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Thread: Under the spreading chestnut tree

  1. #1
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    Under the spreading chestnut tree

    In chapter seven of 1984, Winston Smith remebers seeing Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford (founders on the party) in the Chesnut Tree Cafe. The telescreen plays this song:

    Under the spreading chestnut tree
    I sold you and you sold me
    There lie they, and here lie we
    Under the spreading chestnut tree

    I interpreted this as meaning that Big Brother realises they are there and remembers how he/they were betrayed. I thought the lying part suggests burial and foreshadows their deaths.

    Using Google I found that this is Orwell's take on a poem by Longfellow called The Village Blacksmith:

    Under a spreading chestnut-tree
    The village smithy stands;
    The smith, a mighty man is he,
    With large and sinewy hands;
    And the muscles of his brawny arms
    Are strong as iron bands.

    Interpretation: village = good as countryside is idealised in Smith's Golden Country dreams. Blacksmith = Winston Smith. Winston is mighty as he tries to resist party.

    -------

    Can anyone explain this further? What is the symbolism of a chestnut tree?

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    I too have wondered what the Chestnut Tree symbolized. I did an Internet search myself. I found many sites dedicated to the symbolism of trees. They consistently mentioned the Chestnut tree as representing Justice, Honesty and Chastity. I am not sure exactly if and how this fits into the novel.

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    Thanks for the reply. This is the trouble I was having too, the chestnut tree does not seem to have a specific meaning. I found a variety of interpretations but only short phrases, no indepth explanations. Seems that trees that weren't part of the Celtic tree Calendar (Birch, Rowan, Ash, Alder, Willow, Hawthorn, Oak, Holly, Vine, Ivy, Reed, Elder) are less likely to have clear symbolism. Oh well

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    The Yodfather Stanislaw's Avatar
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    About Readers comment.

    The party in 1984 Supported chastity, justice, and honesty.
    The party tried to destroy sexual relationships, and expected ever citizen to do the right thing and turn their comrads over to the thought police if they thought they were dissidents.

    The lines about isold you... Show that everyone turns everyone over in the end and regardless of how well people hide their shortcomings, they will be caught.

    ---------------
    Stanislaw Lem
    1921 - 2006, Rest In Peace.
    "Faith is, at one and the same time, absolutely necessary and altogether impossible"

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    Regarding the Chestnut theme, something interesting I noticed when I recently reread Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. The Character Clarisse leaves bags of Chestnuts in front of Montag's(the book's protagonist) home. This seems to clearly symbolize the "truth" that Clarisse helps Montag to discover. While a very good novel, Fahrenheit and these characters are somewhat derivative of 1984 (or maybe both books were just influenced by the works of other writers such as Aldous Huxley or Yevgeny Zamyatin).

    The betrayal theme seems obvious, but does everyone betray everyone in 1984? Perhaps a minor point, but Julia speaks of a former lover who commits suicide rather the submit to torture and who therefore does not betray her. Sadly, if Winston and Julia had the opportunity and inclination to take this path, their fates would have been infinitely "happier".

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    The Yodfather Stanislaw's Avatar
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    There are different levels of betrayal. Most of the party members are constantly informing the police about others shortcomings. Winston had he commited suicide would be betraying the cause he was trying to fight for. The only people who were free of these short comings were the "proles". They lived on liked they always did. Perhaps they were more human than the party members. They did not betray society.

    ---------------
    Stanislaw Lem
    1921 - 2006, Rest In Peace.
    "Faith is, at one and the same time, absolutely necessary and altogether impossible"

  7. #7
    This is a very wild conjecture, off the top of my head:

    There is only one reference in the Bible, in the Psalms, to "The Green Bay Tree".

    A novel with that title "The Green Bay Tree" was written by Louis Bromfield, I believe. I posted something about it a while back.

    http://www.online-literature.com/for...ead.php?t=3794

    The verse in the Psalms says (from memory), something like "I have seen the evil, powerful people spreading and thriving and prospering like the green bay tree."

    In this context, the spreading of a tree is an image of evil spreading and growing, covering all things, overshadowing all in its shade.

    Here is a "Newspeak" Dictionary

    http://www.newspeakdictionary.com/ns-dict.html
    Last edited by Sitaram; 08-26-2005 at 03:04 PM.

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    Please bear in mind that Orwell was, surely, writing above all for a British audience and it couldn't be assumed that they'd be aware of Longfellow's poem. I think one would need to look for a British song or nursery rhyme.

    As for the suggestion about the reference to Psalm 119 it's just too remote. Where else, if anywhere, in his writings does Orwell take this kind of knowledge of the Bible for granted?

