Perspectives of Nietzsche, Kant and Derrida

In making a study of this novel-The Tree of Man-my goal is not to see the exact relationship between the events occur in the novel and Christianity but I rather concentrate on the God, and the protagonist’s Christ like coming in the text. The context of myths, thus, will provide a broader. In making a study of this novel-The Tree of Man-my goal is not to see the exact relationship between the events occur in the novel and Christianity but I rather concentrate on the God, and the protagonist’s Christ like coming in the text. The context of myths, thus, will provide a broader prospective (for Nietzsche, Kant, and Derrida) and later on myths transform into a structured spiritual script.

Patrick White’s Tree of Man is a mythical novel and the author establishes a myth which is concerned with the relationship of man to God, and God to man. Along with the relationship runs a series of natural conflicts-flood and fire, and we see human desires are frustrated by non-human powers. Thematically, the novel follows an old proverb-“Man proposes and God disposes”. Hostile human desires and distorted consciousness make this novel a story of birth, passion, and defeat by death which is ultimately the results of all human’s common fate-either good or bad. Patrick White does not give a moral lecture as the novel sets in a forest where the cultivation of man and nature occur side by side.

The first trait which characterizes Christianity is that it is faith in an event. In Old Testament, it was the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ. This event constitutes an ellipsis of manhood; the intervention of God not only drastically changes the consciousness of man but also brings a new vision towards novelty. The agents of both the situations-God and Stan Parker (the protagonist)-come with their tools, though their tools vary in a sense that one uses language to break the silence and on the other hand another uses an axe to make a sound. The similarity between the two remains common on the ground of not what they do but what they think. Their decisions are straight forward and hence lack insignificant assertions.

Then the man took an axe and struck at the side of a hairy tree … … … The silence was immense. It was the first time anything like this had happened in that part of the bush.
(The Tree of Man, P.9)

The break of silence becomes his first communication with nature especially

when nature is so close that the isolation turns into a solitude to this young Australian man. Stan demonstrates his psychical harmony to nature by closing the eyes in night to sleep and opening them for the daylight. The daily work makes him so tired that he doesn’t persuade sleep but the natural sleep takes him over. In this mode Stan works through out his life and died eventually a peaceful death as an old tree fall after giving plenty fruits and seeing significant seasons throughout year.

The four sections of the book document the four seasons and four phrases of Stan Parker, and his woman’s four phrases with contemplation on daily duties that are essential for the survival of the fittest in the wilderness of nature. Stan shows power to dominate things that need physical strength like the sap raises in the tree. He lives in a Nietzschean manner as if God were dead or he was the son of god like Christ who ultimately knows how to lead his life with contrary situations. The hero doesn’t believe in any freedom for himself as he knows that he is also a part of larger ordering. He wants to play the man’s role in the creation. For this reason he is always ready for hardships as it gives him strength to firth back for the survival cause.

Post-modern suspicion of “why ness” never touches his sturdy soul. Like Nietzsche, Stan Parker responds differently to the nihilism that he has diagnosed. He has lost ‘the real world’ and ‘the apparent world’, he thinks, and it follows from the eerie situations like: he succumbs to the potency of his imagination, falling into Madeleine with Amy’s way of seeing the world as lit by human desires- a hazy, immaterial, sinuous and seductive orgasmic force. Stan’s pseudo ignorance to his wife’s adultery, daughter’s in articulation to his situation and son’s squalidity towards him claims his God power-whether imagery or real is immanent. He realizes that there is no absolute being and a being is always becoming; and he remains in the process of fluid than fixity.

Embracing the Kantian logic of heavenly world, Stan knows that it is to be approached so much by faith as by morality: we can have no theoretical knowledge of the deity, and the best we can do is act morally, as though we knew there was a god. Stan doesn’t perplex on the issue whether God exists or not but internally realizes that the supreme value for life unexpectedly set in motion the inevitable decline in the idea of value. In keeping with this, as the man’s power wither and fade so too do the manifestations of a purpose in everything. The state of the old Parker, blinking into the light, unable to fasten his mind, his last feeble powers of awareness on anything, certainly proclaims that man is mortal as Christ was (Christians believe that the second person of Trinity became a human being and died for their sins), and that he is born to crumble back into dust. The force that works through him must flicker and go out, only the coming of full strength of another Stan Parker, of other simple good men.

The centrality of Stan and his woman is maintained by the other characters like Doll Quigley, Ray, Thelma, O’ Dowd and Bub and so on and so forth. This centrality establishes Stan Parker as the sun among planets. He lives, works, and dies for another Stan Parker who will restore the radiance. The God-power is lying within and behind and working out through the efforts of the man. And thus the last sentence provides evidence for his continuity. The last sentence goes like:

So that in the end there was no end.

The remains in the fluid like Stan Parker. He will pass his radiance to another man, and an unending session will go hereafter. This perspective which affirms a plurality of force centers an affirmation. This is pronounced by Derrida as an endless process of becoming. Derrida masterfully claims that ‘sign is a sign of another sign’. The otherness prevails and hence The Tree of Man is not a tree but a biological evolutionary process that remains as a continuum and for eternity.

Mr. Amitabh V. Dwivedi
Faculty in English & Linguistics
SMVD University, Kakryal, Katra, Jammu, India


-- Derrida, J. (1982) ‘Letter to a Japanese Friend’ in J. Wolfreys (eds), Literary Theories, London: Edinburgh University Press.

-- Harrland, R. (1987) ‘Derrida and Language as Writing’ Superstructuralism, London and New York: Methuen.

- Green, K. and Bihan, L.(2000) Critical Theory and Practice, London: Routledge.

- Selden I. Raman (1988) ‘Structure and Indeterminacy’ The Theory of Criticism from Plato to the Present-A Reader UK: Longman.

- Wolfreys,J. (1999) ‘Introduction: ‘What remains unread’, Literary Theories, London: Edinburgh University Press.