The Giving Tree The Giving Tree discussion

Who's worse?

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message 1: by Snowman (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:15PM) (new) - added it

Snowman You might say: "The boy" but think about it. Who's really worse?

message 2: by Skylar (last edited Mar 06, 2008 04:16AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Skylar Burris Well, it depends upon who the tree is and what the tree is hoping to achieve.

If the tree is just a stand in for another human being, then the tree is just as bad as the boy.

If the tree is a parent, than the tree is giving the unconditional love required of a parent but also being too induglent and bears some blame; you don't provide for your children their entire lives.

If the tree is Christ, then the boy is horribly rejecting His free gift of love.

If the tree is representative of nature in general, then the tree has no choice but to be plundered by the boy, who is the worse.

If the tree is a woman and the boy is a man, then the tree isn't standing up for her rights, and both are equally to blame.

It all depends on how you read it.

Colin Futrelle Why not ask who is better?

Skylar Burris Well, Collin, I guess that's rather like playing that game, "Would you rather..."

Would you rather sit down to a quiet lunch with Hitler or Stalin?

Who's better....

Really, it does depend on how you interpret it. The tree is clearly better if the tree represents Nature (has no power to stop exploitation, so no guilt) or Christ (is giving freely in love and self-sacrifice), but not if it represents another human merely (is allowing itslef to be used and therefore is teaching the boy to use).

Colin Futrelle You're right. It does depend on the interpretation. I just think that there is something positive to be learned from everything, and too many people focus on the negative.

To answer your question, I would love to sit down for lunch with both of them so long as I had an interpreter. I believe that there is something to learn from everyone as long as they are taken in the right context.

message 6: by Penny (new)

Penny Sun I agree with Colin, in a situation that has nothing to do with military power, a discussion with either would certainly be interesting.

message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

I don't think the book really begs a qualitative judgement, although you're free to suply one. I think, rather, it's supposed to be a lesson that you should consider your actions and the results they might have on others, despite your ability to do them.

Taking the easy and free way is a good way to satisfy yourself in the short term, but is destructive in the long term.

I guess that this question is an interesting thought exercise, but I think it misses the point of the work.

And I'd say the boy - without taking any metaphorical meaning, and just accepting the story at face value, I'd rather live in a world where everyone was as giving as the tree, without having to worry about exploitation from the likes of the boy.

Leslie I've never understood why people like this book! So many think it is so wonderful. To me, it is about a boy who never grows up and who takes, takes, and takes some more, and a tree who gives over and over, hoping to win the boy's love, never realizing there is no love there to win. In the end the boy/man is alone, which was pretty much inevitable, considering his nature, and the tree is dead, which didn't have to happen, but did, because of her nature. And I do see the tree as female. I don't remeber if the book calls it HER or not. It seems like an allegory for a bad marriage or an unhealthy parent-child relationship, or any relationship where one person takes everything and another person gives way too much, never taking care of herself. It sounds like a book about co-dependence to me

message 9: by Jac (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jac when i read this... to me.. the tree is like Jesus.. always giving... and we are like the boy who just keeps taking and taking and not recognising His love for us in our lives. To me it's amazing cos it speaks of Jesus love for us. At the end of the day, He'll never leave us nor forsake us.

Leslie It is like Jesus in one sense, which is something I never thought of, but in another way it isn't, because when Jesus raised from the dead, he was alive again and strong and vibrant. At the end of this book the tree is just dead. No resurrection. The other thing is that Jesus rebuked people when they were wrong. He died for us, yes, but he also taught us. Do you think he would rebuke the boy/man? I don't know. It's interesting to think about

Nathan Good topic, good discussion!

Asking who is better and who is worse is the same thing, of course.

Skylar, this may be more of a religious question than a "Giving Tree" question, but... why is the tree teaching something healthy and positive if it represents Christ, but is teaching an unhealthy lesson of use and abuse if it represents a human? It seems to me that behavior that encourages using others and adoration of martyrdom is unhealthy no matter what is represented.

