Friday, November 2, 2012

Atlas Shrugged: The Tree Quote

I have to write about the tree quote from Atlas Shrugged, because it's the first one I wrote down, not counting "Who is John Galt?"  And because it's excellent.

Here's the quote:

"The great oak tree had stood on a hill over the Hudson, in a lonely spot of the Taggart estate. Eddie Willers, aged seven, liked to come and look at that tree. It had stood there for hundreds of years, and he thought it would always stand there. Its roots clutched the hill like a fist with fingers sunk into the soil, and he thought that if a giant were to seize it by the top, he would not be able to uproot it, but would swing the hill and the whole of the earth with it, like a ball at the end of a string. He felt safe in the oak tree’s presence; it was a thing that nothing could change or threaten; it was his greatest symbol of strength.

One night, lightning struck the oak tree. Eddie saw it the next morning. It lay broken in half, and he looked into its trunk as into the mouth of a black tunnel. The trunk was only an empty shell; its heart had rotted away long ago; there was nothing inside – just a thin gray dust that was being dispersed by the whim of the faintest wind. The living power had gone, and the shape it left had not been able to stand without it."
Shonya at Learning How Much I Don't Know presented some good thoughts on this quote already, concerning the disappointment and disillusionment Eddie felt.  I had some thoughts similar to hers also, but won't reiterate them here.  Her post is worth reading.  A few other thoughts:
1.  There are, sadly, numerous things throughout Atlas that made me think of my nation today, and this was an early one.  I finished the book over two years ago, and it seems to me that since that time more and more of the rotted interior of our old, formerly strong nation has become visible.  At this point I still hope I'm wrong, that our nation can somehow recover and show itself strong once again.  God knows how it will all play out.
2.  It ties in well with a quote from later in the book, which I really like:  "Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises.  You will find that one of them is wrong." Some of Eddie's premises weren't even close to reality-based, yet it really shook him when the tree was destroyed.  If you get shaken, examine your premises.  Keep what's true and cling to it, and rebuild what was flawed with more truth.  That's worth having to rebuild several times.  Avoid throwing out truth along with masquerading falsehood.  
3.  There are a lot of references to trees in the Bible.  This one comes to mind to go with this quote (especially the part about the heart departing from the LORD):

"Thus says the LORD:
'Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the Lord.
For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
And whose hope is the LORD.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,

Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.
 '" Jeremiah 17:5-8

4.  This was perhaps point number one that made me wonder whether Bob Dylan has read Atlas Shrugged, and there were several such points in the book. Best guess now is that he has indeed read it, as it seems he's quoted Atlas obviously before, but that's another topic, really. Right now I just want to say that this quote made me think of the following line from "Foot of Pride" (and probably only Dylan fans will appreciate this, sorry... but not enough to leave it out): "Ain't nothin' left here, partner, just the dust of a plague that has left this whole town afraid..." One could make things out of other portions of this song if one were in the mood, as well. "brother named James" "plane crash" "times of compassion when conformity's in fashion" "feeds off of everyone that he can touch" and others... I just thought it was interesting.


  1. 1) I agree that it sadly represents our nation.
    2) I like that quote too!
    3) Thank you for sharing that verse--it would have gone perfectly with my thoughts in my post had I known it to include!
    4) Still don't know Bob Dylan. . . :)

    The quote is still just as good as it was the first time it struck me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    1. Thanks for your comment and for prompting me to look at the post again. I realized I'd neglected to quote the part of Jer. 17 that actually mentions a tree, ha! So I edited to add a longer portion.

      I'll keep working on you, regarding Bob Dylan. ;) J/k -- may be an acquired taste.