    Edited to add: I wonder if "the spreading chestnut tree" isn't perhaps just generally associated with a peaceful rural idyll. See this link, for example.

    http://www.visitwirral.com/displayPage.asp?page_key=46
    Last edited by kaka; 12-13-2005 at 10:43 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kaka
    Please bear in mind that Orwell was, surely, writing above all for a British audience and it couldn't be assumed that they'd be aware of Longfellow's poem. I think one would need to look for a British song or nursery rhyme.
    Have a look there : http://www.orwelltoday.com/readerchestnut.shtml

  10. #10
    rat in a strange garret Whifflingpin's Avatar
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    "Under the spreading chestnut tree
    When I held you on my knee,
    we were happy as can be
    Under the spreading chestnut tree.

    Under the spreading chestnut tree
    I'll kiss you and you'll kiss me
    Oh how happy we will be
    Under the spreading chestnut tree"

    A song popular in campfire and community singing in the 20s & 30s. There is film archive somewhere of the Prince of Wales (Edward VIII) singing it, with actions, at a rally.

    The tune is the same as used in the children's action song "I'm a little teapot."

    Of course the British were aware of Longfellow's poem - the song would be pointless otherwise. Longfellow is one of the few transatlantic poets who made it across the pond into popular esteem.

    .
    Voices mysterious far and near,
    Sound of the wind and sound of the sea,
    Are calling and whispering in my ear,
    Whifflingpin! Why stayest thou here?

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    Right, this is just a random idea but couldn't the 'spreading chestnut tree' represent reproduction; children 'selling' their parents to the authorities etc... just a thought

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    There is another point I want to add: I think Winston discovering more and more parts of the poem is a preview of what is going to happen to him and Julia.

    p.s. i read that book about 4 years ago fpr the first time and i loved it somehow and then a few weeks ago the last English test consisted of the part where Winston meets the old guy and wants to find out something about how it was before the party took over. We had to link this excerpt with the butler STevens from "The remains of the day" by Kazuo Ishiguro.
    A really cool task

    *marlene

  13. #13
    Registered User SteveH's Avatar
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    Given that Orwell's song is obviously a parody of the song quoted above by Whifflingpin, do we need to find a specific referent for the Chestnut tree? The Nineteen Eighty-four version is a nasty, sneering, threatening version of a charming children's song, an example of how the regime warps and contaminates everything. In the novel, further examples of the corruption of childhood are shown: the children of Smith's neighbours, whose name I can't remember, are members of a youth organisation called the 'Junior Spies' (I think), whose members are encouraged to spy on, and if necessary betray, their parents. The father is eventually arrested after his son, a boy of about 11, tells the authorities that he heard his father saying "I hate Big Brother" in his sleep.

    However, if you want to make the chestnut tree into a specific symbol, how about it representing the party, in that its branches "spread", as the song says, and cover everyone, in the way that the party is omnipresent and all-encompassing?

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    I believe that the symbolism of the chestnut tree represents the strength of the smithy in the original poem as the entire poem is a description of the man's strength. It describes the completeness of this strong man, with a description of his family, religious, and social life as one of confidence and satisfaction. People look on him with admiration and he views the world the same way.
    Orwell was likely juxtaposing the poems description of a man with the shattered and defeated men of 1984, who sit to waste their lives away broken and defeated.
    That is at least how I read it.

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    I have just completed 1984, and I have fresh recollections I think I can impart.

    The whole purpose of the Party, as stated by O'Brian, is to have power, control. To have control is to control the human mind, the human will. To do that, they make their own truth. Winston is forced to see this truth as absolute, and reject any involuntary objections as 'false.' As imagined.

    Furthermore, it is mentioned a few times that every song produced is now a product of the party. This song was played for the traitors that Winston observed years ago at the Chestnut Cafe, just before their second arrest and internment at the Ministry of Love. The song caused all three traitors to break down into tears almost immediately. I assume that Orwell had written it as the Party taking that old, cherished love song and warped it for their purposes in the Ministry of Love, as someone mentioned before.

    And again, as Winston meets Julia for the last time in the book, they admit to eachother that they betrayed one another. They wished the most horrible acts transfered from themselves to the other out of pure selfish need for survival. This is what the Party wanted all along, from their first internment. What the party attempts to achieve with everyone: to make them betray their own loved ones, to abolish their mutual feelings of love.

    In the new version of the song, the Chestnut tree does not resemble Truth, Justice, or Chastity like it may have before. It represents the Party's engineered Truth, Love for only the Party. Because everyone confesses, and everyone does everything that's demanded of them, even destroying their own love, when faced with the overreaching power of the Party.

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