The Coral Tree by Ruskin Bond
In The Coral Tree by Ruskin Bond we have the theme of connection, innocence, sadness, conflict, aspirations, isolation and loneliness. Taken from his Collected Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed male and after reading the story the reader realises that Bond may be exploring the theme of connection. The narrator and the young girl make a connection through the girl’s desire to get some flowers from the coral tree. It is by helping the girl that the narrator learns a little about the girl and the aspirations she has. Which are similar to the narrator’s. She too has a desire to travel the world though the reader suspects the girl may be somewhat innocent when it comes to how she feels. She may have no real understanding as to what travelling the world may entail. Unlike the narrator who has job interviews set up for himself when he arrives in England and appears to be more practical. It is also noticeable that the narrator is somewhat conflicted. Part of him wants to stay at home yet another part of him knows that he must leave his grandfather’s home and move on with his life. If anything the conflict the narrator feels brings a sadness upon the narrator.
Which some critics may suggest is mirrored by the degree of sadness that the girl may feel. Though she is still young and yet to be hurt by life the reader senses that there is something that troubles the girl. She only talks to the narrator when he asks her a question. At no stage in the story is the girl inquisitive as one would expect a child to be. The fact that the girl’s best friend is the cook in her house is also interesting as it could be a case that the girl is isolated from the world around her. Just as her lack of inquisitiveness is unusual so too is the fact that the girl tells the narrator that the cook is her best friend. The reader really expecting that the girl would name another child of her own age. The fact that the girl tells the narrator that he can be her second best friend it is also puzzling as again it suggests that the girl may not only be isolated from others but that she may be lonely.
There is also some symbolism in the story which may be important. The coral tree may represent a connection between both the narrator and the girl. The fact that the girl helps the narrator with his suitcase may also have some symbolic significance with Bond using the suitcase to symbolise a farewell between the two new friends (the narrator and the girl). The girl’s red ribbon and the fact that it falls from her hair may symbolically highlight a sense of purity or innocence. The girl is free of the entanglements that come with life and which the narrator is facing as he travels to England. The narrator does after all have to deal with the issue of trying to sell his grandfather’s home, letting go of the fond memories he has of the house and the time he spent there. The reader is also left to assume that a tragedy has befallen the narrator (grandfather’s death) and that this is the trigger for the narrator making the move to England and selling the house. The snapping of the branch on the coral tree could also be significant as in many ways it could symbolise the narrator breaking ties with his grandfather’s home.
The end of the story is also interesting as though the narrator’s encounter with the girl was brief he too after the encounter believes that he can travel anywhere in the world. It is as though the narrator’s encounter with the girl has lifted his spirits and he is not as downcast as he was prior to meeting the girl. Which may be the point that Bond is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that wisdom or inspiration can come from others regardless of their age. Where one would usually associate wisdom with someone who is older. This is not necessarily the case in the story. A young girl with aspirations of her own has inspired the narrator and helped comfort him as he sets out on a new phase of his life. His burden or sense of loss is lessened by his engagement with the girl. Something that the girl herself may never realise. She may never know that she has helped the narrator just as he has helped her by getting the flowers from the coral tree. Which might leave some readers to suspect that in life one always needs somebody. Though that person may not necessarily realise how beneficial they have been.