Literature Annotations


White, E. B. (Elwyn Brooks)
The Second Tree from the Corner


Genre Short Story (7 pp.)
KeywordsDoctor-Patient Relationship, Empathy, Individuality, Mental Illness, Ordinary Life, Patient Experience, Physician Experience, Psychiatry, Psychosomatic Medicine, Psychotherapy
Summary

After five unproductive meandering sessions, Mr. Trexler, the patient, turns the tables on his psychiatrist, batting back to him the question he has just been pitched: "What do you want?" The doctor's pathetically shallow and concise answer, "I want a wing on the small house I own in Westport. I want more money and leisure to do the things I want to do"(101), propel Mr. Trexler towards compassion for the doctor, and a feeling that he himself had regained his own quirky hold on the world.

After leaving the "poor, scared, overworked" doctor, Trexler thought again about what he wanted: "'I want the second tree from the corner, just as it stands,' he said, answering an imaginary question from an imaginary physician. And he felt a slow pride in realizing that what he wanted none could bestow, and that what he had none could take away. He felt content to be sick, unembarrassed at being afraid; and in the jungle of his fear he glimpsed (as he had so often glimpsed them before)the flashy tail feathers of the bird courage"(102-3).

Commentary

This is a beautifully written story that could be used with other works (e.g. Warren William's "Doctor Talk to Me," Flannery O'Connor's The Lame Shall Enter First) to help doctors (or other helpers) understand that just as they are "sizing up" their clients, their clients also are assessing them, their skills, values, and motives.

SourceThe Second Tree from the Corner
PublisherHarper & Brothers
Edition1962
Place PublishedNew York
Alternate SourceBest American Short Stories of the Century
Alternate PublisherHoughton Mifflin
Alternate Edition1999
Alternate EditorsJohn Updike & Katrina Kenison
Place PublishedBoston
MiscellaneousBook copyright: 1954
Annotated by Kohn, Martin
Date of Entry 10/17/01
Last Revised 12/29/09