I will preface this by saying, I absolutely love Shel Silverstein. I think almost all of the poems on here are by him. He’s not the only poet I love, but he holds a very special place in my heart, right there next to Dr. Seuss.
For the few of you who might not know, The Giving Tree is about a tree who loved a boy. When he was little, the boy loved her too. The tree was very motherly and kind to the boy, and he would swing from her branches and eat her apples and climb her trunk and rest in her shade. The tree was very happy when the boy was young like this. But as the boy grew older he stopped spending so much time with the tree. He no longer climbed her trunk or ate her apples or swung from her branches and when he came to rest in her shade, he did so with another girl. The tree began to grow sad and lonely. After a while, the boy stops coming altogether. Then one day he comes back and the tree tells him to come and play with her. He tells her he wants money, so she lets him take her apples and sell them, which he does. Then he returns a bit older and says he wants a house. The tree lets him take her branches. When he’s again a bit older he comes and says he wants a boat to travel the world. The tree tells him to take her trunk and build a boat. Now the tree is just a stump, and she is very sad because she has given everything to the boy in the hopes that he would be happy, and he is gone, and she is lonely. Finally, after a very long time, the boy returns. But he is no longer a boy, or an adult, or even a middle aged man. He is very old, and as he walks up to the tree she tells him she has no apples, no branches, not even a trunk. The boy replies that he has no teeth to eat apples, is too big to swing in branches, and is too weak to climb a trunk. All he needs, he tells the tree, is a place to sit and rest. At this, the tree finds herself very happy again, for a trunk is an excellent place to sit and rest. So the boy sits and the tree is happy.
This story made me angry and sad when I was little. I loved the tree, she was kind and caring and always knew just what you might need, but the boy was selfish. He took everything from her and was never satisfied and never said he was sorry. When I was young, this was the greatest injustice I’d ever seen. The tree, I thought, deserved so much better than this selfish boy. I read it again just a few years later, and again I was sad and angry. I still felt the boy was selfish and the tree deserving of a better little boy. After a few more years I began to wonder if this was what it felt like to be a parent, and I worried that I was the boy. Each time I read this book a different thought ran through my head. I have now come to believe, especially after reading so many reviews from adults who also hate the boy and some who are even mad at the tree for being so selfless, that that is entirely the point of this book. You are supposed to hate how selfish the boy is. You are supposed to want the tree to stand up and say no, or at the very least tell the boy to go find a seat somewhere else. This book is supposed to show you exactly who you don’t want to be, neither tree nor boy, but somewhere in between. I read this now and I think, I never want to be as selfish as the boy, but I never want to be as selfless as the tree. He takes and takes and gives nothing in return. She gives and gives until she has no happiness for herself and then still gives more. Neither of these are admirable personalities…but to be someone in between tree and boy…to be selfish when necessary and selfless when possible? Maybe that’s the best thing you can take away from this book. I think it’s the best thing I did.