The message offered in the “kids” book, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, is surprisingly debatable. Some people think it’s a beautiful story of love and self-sacrifice, the mother-child relationship. The most common summary of the symbolism I find in a quick search on the Internet is, “The Giving Tree is about a mother and son. The Giving Tree is about the relationship between a mother and son. The relationship between the boy and the tree is almost exactly like a mother and son, or child. The son takes from the mother, and she gives.”
Some people think it’s a grim story of selfishness and exploitation.
A student gave the book to me when I was a teaching assistant in grad school. At first, I loved the book. When I looked at it again — putting it on my shelves here in my house when I moved in — I thought, “What a sick and miserable story.” Sometime not long after I read an essay in the NYT that put it out there, “The Giving Tree: Tender Story of Unconditional Love or Disturbing tale of Selfishness“ Quoted in an Op Ed about the book, “We need to Talk About The Giving Tree” one of the book’s editors, Phyllis Fogelman, expressed her opinion. “I have had qualms about my part in the publication of ‘The Giving Tree,’ which conveys a message with which I don’t agree,” she said in an interview. “I think it is basically a book about a sadomasochistic relationship.”
I now see the story as a parable about human’s relationship with this planet.
In The Giving Tree, the tree sacrifices itself so the boy can have what he wants. The tree gives the boy her apples to sell, her branches to build a house, and her trunk to make a boat. Pretty soon, she’s nothing but a stump, and IF she is NOT the kind of tree that reproduces through cloning (as do Aspen trees), well, that’s the end of it. SO…if the tree IS our planet — which does NOT reproduce through cloning or in any other way — (I’m not sure Shel Silverstein thought of that at all) it’s a very sad story. One of the most disgusting things I’ve seen in the litany of disgusting news is that we’ve left some of our trash on Mars.
A reader pointed me to Wikipedia’s entry on this book, and there I found this WONDERFUL (IMO) article: “That Insufferable The Giving Tree”
If you don’t know the book, it’s here in an animated version.