disappearance in the war is one of the Keller family’s great traumas. After the war and Chris’s
return to work for Joe
, the family planted a tree to memorialize Larry, in the backyard, although Kate
never gave up hope that Larry might return alive. In the beginning of the play, the tree is found shorn in half by the wind, in August, the same month Larry was born. Kate views this as a sign that the Kellers have forgotten Larry and abandoned the thought of his return. In this way, the tree serves a complex symbolic purpose: it is planted to symbolize Larry’s life, but in fact it underscores, to Kate, the idea that many believe Larry to be already dead and gone. When the tree is destroyed, Kate chooses to interpret this not as evidence of Larry’s actual death, but of the “falsity” of any memorial tribute to Larry, since one can’t memorialize a person who is still alive. Only at the play’s end, when Annie
reveals Larry’s suicide letter to the Kellers, does Kate understand that Larry is never coming home, and that, tree or no tree, she must come to terms with Larry’s death, and Joe’s guilt in the manufacturing fiasco, without the supernatural aid of symbols like the tree.