Carol's Reviews > The Giving Tree

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
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's review
Feb 09, 2010

did not like it

** spoiler alert ** My 5-year-old daughter had this read to her in preschool and burst into uncontrollable sobs at the end. "It's not fair! The tree is DEAD and the little boy was so mean to it!"

Exactly, honey. This book reeks of the patriarchy. Keep it away from your kids--especially your daughters.
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02/04 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-22)

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Daniel Why do so many people think the message of "The Giving Tree" is that the tree should have given all she did to the boy?

message 21: by Carol (new) - rated it 1 star

Carol Daniel, in part because it's a children's book. Are preschoolers supposed to sit around and discuss whether there is a subtle subtext about the tree's foolishly codependent choices? I don't think so. They're going to read it straight...and the book gives no hint that we are meant to read this as a cautionary tale.

Daniel Carol, this is Shel Silverstein we're talking about. He wrote poems telling children to shove their fingers as far up their noses as they can to find out what's up there. So, no, I don't think he meant for anyone, even children, to read his books completely straight. He's one of those rare writers who gave readers of all ages credit for having intelligence -- too much credit, perhaps.

Daniel Also, Carol, the fact that your five-year-old daughter had the reaction she did to the book reinforces the idea that even young readers are able to see "The Giving Tree" as a cautionary tale. Silverstein for the win!

Daniel We may not have been using that word, Elizabeth, but we certainly understood the concept. Silverstein was a pretty sophisticated writer, artist and musician. I think it's more likely that he wrote a book purposely open to interpretation than he wrote one encouraging men to destroy their mothers (or the earth, or however else you want to interpret it).

message 17: by Carol (new) - rated it 1 star

Carol She didn't see it as cautionary. She just thought it was an awful story about a mean kid and a tree who kept being nice to him even though he was awful. Might as well read her The Story of the Little Kid Whose Friends Pushed Him Down the Stairs And Laughed, But He Was So Pathetic He Still Wanted to be Their Friend. The End.

message 16: by Carol (new) - rated it 1 star

Carol Oh, except that I forgot the part where the author repeatedly states that said kid is happy about being pushed down the stairs.

message 15: by Carol (new) - rated it 1 star

Carol Also, I don't think the fact that Silverstein writes broadly comedic children's poems means that we aren't meant to read this straight. Like The Missing Piece and The Missing Piece Meets the Big O, The Giving Tree is a children's book also meant to appeal to "wise" or "whimsical" adults, and it's really nothing like most of his poems.

message 14: by skein (new)

skein Yes.
There isn't any textual indication whatsoever that this book is supposed to be subversive/cautionary.
If he meant it to be cautionary, he failed.
If he didn't mean it that way, he's a jerk.
I'm not sure which is worse.

message 13: by Carol (new) - rated it 1 star

Carol Oh, I don't think he actually consciously wrote it to encourage men to destroy their mothers. I suspect he thought of it much more as "Here are my observations on the nature of female/maternal love. Isn't it poignant that they give and give like that? So selfless...even though it hurts them. You know, it's almost like they *want* to be hurt. Such is life....ah, such is life, as it is and ever will be."

Tatiana I cried when I first had it read to me as well. I was in my 40s at the time. I thought about the story a whole lot for the next week and then realized that the book stopped too soon. Here's the end as I imagine it.

"A tree, of course, lives many times the lifespan of any human, and so by and by, on one dark winter day, the boy who was now an old man came to the end of his days and died. The man's children knew how much he loved the tree, now a stump, and how closely his life had been intertwined with the life of that tree.

And so they made a beautiful burial spot for the man in that very place, with the tree as his headstone. And in the side of the trunk they carved the man's name. The tree itself so loved the man that she was honored and overjoyed to have his remains always with her. Then earthworms came and ate the man's body with great thanksgiving, and they so aerated and fertilized the soil beneath the tree that she was greatly nourished, and sprang forth again from her trunk into shapely limbs, beautiful leaves, and fragrant flowers.