Colin, in this case I think people are focusing on the negative because that's most of what is in this book -- as Leslie said, in the end the self-absorbed boy/man is alone and the martyrdom-determined tree is dead, which didn't have to happen, but did. Pretty negative.

Tony -- what do you think is the point of the work, then?

Leslie: Amen.

And also, Leslie, good points on the Jesus element -- there is no resurrection, except maybe that implied by the cycles of nature, and more importantly I think that any Jesus I'd have any respect for would do some rebuking there, would try to save the boy from the cycle of abuse, destruction and dependence.

message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

I think that the meaning of the work is that people have to consider their actions beyond the ability to do them, and the short term gratification that it provides. The tree is an object of nature. It's only given human characteristics to make the metaphor relatable for children. Effectively the tree is passive, and in not doing anything to stop or dissuade the boy, it presents a situation where the boy must decide the morality of his actions for himself.

Of course, he never does. Instead of using the tree with respect and wisdom, he takes everything from it, making it so that no one else can ever use it again. The boy acts amorally, and the consequences of this are shown.

This is a fairly standard basic principal of life for (ideally) most adults, but it's often something that children have trouble with. A kid only knows that they want chocolate all of the time, and can't consider the reprocussions of that desire. A kid will also steal, lie, and cheat to fulfill some fleeting whim without any concern to what effects this will have. Children are often, in my experience, fairly ammoral in their actions. Given a situation like the Giving Tree, where they can act however they want, a child with no supervision will do exactly that, not having the wisdom to realize that it may be a bad idea.

The idea of parenting, and the purpose of this book, is to instill basic guiding principals into your child, such as the one illustrated in the work. The value, simplicity, and truth of the lesson of the Giving Tree is probably why it's considered a classic of children's literature.

Because this is how I read the book (and I feel a bit silly discussing a picture book this much, but I digress) I don't think that the question posed in the original post is a valuable one. The tree is a passive force, and the boy is the one who decides what he will do in regards to it. The child is meant to take the position of the boy, and eventually, feel a sort of shared guilt with what he has done, hopefully imparting a lesson about life in the process.

message 13: by Amy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Amy This is a truly EXCELLENT discussion about self-sacrafice and will. But, I feel that we are having a college level philosophical conversation based on a pre-K book. When this happens, somewhere in the conversation the simplicity of the original message is lost and over examined. Sure, that's okay in college but we aren't talking about reading this book to college students. We are talking about reading this book to very young children. The lesson is about love and giving. It is to teach children about giving. To study the pathology of children we have to remember where they are coming from. Children learn by emulating the world around them. (Don't we read books to children about going potty, or being big siblings when we want to teach them about that? Don't they repeat the things we say?) Our children are not supposed to learn to be the boy. They are supposed to learn to be the tree. They are supposed to learn to give. Not give up their whole lives, but maybe share a toy they really like with their sibling or a visiting friend.

Skylar Burris Is that the message your kids get from it – that it's good to share a toy? How do they go from a used up stump to – yay, I want to share my toys?

My 4 year old, when I read it to her, feels bad for the tree. She says, "Poor tree. Why won't the boy play with her?"

So if it is supposed to be a POSITIVE book about giving, I'm not sure how it works on that level. I think the message my daughter is getting, without quite putting it into words herself, is "Life isn't always fair. Don't be a user, and don't let yourself be used."

message 15: by Amy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Amy And how is that a bad message?

This book has been around a long time and most people read this when they were younger. Most people don't have that reaction to this book.

A person's opinion is about a book does not make it a good or bad book. People read it, they take something away from it. The book is an inanimate object. We are the ones who apply meaning to it.

message 16: by Alicia (new)

Alicia Firstly, I love Skylar's comments on how we interpret this book. It helped me like it better.

