This character in “History of Zoa” and “Henrietta de Bellgrave” shares a name with a unique tree. A banyan is a type of tree that begins its life as a parasite sprout on the trunk of a larger tree. Sometimes the sprout extends roots around the host tree, choking it off and enveloping it completely. For this reason, a banyan tree is also called a ‘strangler fig’. Often, when the original tree is choked off and completely surrounded by the banyan, it dies and rots away, leaving a hollow core at the center of the banyan tree, where wild animals often make their homes. The choice to name a character “the banyan” is almost certainly a type of Gothic 'othering,' making Henrietta’s husband something less than human, with the connotation of a hollow man or a strangler.

The analogy of the banyan tree is also an interesting image for considerations of a post-colonial reading looking back at texts written during the height of imperial impulse. The banyan is different from any English tree, which is unified in a single main trunk system. An old banyan has extended so many shoots and roots into the ground that the first shoot is lost, giving way to a vast, plural, interconnected system of plant matter. The banyan can, therefore, be a useful metaphor for the threat of social collectivism against capitalist individualism, or Hindu pluralism against protestant English monotheism.

The banyan also has great cultural significance for India. The shade of the banyan is a gathering place for the transmission of stories in the oral tradition. It is also described in Hindu texts as both a resting place of the gods, and a source of wisdom. The Bhagavat Gita says, "It is said that there is an imperishable banyan tree that has its roots upward and its branches down and whose leaves are the Vedic hymns. One who knows this tree is the knower of the Vedas" (15.1). This further suggests the connection between the banyan tree and Hindu ideas of the acquisition of knowledge.
Courtesy of Wendy Fall, Marquette University

See also: otherness

Lipner, Julius J. "Ancient Banyan: An Inquiry into the Meaning of 'Hinduness'." Religious Studies 32.1 (1996): 109-26. Print.
Sen Gupta, Kajal, Bani Basu, and Yatindra Ramanujacharyya . Srimat Bhagavat Gita. Firma K. L. Mukhopadhyaya, Calcutta, 1968. Print.




The History of Zoa, the Beautiful Indian, Daughter of Henrietta de Bellgrave; and of Rodomond, Whom Zoa Releases from Confinement, and with Him Makes Her Escape from Her Father, Who Was the Occasion of Rodomond's Imprisonment and Dreadful Sufferings. To Which is Added the Memoirs of Lucy Harris, a Foundling, Who, at Sixteen Years of Age Was Discovered to be Daughter to the Countess of B- A True Story, Unknown


The True and Affecting History of Henrietta de Bellgrave; A Woman Born Only for Calamities. Being an Unhappy Daughter, Wretched Wife, and Unfortunate Mother; Containing a Series of the Most Uncommon Adventures that Ever Befel One Person by Sea and Land, Unknown