The Giving Tree
“Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy,” begins Shel Silverstein’s well-known story “The Giving Tree.” This children’s tale goes on to relate the story of the relationship between the tree and the boy. The tree loves the child so deeply that she sacrifices herself for his happiness. Giving the boy first her protection, shade, and a place to play, the tree has soon given her branches, her trunk, her very life for the boy, who has grown up. The tree, now only a stump, fears that the boy to whom she gave everything may no longer love her. The boy, transformed by time into an old man, finally does come back, however, and sits upon the stump to rest, making the tree happy again at last. At a first glance the story may seem sweet, poignant, and touching. On a closer examination, however, questions arise.
What sort of character is the tree? Does she act out of naïve love, not realizing that she gives her life to one who can only take more and more? Or does she realize what she does, but because of her unconditional love, she continues to give? What sort of character is the boy? Sweet and innocent as he seems at first glance, does the boy receive with pleasure the love and gifts of the tree? Or does he selfishly demand more and more of the tree in his dissatisfaction, knowing he will get it? Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree,” while it may be perfect for younger children, leaves more mature readers with a feeling of unanswered questions and unclear intent.