My mother called me at lunch time to advise that she purchased a copy of The Giving Tree for my little girl. I thanked her, reminded her that the story was incredibly touching, hung up the phone, and quietly wept for about five minutes thinking about the book. I have always been profoundly affected by the book,a nd lump it with a few other books and graphic novels (holy crap, Pride of Baghdad) that I cannot look at or even really think about lest I begin to weep uncontrollably.
I have projected my current worldview on this book throughout various phases of my life.
The tree is being a pushover and should assert itself!
The boy is simply using a resource of the earth in order to live his life.
The trick is that Silverstein writes so uncritically of the boy and the tree – it’s just how their relationship works in the normal order of things. But the emotions ascribed to the tree are devastating. Devastating!
The Giving Tree, in particular, has always wracked me because the boy is such an idiot, and the tree is so thanklessly generous, and so happy to give itself to the boy through all the stages of his life. It makes me think of my parents, primarily, and the sacrifices they’ve made through the years on my behalf. That thought, in an of itself – my gratitude to my immigrant parents for having the fortitude and tenacity to build and adequate life for their daughter in this country – does not wrack me. I am becoming increasingly familiar with their tenacity and good natiredness as I grow into my role as a loving mother to the girl, don’t get me wrong. But it is a thought I am supposed to have, and the thought is tempered somewhat by the personality of the players involved in my family’s stories. We are all real human beings, and not so perfectly generous and unconditional as the apple tree that gives its entire self to the boy.
What breaks my heart is that the tree shakes with joy every time the boy returns to it to demand something else from the tree that benefits only him. It is a puppylike gratitude to see a person who once innocently enjoyed the tree for what it was instead of what it could do for the boy. As the boy ages into a man, he leaves behind his joyful innocence. His appreciation for the tree as a beautiful thing in his life diminishes and is replaced instead by a pernicious need for things – money, a house, a boat, and, finally, a place to rest his old man bones. It is during the twilight of the boy’s life that, seeing his selfless old friend, the tree, he realizes that he needs none of the things the tree has given him any longer – just a place to sit. Thus reduced, the boy sits on the stump of what’s left of the tree and the tree can simply bask in the joy of the boy’s company once more.
I can barely stand to write this synopsis for the powerful shame the tale awakens in me about being appreciative of the sweet loving apple trees in my life. I sadly resolve to try to live my life in such a way as I can properly enjoy the apple trees without taking them for granted or ruining them by extracting all their resources.