But I agree with Amy, this is a picture book for children. It was reccomended to me by a friend and when I first read it I was horrified and put it back on the shelf. I was looking for a book that would teach some positive attributes for my children instead I found a book that was full of attributes I don't want them to have. I guess I interpreted the tree as another human.

I want my children to know it's important to give, even to sacrifice but not to die for something useless. To be a martyr is great if it is for something eternal (God's commandments, freedom, etc..). Likewise it is important to be able to take what someone is offering but not to the detriment of the giver.

I changed my mind, I want to read it to my children to see/hear their reaction of the characters in the story. And to teach them.

message 17: by Skylar (last edited Mar 06, 2008 04:15AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Skylar Burris I didn't say it was a BAD message, I just said it was NOT really a message about the virtues of giving. "Don't use others and don't allow yourself to be used" is not a bad message. I've read the story many times to my child. It captures her attention very well. I just don't think the traditional interpretation that this is a "nice" little child's story about "giving" is accurate. I tried to read it that way for many years, and I finally realized why it bothered me: "giving is beautiful" is NOT the point of the story.

It's a dark story about the dark things that people do to others and allow to be done to themselves. It's told on a level such that very young children can grapple with that darkness, which they will have to face when they are older. It's the kind of dark children's literature of past generations - the Grimm fairy tales that help children to learn to deal emotionally with real life bogeymen. It's not like the sanitized, dumbed-down, happy ending, "here's your moral spelled out on a notecard" children's literature that is so prevalent today. But children need to be sheltered from real life less than we think they do; they can grapple with these things on a deeper level than we think they can; and children's literature like this helps them to do so in a safe way before they are forced to do so in real life.

As for a book being an inanimate object, sure, it is, but it is written by an author who has intentions. We can certainly apply different meanings to a book, and great literature is often somewhat ambivalent. Yet that doesn't change the fact that every book has a point when it is written. Shel Silverstien has he ever been a writer of cute, happy little children's stories. He's a satirist who writes his satire in the form of children's literature, and, like any satirist, he skewers the follies of humankind, but he does so in a way that children can understand. I don't know how "most" kids relate to this book. I only know how it saddened me when I read it as a child and how it saddened my own daughter. Don't misunderstand me, though: I don't think it's a "bad" thing to be saddened by literature.

Skylar Burris I missed this question earlier:

] Skylar, this may be more of a religious question than a "Giving Tree" question, but... why is the tree teaching something healthy and positive if it represents Christ, but is teaching an unhealthy lesson of use and abuse if it represents a human?

Because both of these interpretations can't actually be correct. They are contradictory. Personally, I don't think the tree really represent Christ: that's just a spin Christian readers put on it because any time they think of painful giving, they think of Christ. Never mind that Christ's sacrifice doesn't really "fit" what's going on here. There's a vast difference between God giving up His life to atone for the sins of the world and a person giving up her dignity to indulge someone. In addition to the fact that the tree's sacrifice doesn't really "fit" Christ's sacrifice, Silverstein was Jewish, and that is unlikely to have been his point. I'm saying if you take the tree to represent Christ, you've got twist the story around to have a "positive" message about giving. However, I don't think that was the point of the story, and that's why so many people who initially try to read it that way end up with a slight, inexplicable, bad taste in their mouths – they're trying to convince themselves the tree is doing a beautiful thing, but they're not quite able to believe it. When you change your interpretation of WHO the tree is, you also completely change the MEANING of the book and the message.

message 19: by Penny (new)

Penny Sun You know, I think this question is all about your opinion, so everyone's going to say something different. I think we need to keep this in mind when we respond to someone else's comment. Everyone's opinions are based on their previous experiences, and since no two people experience the exact same thing at the exact same time in the exact same way as another (right?). So, it doesn't really matter what you say about who's worse, because people only see and believe what they want to. If they decide they're right and refuse to see anything else, you're not going to be able to change that. Therefore, although I think it's pretty cool to read what other people think, I don't think we should take the story too seriously. After all, when you get right down to it, it's still just a story... If the author really wanted to make a solid point, he would have said something at the end of the book. Since he doesn't, you're free to interpret his message in any way that you like. I really don't think there's just one answer to this question, because there are probably almost an infinite number of different reasons why one is better or worse than another, since everyone would have a different logic, based on their experiences. Therefore, there really isn't a concrete point to this disscussion...

