The Mark on the Wall

by

Virginia Woolf

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The Tree Symbol Icon

If humanity is associated with a fast-paced lifestyle and destructive materialism, trees symbolize the opposite of that—namely, slowing down, growth, and being present. Their long lives and slow yet constant growth provide an alternative to rapid and ruinous human development. The narrator describes the ways that new technologies impede human connections, as being packed together on the underground and on omnibuses leads people to look at each other with emptiness and “glassy eyes.” Trees, on the other hand, create nurturing communities for other plants and animals, building symbiotic relationships that the narrator contrasts with the isolation of modern humans. She describes the ways that trees grow over the course of years without paying attention to their surroundings, and in doing so provide spaces for cows to swish their tails in the shade on hot afternoons, for birds to sing in June and for insects to sun themselves on the leaves. Even after succumbing to a storm and falling, “there are a million patient, watchful lives still for a tree,” as they turn into furniture and housing for human activities. This makes trees inherently social, as well as nurturing and protective, in contrast to the “wasteful” and “haphazard” destructive tendencies of humans. Essentially, the lives of trees progress towards growth and community even in their afterlives, as their only goals are growing slowly and being present. Humanity, on the other hand, rushes to develop new technologies, wage wars, and accumulate heaps of material possessions—none of these things can persist. The hubristic desire for the domination of the world leads to isolation and a shrinking, rather than a growth, of one’s knowledge and possessions. 

In addition, a tree tapping on the windowpane catches the narrator’s attention, interrupting the domestic isolation of her living room. Like the snail, the tree also proves that the stark walls humans put up between their lives and the natural world are not impermeable. At times, the narrator appears to identify with the tree, imagining herself leading such a life, as opposed to her civilized life. Because this is a real tree (rather than an imagined one), the tree also represents the importance of paying attention to one’s surroundings. By anchoring in solid material objects, one can find a sense of peace outside the various distractions of the fast-paced civilized world.

The Tree Quotes in The Mark on the Wall

The The Mark on the Wall quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Tree. 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:
Nature and Civilization Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Thrift Editions edition of The Mark on the Wall published in 1997.
The Mark on the Wall Quotes

The tree outside the window taps very gently on the pane… I want to think quietly, calmly, spaciously, never to be interrupted, never to have to rise from my chair, to slip easily from one thing to another, without any sense of hostility, or obstacle; I want to sink deeper and deeper, away from the surface, with its hard separate facts.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Tree
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

Wood is a pleasant thing to think about. It comes from a tree; and trees grow, and we don’t know how they grow. For years and years they grow, without paying any attention to us, in meadows, in forests, and by the side of rivers—all things one likes to think about.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Tree
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

Even so, life isn’t done with; there are a million patient, watchful lives still for a tree, all over the world, in bedrooms, in ships, on the pavement, lining rooms, where men and women sit after tea, smoking cigarettes. It is full of peaceful thoughts, happy thoughts, this tree. I should like to take each one separately—but something is getting in the way. . . . Where was I? What has it all been about? A tree? A river? The Downs? Whitaker’s Almanack? The fields of asphodel? I can’t remember a thing. Everything’s moving, falling, slipping, vanishing.. . . There is a vast upheaval of matter.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Someone
Related Symbols: The Tree
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Mark on the Wall PDF

The Tree Symbol Timeline in The Mark on the Wall

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Tree appears in The Mark on the Wall. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Mark on the Wall
Nature and Civilization Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Self and the Other Theme Icon
Time and Memory Theme Icon
...the mantlepiece to the dust which buried Troy and considers herself a poor housekeeper. A tree taps on the window outside, and the narrator pictures Shakespeare sitting in an arm-chair before... (full context)
Nature and Civilization Theme Icon
War Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Self and the Other Theme Icon
Time and Memory Theme Icon
...thoughts. She wants to find pleasant thoughts and fixates on the solid image of a tree, growing outside the bounds of human knowledge and creating an environment for cows, rivers, and... (full context)