goes through the boy’s head as he meets Evangeline outside of school ground. For some reason that he can’t clarify - he has to stop and meet with her. Although they don’t know anything about each other, they share an arcane connection: “When she took the paper we stood there a minute. The wind was coming in over the grass. She looked out with a tranquil expression.” (p. 2, l. 10) From then on, the boy returns to the tree everyday to bring the paper to Evangeline. She tells him that he doesn’t have to bring them to her house, but to the Osage orange tree instead - a request that he, along with the fact that she meets him by the tree everyday, doesn’t question. He’s so occupied with the thought that someone might see them that he doesn’t realize that it’s weird that Evangeline doesn’t want him to come to her house and that she meets him by the tree everyday, even though she doesn’t have to. The whole year the boy sells her papers - without knowing that she’s been using the money for her graduation dress to buy the papers from him, and she didn’t want him to find out. She just wanted to spend some time with him because she’s lonely and the boy only wants to see her outside of school. This is one very important theme that the story processes.

The story discloses some issues, which could be found in a teenager’s life; namely friendship and adaption. The first thought the boy has when he sees Evangeline is “I might talk to her” (p. 1, l. 6) which states the obvious: That he wants to get to know this girl; from the first sight he feels a pull towards her. But then he goes on to thinking “But of course it was out of the question” (p. 1, l. 6) the boy is new at this particular school and he wants to make friends. The easiest way to make friends at a new place is probably not to speak to the girl who’s excluded from the crowd. Instead he wants to wait and see what happens - like Evangeline, the boy lets the shyness control him. This is typical for an insecure teenager on his first day at a new school. He has to adapt to the new environment and some might say, that he handles it well. But he doesn’t get to be friends with the one person that he feels a real connection with.
The Osage orange tree is a symbol of the relationship between the boy and Evangeline: it doesn’t seem to fit in to the plain surroundings, just like the boy and Evangeline feel this connection between them that grows out of nowhere. The South and Midwest suffered droughts during the Great Depression in the 1930s, and the fact that the Osage orange tree is able to grow in spite of that - that the boy and Evangeline manage to build a friendship in the midst of it all, shows the strong, but innocent, attraction between the two. The tree is barely able to blossom, like the boy and the girl scarcely are able to maintain their friendship. But the connection between them is still insistent. Just like the tree does come into leaf and does grow in the middle of nowhere, they keep seeing each other - and they sustain the urge to see each other. Their relationship is special, like the tree has an exceptional orange color. However, it has thorns and it grows inedible fruits, which reflects how Evangeline’s and the boy’s relationship isn’t perfect - it doesn’t go smoothly and people at school mightn’t like it if they knew.

One might wonder what would have happened if Evangeline didn’t buy the papers. Maybe the boy would have finally realized that there’s nothing wrong with seeing her at school. They might have become real friends and none of them would have been lonely. Evangeline wouldn’t have had to steal the money for her graduation dress, which means she would have gone to the graduation and they would’ve seen each other one last time - gotten to say goodbye - before he had to leave town in the summer. All these speculations are probably going through the boy’s mind as he finds the papers under the bridge. He finally understands how oblivious he has been - and knows that he should’ve never wasted what little time he had. In essence, the story is about a young boy who experiences love, in whatever sense, for the first time in his life. He’s going through adolescence and he doesn’t know how to handle his feelings. The girl is shy and unpopular among the other kids at school - a fact that prevents the boy from showing his interest in her when they’re not alone.…...

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