A friend recently lent us a copy of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein complete with a very creepy picture of Silverstein on the back. My five-year-old saw the book on my desk, and the other night he asked to read it. “I used to read it at my old school,” he said. Who knew? We read the book. I had never read the book and only vaguely knew what happened in the story. In short, there is a tree (referred to using female pronouns) and a little boy. The tree loves the little boy and the little boy loves the tree. The boy climbs the tree, eats its apples, hugs the tree, swings from it’s branches and they have great time. As he grows older, the little boy plays with the tree less and less, and when the boy does come to visit, it is only to ask for something. To help the boy, the tree gives him her apples, branches, and finally, her trunk. By the end of the book, the boy is an old man, and the tree is a stump. The boy asks for a place to sit, and the tree offers her stump, “And the tree was happy,” to quote the final line of the book. Come again?
I said something like, “That boy is kind of selfish.” My son responded, “Yeah. He should just get apples from the tree, not leaves and branches and wood. Trees have lots of apples.” On the one hand, he seems to recognize that the apples are a renewable resource and the wood of the tree, not so much. On the other, he’s assuming the boy should get something from the tree. I’m of two minds about it as well. I think the boy was being a total ass for asking the tree to provide for him over and over again. But then I also think the tree was being a chump by being completely self-sacrificing to satisfy the boy. Every time he says he needs something, money, a house, a boat, she says, "Take my ‘x’ and be happy." Being a stump for him to sit on makes her happy?!
I’m not sure what Silverstein was going for in the story, and I haven’t read any of the surely very insightful commentary out there, I’m just wondering what other regular folk think. Is he saying, don’t be a pushover like the tree? Or ask for what you want in life? Or if you’re a girl, the best way to be of service in the world and be happy is to give until there’s nothing left of you but a stump? Trust, Uncle Shel, it’ll make you happy. You’ll never be happy, even if you find a tree that will do anything to make you so? Happiness is sitting on a tree stump, but you won’t realize it until you’re old and withered? Is the tree the parent, forever giving to the child while expecting nothing in return? I can get the parent thing. I don’t expect to get anything back from my children, I’m just doing my job, but the whole giving until you’re a stump thing is too much and I don't want my children to depend on others for their happiness. Your thoughts?