The Giving Tree: What’s Wrong With the Book

Don’t read this post if you don’t want to see one of your childhood books get demolished. You have been warned.

Every Day (Every Day #1)

Recently I was reading Every Day by Daniel Levithan. I found myself mentally comparing it to Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall  although technically this book is supposed to be the very opposite of that one: In Everyday, one person (or individual) lives a single day in the life of multiple people while in Before I Fall, a girl re-lives the day she dies over and over again. Both of them have really interesting plot premises but somehow the narrative voice and the lack of attention to anything BUT the romance kind of killed the books for me. Every Day is a fair book even if it’s not exactly a good book. I’ve heard that John Green fan’s like this book. But then I wouldn’t know; TFIOS’ers (or constellations, whatever you’re calling yourself) are like a whole another species to me.

Before I Fall

Anyways, I’m not here to write about Every Day (tempting though it may be). One thing from the book that really resounded was the character’s opinion on the Giving Tree. Here’s the direct quote:

“I absolutely HATE The Giving Tree.”

I am so relieved. “Thank goodness. That would’ve been the end of us, had that been your favorite book.”

“Here—take my arms! Take my legs!”

“Take my head! Take my shoulders!”

“Because that’s what love’s about!”

“That kid is, like, the jerk of the century,” I say, relieved that Rhiannon will know what I mean.

“The biggest jerk in the history of all literature,” Rhiannon ventures. Then she puts down Harold and moves closer to me.

“Love means never having to lose your limbs,”

As a kid, there was always something about the Giving Tree which made me uncomfortable. I loved other Shel Silverstein works but this one always rubbed me the wrong way. But I was never able to quite put my finger on it as a kid, and when I became slightly older I just sort of forgot about it. This quote brought back everything.

If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s about a boy and a tree. You can read the poem (sans illustrations) with this link.  The tree gives the boy whatever he asks for-fruits, sticks, lumber, money –   because she ‘loves’ him. Even when the boy is an old man and has taken everything the tree has to offer, the tree (now a stump) lets him sit on her to rest.  Supposedly, this is meant to show how generous, loving and selfless the tree was but I think it shows another thing: the tree was a doormat and she let the boy walk all over her in the name of love.

I’m not old enough or wise enough to know what love is (is anyone ever truly that old and wise?) but I do know that love isn’t all about giving until you have nothing left of yourself. Love is about give and take- And I don’t mean the kind of giving and taking where one person taketh and the other giveth.

This book is not about the selflessness and generosity of the tree, it’s about the selfishness of a miserable little boy who grows up to be a miserable man. The Giving Tree? Hell no. It’s the Taking Boy.


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