The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

The Giving Tree

My parents did not read to me as a child so I had to read a lot of children’s classics on my own as a kid or now, later as an adult. I also remember being read to a few times in school of course, but not this classic.

Most people know this story already but essentially it is about a tree who loves a boy

I really liked the book as I read it, and I had certain expectations for the ending such as the boy repenting about what he did to the tree or treat it with respect. But no, he just sits on her stump and she’s just happy about it. I was perplexed about this. Then I read all the polarizing views about this book. Frankly, I am not sure what I would rate this book.

This book is highly subjective. Many people likens the relationship to that of a parent and child, some see it religiously (Tree as a Christ figure), others frame it in political/economic terms, and more directly, a story about humans and the environment. Having recently read Cloud Atlas, I’m inclined to the human nature, greed and abuse of the planet aspect of it.

There is also the interpretation the relationship between the anthropomorphic tree and the boy represents all loving relationships and how selfless or self-sacrificing love is or should be at the end of the day. In love you give, but you ask nothing back in return. On the other hand, if this book really is about parents and children since there seems to be a story of growing up with the boy, it is the idea that all parents must give to their children. Where this analogy takes a real dark turn is that the parent must be cut down for the child.

After the ending and thinking it through, I am not sure I would read this to a child. I think if I read this as a child, I’d be really sad about the tree and quite angry with the boy (so I haven’t changed much in that regard). Also, perhaps guilty about human nature’s inclination to take things from the environment, from each other, etc. It could make me feel that you should not ask for so much from anything nor you should take things for granted. It is not spelled out like that at the end though. I do not mind sad endings even for children’s books, but this ending was very ambiguous. It felt unsatisfactory in its lesson whatever that may be.

I rated the book out 3 of 5 on Good Reads in the end because I think it is though provoking. Not many other picture books can generate this much interpretation or controversy and doubtless will continue to. It makes you consider the book at all angles. I recommend it to most people just for that reason.

Read January 31st 2013.

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