Leslie This discussion really is interesting in so many different ways, and the fact that this book--a picture-book, written on a children's level, can provoke such a discussion proves that it is a great book. That said, it's a book that I do hate very much, and that strong emotional reaction proves that it's great. It seems like something very few people are indifferent to. We love it, we hate it, we analyze it, we argue about it--WOW!!! And so many people find so many different meanings, it's amazing. I agree with Penny, that a lot of what we get from this book is based on our own life experience, and my own experience in giving with almost no limits to a spoiled brat is a good way to end up as emotionally dead as the stump at the end of the book. I really don't see how this book teaches anything positive about giving to children, adults, anyone. The tree gives til she's dead for nothing. She died for nothing. Even the very unworthwhile goal of making the boy/man happy is not acheived. What is the point of the suffering of the tree? It accomplishes nothing except her own destruction. I don't find anything positive there at all. It's sad, like Skyler said. I felt very sad when I read this book. What a waste. It's true, that there really isn't a concrete point to this discussion because there isn't a one right answer that we will discover if we talk about it long enough. I think the point of the discussion is to find out what everyone else thinks and figure out more about what we, ourselves, think, and why.

message 21: by Colin (last edited Mar 09, 2008 12:44AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Colin Futrelle YES! The ambiguity of Shel Silverstein's writing is absolute genius. The point of his writing, if you have ever studied literature, is to provoke thought. To get people to step back and take a look at something from a different angle no matter their age, and that angle can be different for everyone depending on where they are in life.

Just look at the discussion here. The point of the book has been accomplished. It is curious, however, that everyone takes such a negative look at things. Who is the perpetrator and who is the victim? I think this is a trait of our culture.

Why must we have expectations when we give? That makes the giving a selfish rather than selfless act.

I haven't offered my opinion of the book until now, but before I do ask yourself this question.

In all this college level philosophy why has nobody chosen to bring us under examination?

Very simply if you look at the book from an adult perspective (and Shel Silverstein wrote his books to be read by any age group), the tree is the earth, and the boy is us. The earth provides us with everything we need just as the tree did the boy, and we continually take it just as the boy did. The result will be the same. The earth gave and gave until she had nothing left to give, and we shall sit upon the stump contemplating what we should have done.

Leslie I like the point that Colin makes. The book does what it is meant to do because it makes us feel and it makes us think in a way that we didn't before we read it. That's the point of all real art. My problem with the giving is the price paid to do it. I give sometimes and don't expect anything in return, or try to make sure other people know about the "noble" thing I did, but not until it destroys me. The tree as the earth is an interesting perspective. It's kind of a scary one, too. Since the tree is one tree of many, but we only have one Earth. Thought-provoking....

message 23: by Jill (new)

Jill Dykstra Leslie,
I completely agree. I got the sense that the relationship between the boy and the tree was one of co-dependence. Consequently, how can one say that the tree rather than the boy was better when they both contributed to their own demise? The tree seemed like an enabler--the boy, a taker. The book makes me sad, as well.

Particularly, at the end when there is nothing left of the tree and the old man has sadly withered away, is all alone, and still unsatisfied and unfulfilled. I never got the sense that he looked to himself to find any meaning or satisfaction in life....nor did he seem to ever rely on himself to solve a problem and achieve an accomplishment---because the tree was always there to help him.

As a result, he never had the chance to struggle toward happiness or a achieve a goal on his volition...he never had to fight for anything and so he was left with nothing. There's something to be said for a little sweat, tears, and pain that help develop an individual and their character and gives them a sense of identity, purpose and meaning.