The men's children and grandchildren came often to the tree to honor his memory, and to water and fertilize the tree and partake of her fruit. Children all the day would climb and play among her limbs branches. And the tree and her human family were all very happy. THE END"

That is how the story ends. At least, that is how I see it. I think the story is important because it's a true one, and we all get to interpret it and see it as we see the world. I think the author was well aware of how it would make people feel, that story. I think he was saying something artistic with it, something that matters a lot. I love that book.

Daniel Well, I tried to do a little research on Silverstein's intentions in writing "The Giving Tree," and couldn't find a lot out there -- at least not in the brief time I spent looking -- probably because he gave few interviews. I did find this, though, which apparently is from the unauthorized biography "A Boy Named Shel." Have at it:
Shel didn't set out to write The Giving Tree to send a message to society, a point he continually reiterated with many of the books, songs and cartoons he would write in the future.

"It's about a boy and a tree," is how Shel described the book. "It has a pretty sad ending."

"It's just a relationship between two people; one gives and the other takes," he said. "I didn't start out to prove a message. It started out to be a good book for a kid. I imagine it reflects my ideas, but it is for children. I would like adults to buy and read it, and I hope they can find enough in it."

In fact, given his disgust with the me-first attitude among the folksingers and other artists in the Village who were creating art as a form of self-experiment, it almost sounds like he wrote it as an experiment, a reaction to their own mushiness. While he clearly wanted to tell a story with universal implications, he also wanted to keep it deliberately murky.

...and even when a member of the audience -- who just happened to be a high school teacher who was also a nun -- asked him the kind of message-behind-the-story question that he hated about The Giving Tree, he answered graciously.

"What did you mean to say?" she asked.

"It's about two beings," Shel replied. "One who likes to give, and another who likes to take." All she said was, "Oh."

message 10: by Allison (new)

Allison I'm with Nora on this one! I still have that reaction to this book.

Holly The giving tree is an amazing book! Not every book needs a happy ending.

Kevin O'Keeffe Its a terrible, revolting book, but it has nothing to do with a ludicrous, quasi-religious construct like "the Patriarchy." Nor does anything else, for that matter.

Tatiana I think the tree is a Christ figure. Why is it that we accept in Christianity the fact that Christ gives and gives to us and we only take from him? That was actually the sticking point for me before I converted, that it was wrong for me to let someone innocent and good suffer for my mistakes and errors. I should suffer for my own mistakes!

But then I read C.S. Lewis who let me know it's okay to have a different interpretation of things than others. In fact, the atonement has many different possible interpretations. The one I think of most is that Christ had the wherewithal to pay a debt that I had contracted and had nothing with which to pay. I could languish in debtor's prison forever, or let him bail me out. In fact, he had already paid and all I had to do was say yes, to accept what he did for me. He wanted me to very badly, and I was being selfish and pig-headed to refuse because of my pride. When I saw it that way I knew that I would be forever in his debt, but it was a debt of love that I would be overjoyed to attempt to pay for the rest of eternity, because I love him and he me.

The Giving Tree is a Christ figure book! Why do so many people think it's sicko or wrong? Oh, I guess I see why. But it depends on how you think of it. It doesn't have to be.

Tatiana I know he is, but Christ figure art isn't just for Christian artists! What about Asher Lev?

Spider the Doof Warrior Hmmm. I'm thinking about that book in terms of human relationships maybe.
Check out Sassy Gay Friend's video about that.

Miriam I suspect he thought of it much more as "Here are my observations on the nature of female/maternal love. Isn't it poignant that they give and give like that? So selfless...even though it hurts them. "

That's probably more accurate. After all, boundless self-sacrifice was pretty much the ideal promoted for women for several centuries; once a concept is embedded in culture people often refer to it unconsciously.

I wouldn't think the tree worked as a Christ figure, not because of Silverstein's religious background, but because Christ's sacrifice is supposed to be salvific and have a positive effect on us, whereas the tree's sacrifice seems to have a negative effect, making the recipient more selfish and uncaring.

Carol I agree with Miriam--the tree seems like a pretty ineffective Christ figure, even if we're willing to accept that she is intended as one (which I'm not).

message 2: by Gregsamsa (new)

Gregsamsa Given her reaction, I think your daughter totally got it. You should have her explain it to you.

Lauren Elise What does the sex of your kid have to do with this review?

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