Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Horror of Setting in T.A. Louis's Things that Hang from Trees (Annotation G4-3/Goddard)

Sense of place in Things that Hang from Trees begins with a description of the oldest city in the country. T.A. Louis describes the streets of this Florida town so well that no road map or virtual tour could compete. The horror of the setting is accented in the lot behind Millie's diner where the oak tree stands.
Given the title of the novel, as well its setting in Florida during the 1960s, any number of things could hang from this tree. The presence of the tree itself in the dirt lot behind Coquina Plaza is slightly suspect. The tree collects all manners of trash. “As a final touch, the tree was heavily decorated with multi-colored balls of lint from the laundry mat dyers” (Louis 4). Even Millie in an attempt to make the tree more pleasant hangs aluminum soda pop cans to attract birds, but to no avail.
The ominous presence of the tree throughout the story becomes a horror to those around it. It is a place where the bullying boy Bear, terrorizes the main character Tommy, an asthmatic son of the living mannequin Connie Mae. Ump, the town drunk pulls up residence sharing the lot with the old tree. The town and her characters all have a relationship with the tree.
Initially, Juan Lopez de Mendoza Grajales (cook/dishwasher/poet) writes:
The live oak is a Florida evergree:
an often-roots-exposed-tree,
a dogged tree, a rugged tree,
a tree with scars and knots,
a carve-your-name-in-deep tree,
a climbing tree, a hiding tree
a tree of Spanish moss. (Louis i)

Ultimately, as the book ends and the reader finally discovers what has in fact been hidden in the tree.
The morning after the fourth of July celebration, which is a clever Floridian mix of the USA and the Spanish, Ump, Millie, and the bully Bear have made their discovery in the tree. Waiting for Tommy to return to diner, Millie and Ump have conflicting opinions about the tree:
Ump looked at the oak. 'someone should clean up that tree,' ump said.
'Or cut it down,' Millie said.
'No, ain't a bad tree.'” (Louis 78).

Aside from being a central focus of the story, this Florida Oak makes the setting of town as it is such a crucial part of the latter action.

Louis, T.A. Things that Hang from Trees. Alto: New York, 2002.

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