Additionally, there's something to be said in relationships for the establishment of boundaries. Without them, you not only do harm to yourself, but also to those around you. Certainly, the tree was without boundaries and allowed herself to get taken advantage of to some extent. Sadly, she continually felt good about her ability to help the boy and was blinded by her intentions from understanding that she prevented him from growing up and taking responsiblity for his own actions and his own life. Didn't she have other avenues in which to disperse her energy and attention? If you are just a tree stump in the end--are you really even a tree anymore? Where was her identity? Was it not lost in the very act of constantly giving it away to the boy? Is life all about self-sacrifice? At what cost?

Leslie What is so noble about destroying yourself for nothing? I know a lot of people have lived and died for a lot of noble, important causes, but what about just trying to appease this man's greed and grant his every whim? Like you said, she hurt him, she didn't help him. I really need to go back and look, does the book actually call the tree her? I know I do and you do, and a lot of other people on here do too. Is it from her actions and attitudes or from the book? I would be interested to know. I think it's just very sad and don't see the good lessons in it at all.

message 25: by J.C. (new) - rated it 5 stars

J.C. Paulk I've read this book to my oldest daughter for years. My feelings on it have changed all the time, but two have been constant; sadness and anger. I've always been angry at the boy for being so darned selfish. I've been angry at the tree for its hopeless selfishness. As time goes by, I've seen different people in each of the characters. The book has even been an analogy I've used when making a point on these subjects. One evening after reading this to my daughter, now a third grader, she said "is that like a relationship between parents and their kids?" After smiling, I told her that I suddenly hoped not. I would be that tree, but I didn't want anyone to cut me down to a pitiful stump.

Leslie That's really interesting. What are the feelings you've had over the years that have come and gone? I'm curious! Reading through this discussion you find the tree as Christ and the boy as us, the tree as the Earth and the boy as us, the tree as parents the boy as kids. To me they don't fit. If I was told the only way my daughter could live would be if I gave her all my blood and died in the process, that would be one thing. Then I would end up like a lifeless stump--in my casket. But if my daughter is a selfish brat like the boy and she takes and takes and I give and give until I'm a lifeless stump--no way!!!! Not happening!! And why should it, in any context? And even though I don't like this book, the fact that it generates all this energy shows there is something really there! Why do you read it to your daughter? Does she ask for this book? Another thing I'm curious about.

message 27: by J.C. (new) - rated it 5 stars

J.C. Paulk Yes, she does ask for the story. Of course, this is the same girl that likes Poe poems such as Annabel Lee. Perhaps she's a bit dark. Actually, the Giving Tree is a dark story. I think that's why it has the strong reactions it does. There is a natural aversion that most of us have to people being martyrs for no apparent benefit. But that's where the story has it's pertinence. How many of us have martyred ourselves for a stupid reason? How many of us have given of ourselves when it clearly wasn't appreciated? I think that's why the meaning can change over time for the reader, at least myself. The meaning may have been different several years ago when I was foolishly helping a relative. Now the story is plugged into my fears of loving my children and maybe it makes no difference. Then again, perhaps I'm just rambling.

Leslie Your daughter sounds very intelligent. I agree, I think most of us don't want to give and give for nothing. It's so demoralizing when you finally realize that it really was for nothing. I think you're right about the meaning changing over time in people's lives. Really great works of art do that, they are so complex, sometimes under a superficial layer of simplicity. And they give us a place to project ourselves and learn about ourselves. I think anything that is really good, a book, poem, art, music, does that.

Skylar Burris This discussion made me think about this book a lot, and then I found this academic symposium on The Giving Tree with several different viewpoints written by Jews, Christians, Buddhists, etc. I found it quite fascinating. It's amazing that single work of children's literature has elicited such passion and discussion, either way:

Leslie Interesting!! I'm going to have to check that out. Thanks, Sklar!

Jeanne Thank you for saying what I would have and more eloquently as well.

