To be or not to be The Giving Tree
Beerasana readers know we love Kathryn Budig, but when she posted on Facebook yesterday about her affection for the Shel Silverstein book The Giving Tree, we couldn’t let her fans’ adoring and agreeing comments stand. Please. Be neither character in this story. Do not put all of your self-worth into one person’s basket. Do not give of yourself until there’s nothing left. Or at least time it perfectly with your own death! And don’t take and take and take and never find happiness or self-reliance or gratitude.
(Remember what Ana Forrest said to Beerasana about sacrificial whores and vampires.)
Naturally I posted it on my own wall, because FB has that comforting way of reflecting and echoing yourself back to you 🙂 Nevertheless, I think a good discussion was had about the nature of parenting, Mother Earth, love, thankfulness, and masochistic martyrdom.
Jenny Miller: I’m in a yoga/facebook argument about The Giving Tree. To me, the kid represents everything terrible about humans: parasitic, short-sighted, nature-destroying, ungrateful, little shits. And the tree, well, the tree is pathetic. Like a mom who just loves getting used up until there’s nothing left. Gross! I love Shel, and I think this book is supposed to be a depressing, cautionary tale, not a love story. But maybe I just don’t have kids yet.
“Since publication, the book has generated controversy and opposing opinions for its interpreted messages, on whether the tree is self-sacrificing or merely selfless, and whether the boy is selfish or reasonable in his demands of the tree. The story clearly shows childhood as being a time of relative happiness in comparison to the sacrifice and responsibility of adulthood.”
Tracy: It makes me very very sad. I always felt sorry for the tree. I felt like the kid/ man was a user and abuser. I felt like the tree was so nice and sweet and sucked dry by the boy/man. I can’t read it cause it hurts my stomach.
Amanda: I think you may have just ruined the giving tree for me…cynic. 🙂
Jenny Miller: that’s why i’m here.
Canned Goods: I have two kids and I think this is a tale of taking people/things for granted. I think the kid is awful and he never even realizes it. I didn’t want my kids to have this book, which I had as a child (and thought it was scary and weird as hell). I too love Shel, but he didn’t really write for kids anyway. It may have paid the bills but he played in Dr. Hook for crying out loud. Read Uncle Shelby’s ABZs to see what he really thought of kids. Note, Shel didn’t have kids of his own.
Canned Goods: So… the clarify, Jenny Miller, you are RIGHT!
Jenny Miller: Haha, top comment on that Kyle: “Would it have killed that douchebag to throw at least one ‘Thank you’ to the tree at any point? Instead of titling this story “The Giving Tree” it should have been titled ‘The Ungrateful Bastard’.”
Canned Goods: There is a spoof on this called “The Taking Boy.”
Mickael: I’d say it’s right on, although a bit harsh on the tree. He’s just giving unconditional love the way a dog would to its owner. I read it to my daughter when she was much too young to take anything from it. Now I’m curious to read it again and see what her interpretation is. I hope she sees something wrong with it ;).
Regina: I always thought it was a story about unconditional love, the kind of love that the universe gives us every day and we will continue to take for granted until it’s gone.
Becky: To me, it is a cautionary tale but not in the way you see it. We use up the ones we love. Each time the boy comes back he takes another part of the tree as we can with those we love. But, when one truly loves in the end they never disappear and hopefully we can realize and correct the mistakes we have made by finally in the end giving that person something in return. Before it’s too late.
Jessica: yeah, i think there’s a big difference between acknowledging the frequent selflessness of parenting and celebrating a masochistic martyr who serves a selfish psychopath prick, which is why The Giving Tree has always creeped me out. I also think it fails to show the progression most (non-narcissists) have re: their parents– at some point the idea is that the child appreciates the care and sacrifice the parent has given them, no? the boy never does, as he is an asshole. Anyway, I think it’s at best a cautionary tale, at worst a sexist celebration of masochism. so, it is not a bedtime book.
Mickael: The tree wants to play and be his friend. I don’t see the comparison with a parent. I think the universe or the earth is more like it.
Michele: Recite a few mother goose nursery rhymes to yourself…that should cheer you up real good….:0/
Katherine: I think we see the tree as pathetic only when we think we know the tree better than she knows herself and we find it necessary to raise her consciousness to prove she is indeed not happy. What if she gave well because that was her purpose? Who are we to judge? And with that “the tree was happy.”
(Not condoning spoiled brats however)
Sylvia: I hate the giving tree, too! A very nice woman gave it to Moe after he was born, and I threw it away. Joe’s mom, while she was sick, once said that being a mother was like The Giving Tree. She said, “You give and you give until all that’s left of you is a stump.” Then she smiled triumphantly. I can’t think of that book in any other context now, and it makes me sick. I am not posting this on your page, because the nice woman who gave the book to me is my facebook friend.
I never really liked it, but I really think the book reads worse if you are a mother.
IF you have kids, they’ll take and take. They will only show up when they need something, and the only time they’ll be nice to you is when all is left of you is a stump. Ugh.
Again, not to be dramatic, but Joe’s mother, mother of three, was recently divorced (her husband left her) and dying of ovarian cancer. I can’t ever read that book any other way.
Yi-Min: The book is about the tree’s love and sacrifice for the boy, not about the boy as a selfish character. If we feel frustrated with the story, perhaps it is because we are wrongfully inserting ourselves into its threads. It is the story of the giving tree, not of ourselves, people we know, or anything about any of us! Maybe the boy is a shit, and maybe the tree just gave a little too much, but love never asks for anything in return. The tree doesn’t love the boy to be loved back.
Danielle: I think it was in middle school or so, I gave this book to my mom as a joke and acknowledgment that parenting can be a fricking thankless job, especially during the upyoursIhateyourguts teenage years. After, when we were being ungrateful brats she would point to that book and remind us to watch out or she was going to end up a headless, armless stump – I came to regret the gift (ha! except not really, even now this demented story is reminding me to call my mommy and thank her!! – she’s applying for a job today – wish her luck!!)
Thanks everyone for playing! And good luck to Danielle’s mom, who did not raise ungrateful, selfish brats! Take care of yourself so you can take care of others. You can’t help anyone else if you’re a headless, armless stump.