Rethinking The Giving Tree

There are spoilers.

givingtreeYesterday I read reread The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, published way back in 1964. This short, sweet story of the relationship between a tree (the Giving Tree) and her boy has been read and reread by millions of parents to their children over the past half century possibly with no other thought than “oh, how sweet. the tree will give anything and everything to the boy she loves.”

When I read it yesterday I thought, “oooh, no. Something about this story is wrong.”

It is the short, not-so-sweet story of the selfless vs. the selfish. Don’t everyone boo, hiss at once. Think about it. The boy (and it is always The Boy as if he never grows up in the heart of the tree) climbs on the tree and eats the apples as a child. And then, lo and behold, he does grow up and he goes away. When he comes back to the tree it is always with a whine because he needs something, and the tree always gives that thing he needs which happens to be part of her very self. Ultimately, she sacrifices her life for The Boy.

Somehow, someway, in Silverstein’s story she still has a voice (life?) as a stump at the end.

And the tree was happy ….                 but not really.

~p. 56 (?), The Giving Tree

But the reality is, when you cut down a tree, it’s all over for the tree. Do apple trees send offshoots from the roots? Do they have more lives after destruction?

Am I being too literal? Where are the tree’s boundaries? Where is its self-care? And where is the lesson that we are stewards of the earth and should treat what is given to us responsibly? Perhaps if the boy might have planted some of the tree’s seeds from her apples before killing her.

Silverstein has personified the tree into a one-dimensional caregiver, capable of only giving selflessly until she has given all. In my oh, so enlightened 2016 brain, this is not a healthy thing to teach a child.

I love a good children’s story about children and the nature that surrounds them, that teaches them how to treat others, and that influences them as they grow older. I’m not so sure The Giving Tree is that story anymore.



2 thoughts on “Rethinking The Giving Tree

  1. I completely agree…I’ve always had the same problem with that particular story. Try “Once There Was a Tree” by Natalia Romanova instead…a much better take on the story of the giving powers of a tree. It speaks more to nature and the circle of life rather than simply taking and using up. And let’s not forget Dr. Seus’ “The Lorax”.


  2. Yeah. I always thought The Giving Tree was really depressing. I could never figure out what/who the tree was supposed to represent but really hoped it wasn’t me as a mother (although I often felt like the tree, that’s for sure).

    Liked by 1 person

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