An American Marriage

by

Tayari Jones

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Old Hickey Symbol Icon

The hickory tree that stands between Celestial and Andre’s houses serves as a symbol of the long history between the two, as well as of the deep roots of the racial discrimination that continues to affect black communities. At the end of the book, Old Hickey is revealed to be at least 128 years old, having begun to grow not long after the end of the Civil War. As such, the tree has stood witness to racial injustices since the time of Reconstruction. When Mr. Davenport signs his house over to Celestial, he stipulates only that the tree cannot be cut down—suggesting his commitment to remembering the horrors of the past in the hope that they will not be repeated. Roy, newly-returned from prison and frustrated by what he interprets as Celestial’s lack of care for him, begins to chop at Old Hickey’s trunk with an ax and then slams his own head against its bark. This gesture is both an attack on the bond between Celestial and Andre and on the deep-seated racial prejudices that stole Roy’s life from him for five years. In the end of the book, the tree, at once a symbol of the love between Andre and Celestial and racial injustice, remains strong. That fact that it has stood guard over Celestial and Andre’s love, however, suggests that such relationships can ultimately be an antidote to hate.

Old Hickey Quotes in An American Marriage

The An American Marriage quotes below all refer to the symbol of Old Hickey. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Algonquin edition of An American Marriage published in 2018.
Part 1, Chapter 2 Quotes

Am I different? It has been close to three years, so I guess I have changed. Yesterday I sat under the hickory tree in the front yard. It’s the only place where I find rest and just feel fine. I know fine isn’t a lot, but it’s rare for me these days. Even when I’m happy, there is something in between me and whatever good news comes my way. It’s like eating a butterscotch still sealed in a wrapper. The tree is untouched by whatever worries we humans fret over. I think about how it was here before I was born and it will be here after we’re all gone. Maybe this should make me sad, but it doesn’t.

Related Characters: Celestial Davenport (speaker), Roy Hamilton Jr.
Related Symbols: Old Hickey
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation long mobile
Part 3, Chapter 11 Quotes

But he only turned toward Old Hickey. “It’s too much.” Then quickly—it must have been quickly—but I somehow took notice of each move, Roy tucked his lips against his teeth, gripped the tree like a brother, and then tipped his head back, presenting his face to the sky before driving his forehead against the ancient bark. The sound was muted, like the wet crack of an egg against the kitchen floor. He did it again, harder this time.

Related Characters: Celestial Davenport (speaker), Roy Hamilton Jr., Andre
Related Symbols: Old Hickey
Page Number: 282
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Get the entire An American Marriage LitChart as a printable PDF.
An american marriage.pdf.medium

Old Hickey Symbol Timeline in An American Marriage

The timeline below shows where the symbol Old Hickey appears in An American Marriage. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 2
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
The Effects of Incarceration Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
...he feels his words are inadequate. He reminds her of the time she thought the hickory tree in the front yard was sick and so he hired a tree doctor to help... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 1
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Parenthood as a Choice Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
The Effects of Incarceration Theme Icon
...for his whole life, having grown up next door to each other beneath the centuries-old Old Hickey tree. He knows Celestial is not really his, but he also knows she is not... (full context)
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
The Effects of Incarceration Theme Icon
...goes to her room. He doesn’t follow, instead pouring himself some scotch and sitting under Old Hickey , thinking about all the dolls that look like Roy. (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 12
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
...as anything but convenient. Andre rehearses what he’ll say to Roy and Celestial looks at Old Hickey out front, thinking about how it’s been there longer than anything else in the neighborhood.... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 3
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Parenthood as a Choice Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
The Effects of Incarceration Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
...into their home. When Mr. Davenport deeded the house to Celestial, he stipulated only that Old Hickey couldn’t be cut down. Though the house was only in Celestial’s name, she insisted it... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 9
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
The Effects of Incarceration Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
...of belongings returned to him when he left jail. He drags the boxes out under Old Hickey to go through them. Celestial watches from inside. (full context)
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
The Effects of Incarceration Theme Icon
...not and he bounds across the yard. He touches the ax to the wood of Old Hickey , thinking about how it bears nothing of use and that Celestial and maybe Andre... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 10
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
The Effects of Incarceration Theme Icon
Andre arrives home to find Roy chopping away at Old Hickey . Roy lodges the ax in the tree. Celestial goes to Andre and he asks... (full context)
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
The Effects of Incarceration Theme Icon
Celestial sits on the bench beneath Old Hickey between the two men. Andre puts his arm around her and Roy tells him that... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 11
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
The Effects of Incarceration Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
...bed. Roy says it’s all too much and bangs his head against the trunk of Old Hickey . Celestial blocks him from doing it again. He asks how all of this happened... (full context)
Epilogue
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
...papers, sure it’s the right thing to do, with Davina as notary. He asks if Old Hickey survived. (full context)
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Parenthood as a Choice Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
...want to be a wife. She tells Roy they had a specialist come look at Old Hickey , who said the tree was 128 years old and that it should survive. She... (full context)