Destructive Nature of a Patriarchal Society in Hannah Zaheer's "Willow Tree Fever"


Destructive Nature of a Patriarchal Society in Hannah Zaheer’s “Willow Tree Fever”


Lovebirds is a collection that contains multiple short stories by Hananah Zaheer in which she touches on various social problems from an individual level to a societal level. In her short story “Willow Tree Fever,” Zaheer uses a tree to represent the protagonist, and the final interaction between the tree and the protagonist's husband when he is swallowed by the amber sap of the tree reflects the destructive nature of patriarchal society.

The tree represents the protagonist, an isolated woman who lives with her husband, and this representation is well expressed with the repeated mention of rotting. When the protagonist talks about her declining marriage, she explains, “It [the tree] was a relief from my days which had been downy and unspoiled at the beginning of my marriage, but lately had taken on a rotting quality,” (13) effectively communicating that her marriage was unenjoyable because of all of the things she is restricted to do. She also mentions that she is relieved that the tree is rotting, even though this means that she is rotting. Later the husband explains to his wife why he has to cut down the tree: “You have to cut down even your friends if they rot,” (16). He is saying that he must cut the tree down because it is rotting, even though it is a “friend.” By repeatedly mentioning the rotting of the tree, the author asserts that under the pressures and confines of a patriarchal society, an isolated woman will, metaphorically, rot.

The way the protagonist’s husband treats the tree reflects how he treats his wife, which bolsters the claim that the tree represents the protagonist. Ultimately, the husband doesn’t cut down the tree out of hatred: “Husband was sad about cutting the tree,” (15). He likes the tree, but he has to cut it down since he feels it is necessary to correct a woman who is reluctant to the patriarchal norms. The husband explains how he and his friends used to treat the tree when they were young when Zaheer writes, “They [husband and his friends] burned the tips of feather-veined leaves with cigarettes. They pissed on the roots under each other’s feet” (15).

After the men in the neighborhood gather to cut down the tree, the tree begins to leak a mysterious sap. In the end, the men become stuck to the sap, which highlights the destructive nature of the patriarchal society presented in the story.  ‘I’m stuck,’ Husband yelled… They [the men who are cutting the tree] were stuck, trapped in the amber liquid” (18). The tree retaliates by trapping the men, which can also represent how the patriarchal society also ultimately traps them in their roles and identities as men. Then the wives of the men discuss what to do. Zaheer writes, “We called out to each other. ‘They are getting swallowed,’ Fatgirl said. Lawyer’s wife asked if we should do something. ‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘Husband said to stay inside’” (18). They decide to do what they were instructed to do by their husbands not because they like being commanded, but because it was a relief to see their husbands become engulfed and trapped by the very social structure they created.


Heewoo Jung

Heewoo Jung is a senior at Exeter High School. He enjoys reading and writing and is interested in studying sociology and film.


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