Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Giving Tree

Okay, so the anonymous commentor asked my interpretation of the giving tree. I watched it and will tell you what I think.

I hate it. I have always hated it. I feel sorry for the tree and I don't like the thoughtless taking of the boy. But that is not a comment on the work itself. I think this is what Shel Silverstien intended -- what the story is supposed to do. I think it is supposed to create revultion and subversively critique the idea of "selfless sacrifice."

I have heard many people talk about how beautiful the tree is, because it just gives and gives with no thought for itself -- just a desire to make the boy happy. Whatever. That's one way of looking at it I suppose. But I think the irony is built in, when it says "the boy loved the tree." Really? What is love? The boy takes and takes and never gives. Does calling exploitation "love" really make it love?

And the tree is pathetic enough to allow all thist to happen. Why? What's so special about this boy? Couldn't other kids have come to pick the apples and play in the tree and climb up the trunk? Not after the boy who (supposedly) loved it was finished destroying it.

So that's my interpretation of it, jaded and cynical as it is. What do you think?


Into the Wood's said...

I totally agree-- I've never liked that story-- it made me sad.

Anonymous said...

When I read this book as I kid, I did find it to be an unsettling story. I thought it was a parable about a boy who used and used the tree until there was nothing left. When the boy's life got interesting, he abandoned the tree for decades at a time, only return when he needed something. The boy never demonstrated that he appreciated the sacrifice made by the tree.

Having then taken a few decades off, I reread the book, this time out loud to my child. I realized from how choked up I was getting that it was a different story to me now. And the metaphor seems obvious. The tree is the parent, the boy is the child. Parents give everything they can to their children, and, in healthy enough systems, the happiness and success of the child is all the thanks the parents need. The child may seem an ingrate, may in fact be an ingrate as an adolescent and young adult. It isn't until the end of the child life, when he returns as an old man, that he's able to process the gifts given to him by the tree.

Parents grow old and die. That is the story. But, in the love, nurturance and guidance they provide to their kids (branches, apples, trunk), they imprint themselves. They imprint a template of love and secure attachment on their children. It is this internalized symbol of secure parental love that is there for us during challenging times. It is the reason we cannot love ourselves fully until we've forgiven our parents for their flaws. And in Shel Silverstein's classic story, it is seen as the tree trunk that the old man is able to sit down and get simple comfort from, long after the tree has ceased to breath.

The fact that this book can be read in so many different ways is the strength of the book. The real value of the story comes in the struggle to process the ambivalent feelings produced by different interpretations at different times.

I was interested in your interpretation, due to how well you peeled the layers of "Lost". I thought you may be able to apply the mythology aspect of the story (being the variance of interpretation's), effectively into your classroom as a sort of case study. Think the idea has merit? If you do, please let me know. I hold all of the works of Silverstein in high regard, and am fascinated by the array of response at different age levels.

Anyway, I will try and figure out how to email you. I have commented before re: our mutual Beatles admiration, and how I'm slowly indoctrinating (subliminally) my own 4 year old son into the Beatles fan club. Keep up the good work-

Mad Queen said...

I don't know what's not to like... I am the giving tree... I give and give and give until there is nothing left. Don't you feel sorry for me?... ha!

I like Shel... I think he has more behind the story than what it may seem to say. I think he is mocking a thing or two.

Give said the little stream.

Kristine Van Buskirk said...

Very interesting reading the comments. As a kid, I never liked this story either. It always bothered me that the boy was so selfish. But I liked what the anonymous writer said. I always thought it was a metaphor for Jesus, and it bothered me of the boys' selfishness. But, thinking of it through a parents' eyes, I can see it differently. We do give and give and ask nothing in return. So, now I have to think, was I a selfish child, or am I still a selfish child? And I need to make sure I'm teaching my children to be giving. It might pay back one day when I'm a stump. :)

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