Jean de La Fontaine
"Le Chêne Et Le Roseau," a poem by Jean de La Fontaine, shows the contrast
of the characters while moralizing about hidden strengths that are often
overlooked or belittled. In this poem, the oak is personified as having a
stubborn sense of strength, while the humble reed is represented as possessing
the qualities of endurance, flexibility, and hidden strength. Fontaine teaches
the reader his lesson through the use of nature by having the oak and the reed
converse about their strengths. In the end the reed proves his point when the
north wind uproots the oak, leaving it to die. The theme of "Le Chêne Et Le

Roseau" is a universal one, easily recognized and understood by all. The
poem’s central idea is that strength is not necessarily size and power, but in
adaptability, endurance, and flexibility. Fontaine illustrates the theme well in
these lines: "L’arbre tient bon; le roseau plie. Le vent redouble ses
efforts, et fait si bien qu’il déracine celui..." The poet further develops
the theme with a moral which implies that humility is more important than pride.

Fontaine places most emphasis on idea to help develop this moral. In the end,
the pompous oak’s strength is his weakness, while the humble reed’s
suppleness is his fortitude. Jean de La Fontaine develops well the poem’s
mood, one of pity, compassion, and respect, through sensory images and
descriptions of the characters. These lines: "Un roitelet pour vous est un
pesant fardeau; " and "Le moindre vent qui d’aventure fait rider la face
de l’eau, vous oblige à baisser la tête; ", as well as "La nature vous
me semble bien injuste." illustrate the sentimental atmosphere of pity that
the reader feels for the reed’s struggle against relatively small
difficulties. Although Fontaine succeeds in creating this sympathetic mood, this
line: "Vous avez bien sujet d’accuser la nature; " detracts from the
intended mood because one does not feel sorry for someone that accuses and
complains. Jean de La Fontaine uses examples of personification, imagery,
similes, allusions, and symbolism to create a deeper meaning of the poem and to
the emphasize the theme. "Le chêne un jour dit au roseau:" is an example of
personification that Fontaine uses throughout the poem. He personifies the oak
and the reed as humans having a conversation. These lines: "Le moindre vent
qui d’aventure fait rider la face de l’eau, vous oblige à baisser la tête;

" show imagery and personification. The image that Fontaine creates, the
rippling of the water, is one that the reader can visualize, while the lowering
of the head represents a person bowing his head. This line: "Cependant que mon
front, au Caucase pareil," contains a simile and an allusion. The simile is
the comparison of the forehead to the Caucasus Mountains, while the allusion is
the Greek mythology’s Caucasus Mountains, which represent strength, fortitude,
and perhaps danger. "Des royaumes du vent" is an allusion to the kingdom of
the Greek wind god Aeolus who usually stirred up strong winds. "L’empire des
morts" is also an allusion to the kingdom of Hades, which was the Greek
underworld, representing the death of the oak. This poem expresses irony when
the reed is troubled by simple burdens, but the reed is able to withstand
difficult predicaments. The oak is symbolized as power, pride, and a false sense
of strength, while the reed represents endurance, flexibility, and strength from
within. Moreover, the wind is pictured as hardships, challenges, and tests.

Fontaine uses logical sequence in developing the characters of the oak and the
reed. At first, the reader only sees them as trees, but he soon learns through
the oak that the reed appears weak and defenseless, and that the strong oak
wishes to shelter and protect the reed. The reader next learns that the reed is
confident and not afraid of impending dangers, because he bends and does not
break. Then the terrible winds come and uproot the oak, while the small reed
survives. Thus, the reader understands that size is not as important as
flexibility. Fontaine writes "Le Chêne Et Le Roseau" as a narrative,
didactic, and descriptive poem with an irregular number of syllables. It is
narrative and didactic because he teaches a moral and tells a story through the
use of nature with which he is intimately acquainted. The poem’s descriptive
words vividly contrast the reed and the oak. The narrative aspect of the poem
has realistic dialogue which advances the plot and the traits of the characters.

Fontaine’s style of simplicity contributes to the easy understanding of this
interesting poem. "Le Chêne Et