The Language of Fruit Essay example

Submitted By chyeaabrian
Words: 1428
Pages: 6

“Persimmons” by Li-Young Lee is a beautiful meditative reflection on how disconnected incidents from the author’s life—that are tied together symbolically with persimmons—have molded him into the person he is. The speaker contemplates how one can retain a sense of themselves through the changing circumstances the world presents. As an immigrant whose first language is Chinese, Lee introduces the dilemma of feeling the need to shift his behavior in order to assimilate into the social psychology of those he is surrounded by. In his youth the language barrier caused Lee to feel the need to change; however, through his loved ones he discovers that language is not the only way to communicate. Lee ponders his psychological transformation away from the comfort that he had found in his culture at a young age by reminiscing on the persimmon-related experiences that changed him, and his relationships with the people that he loved.
Lee’s sixth grade teacher initially planted the seed of self-consciousness about his ability—or lack thereof—to communicate with others. The more self-conscious one becomes, the less one will want to stand out for fear of being negatively judged. This is what happened to Lee as a child: “In sixth grade Mrs. Walker / slapped the back of my head / and made me stand in the corner / for not knowing the difference / between persimmon and precision.” As you imagine the embarrassment he endured you feel empathy for the speaker; a trait the teacher clearly lacked. This authoritative figure did not respect Lee enough to empathize with his struggles and immediately jumps to the conclusion that he is dumb and has no idea what a persimmon is. This is the first time the speaker suggests that the experience of language is subject to error and miscommunication. Knowledge of a word does not necessarily mean understanding its cultural context. Lee points out this fact in another verse paragraph: “Other words / that got me into trouble were / fight and fright, wren and yarn.” The use of the word “trouble” is a double entendre for him possibly being punished by his teacher for mixing up the words and also that he has difficulty distinguishing the words he hears, yet, profoundly Lee feels their purpose: the more important element than mere linguistics.
Later he shows he is very aware of what a persimmon is and describes with great precision and imagery how to eat one: “Ripe ones are soft and brown-spotted. / Sniff the bottoms. The sweet one / will be fragrant. How to eat: / put the knife away, lay down newspaper. / Peel the skin tenderly, not to tear the meat. / Chew the skin, suck it, / and swallow. Now, eat / the meat of the fruit, / so sweet, / all of it, to the heart.” This detail is almost an art form all its own as it appeals to the rest of the senses in a way that just describing the exterior could never do. Persimmons and Lee himself both appear to be deeper than how they first are perceived. He describes the persimmon empathetically the way that he wishes others could understand him; he knows what it feels like to be judged. Through this experience Lee learns that he will be misunderstood and becomes apprehensive to speak out anymore for a number of reasons: trepidation, spite and embarrassment. Ironically, later the teacher brings a persimmon into class and it becomes clear that she doesn’t share the knowledge of the fruit that Lee has: “…Knowing / it wasn’t ripe or sweet, I didn’t eat / but watched the other faces.” This intimation could be perceived as sinister if he enjoyed watching everyone eat the bitter unripe fruit. Lee has a great admiration for the fruit as shown in his detail in describing one earlier. He knows this is his classmate’s first experience with the fruit and will probably be their last. He keeps the secret of the persimmon to himself, similar to how he fades into the background to not stand out. The persimmon is more than just the symbol for his changing social persona: It also has great