“Trees of Gold” by Rebecca West

I chose to read and analyze “Trees of Gold” by Rebecca West, and I will admit that this was a very difficult piece to sift through. I read it about ten times over before I finally understood her point of view. West has a very rich prose, based on imagery, metaphor, and an almost dreamy tone. But I finally latched on to her feminist argumentation, and the word most used to convey that: “beauty.” She never capitalizes it or puts any other obvious kind of importance on the word, but it is always at the heart of her most passionate arguments.

The only time she addresses the women’s movement directly is when she is traveling on a train with three men from different countries. When the subject came up, she decided “to lay at their feet a declaration that things being as they are I want a vote.” In response, they looked at her “as one might gaze on a rebellious chocolate-cream,” as if she wasn’t even human. She then had to “explain that [she] was not a luxury but a journalist.” Then, moving away from that conversation, she describes a burnt and decimated field they passed through, that she personifies as struggling for life, and struggling against the limestone mountains they were adjacent to. The mountains, however, she describes as “so beautiful that it strained this consciousness to perceive them: one could not fully grasp its beauty because of the limitations of this humanity. To enter into it one would need to be a mountain.” It was then that I realized that both the mountains and her use of ‘beauty’ was really a metaphor for life itself, or the better life that men were allowed to experience while women were treated as objects, because women at this time in history were virtually nothing, and to be feminine was to be quiet, subservient, and malleable. This change she describes from the ugly to the beautiful, both here and in her last image of the “trees of gold,” really means the ascension of women into equality. As she so eloquently says, “life itself is nothing: it is the trimmings that matter, the pride and honour and beauty.”

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3 thoughts on ““Trees of Gold” by Rebecca West

  1. I had an equally hard time unpacking this piece. For me though, the subversive feminist undertones really did not jump out at me until the final passage. She says that a complacent person may as well not exist, “To secure peace in our time we insist on ‘character,’ meaning an absence of characteristics, in our schools and produce an eventempered and disciplined population, that might as well have never been born.”She does not want a world of women and men who do not fight and question the world’s systems. She begins the piece by glorifying beauty but in the end shows that it hides a true lack of character. The trees of gold were “gnawed inwards as they glowed outwards.” Her almost sarcastic tone shows that she does truly hitch herself to the camp of beauty rather she believes that this preoccupation with beauty if creating a complacent and uninteresting world. A healthy tree was turned into the “mischievous cross of Christ.” The beautiful are not the ones who matter in this world. It is the mischievous and rebellious who have an effect.

  2. I agree with both of you that it was hard to find the meaning the first time through. I do agree with the thoughts that women are objects and men are human but I think the author uses this to as one way to enhance the argument that beauty doesn’t matter in this world. I think the author means that beauty is just used objectively by men and can allow them to make those women seem like they don’t matter. She might be saying that the people that affect the world and decide what is accepted or not are manipulative. I think the author was trying to portray that beauty will only be used by others that actually dictate what happens.

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