Erika Neal I think the tree is worse because the keeped giving the boy something but nothing in return bad friend ship

message 33: by [deleted user] (new)

Skylar wrote: "This discussion made me think about this book a lot, and then I found this academic symposium on The Giving Tree with several different viewpoints written by Jews, Christians, Buddhists, etc. I fou..."

Wow! Thanks Sklar, that was very informative and interesting! Imagine that small book with all these philosophical discussions. Wonderful. Thanks again.

message 34: by Heather (last edited May 11, 2011 07:18AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Heather The first time I heard this book (actually every experience I’ve had with this book) it was read during church as part of a children’s sermon. Reading through this discussion… I don’t think the reader/preacher ever compared the tree to Christ. I think that he did compare us to the boy, however. The boy, as I recall, didn’t question why the tree was willing to give so much. He just took.

The shared guilt thing that someone else mentioned was very much there. However, viewing it through the lens of a Christian (which, since it was read in church, I did) I always felt it wasn’t about the beauty of giving. I always felt it was about the ugliness of selfish behavior. We aren’t meant to be selfish. Being selfish only destroys beautiful things (like the tree was at the start of the book). Anyway, that’s the lesson I took away as a child: Don’t be so selfish that you hurt those around you. That is a lesson all children should learn.

Never answered the original question... the boy was much worse, to my way of thinking. However, the tree wasn't much better, with its selflessness to the point of sacrifice.

message 35: by Kaleigh - Captain Bubbles ESTP(intj) (last edited May 12, 2011 07:46PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kaleigh - Captain Bubbles ESTP(intj) Jac wrote: "when i read this... to me.. the tree is like Jesus.. always giving... and we are like the boy who just keeps taking and taking and not recognizing His love for us in our lives. To me it's amazing cos it speaks of Jesus love for us. At the end of the day, He'll never leave us nor forsake us...."

I totally agree. The book has a message. But YOU have to figure it out for yourselves. As said before: it is just the way you look at it. Also I agree the Tree should have been just even a little bit more rule-abiding over the giving and the taking with the boy. The story is many things: sad,glad, angry, happy, discouraged, unsatisfied, a little dark, and deep.

message 36: by zaju (last edited Jun 29, 2011 04:37PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

zaju I think the boy should be the tree because he should see what it feels like.

Anna Lee I believe this book is so sad on a variety of levels. The boy is represented by so many (sinners) who have one of the seven deadly sins, greed. So many of us are the boy but only one can be the tree himself that gives and gives and gives to us. This book is ment for children but I really see adult issues in the book. What do you guys think?

message 38: by zaju (last edited Jun 30, 2011 08:14PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

zaju I think the boy should stop going to the tree for more stuff.

message 39: by Anna (new) - rated it 4 stars

Anna I personally think the boy is the most selfish because he kept taking and taking and taking until all was left was the base of tree and even that he used....

Anna Lee I agree with Anna C.

message 41: by zaju (new) - rated it 1 star

zaju I think the tree should stop giving.

message 42: by Anna (new) - rated it 4 stars

Anna Anna Lee wrote: "I agree with Anna C."

Why thank you, I am glad someone agrees with me.

message 43: by zaju (last edited Jul 01, 2011 12:30PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

zaju I think it was a dumb book I mean what person will cut down the tree just for himself? That boy was more mean than ever.

Anna Lee Anna C. wrote: "Anna Lee wrote: "I agree with Anna C."

Why thank you, I am glad someone agrees with me."


message 45: by Anna (new) - rated it 4 stars

Anna I am booed if I ever do raise my option.

message 47: by zaju (new) - rated it 1 star

zaju Who do you think was the worst?

Kaleigh - Captain Bubbles ESTP(intj) Can't decide. G.T.G. Bye!

message 49: by Anna (new) - rated it 4 stars

Anna Personally I think that the boy was the most selfish.

Anna Lee Yeah....I don't get how the tree was selfish....he was the one who gave.....

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