“The Giving Tree” is just as relevant, today, as it was when I was a kid. Maybe it's more relevant now that I’m an adult. Every time I hear it, it makes me ponder larger concepts about what giving, what taking, needing and loving mean. I give this book as a gift as often as I can. I believe “The Giving Tree” belongs in every home, for everybody to enjoy as she or he learns.
Published in 1964, “The Giving Tree” is the most distinguished, best-known book by Shel Silverstein. “Tree” appears in more than 30 languages and is a best-seller around the world. The story and illustrations are universal, equally enjoyed by children and adults globally.
Silverstein was a cartoonist and songwriter as well as an author. His first book was a collection of cartoons he drew for the military newspaper, “Pacific Stars and Stripes,” during the Second World War; in 1957, Silverstein became a staff cartoonist at “Playboy.” As a composer, he had his number one hits included “A Boy Named Sue,” by Johnny Cash; “The Cover of Rolling Stone” and “Sylvia’s Mother,” by “Dr Hook and the Medicine Show”; “The Unicorn,” by “The Irish Rovers.”
“The Giving Tree” is about the relationship between a boy and a tree. The symbolism and nature of their relationship is widely disputed. As the boy grows, the boy requires the tree to give him everything the tree has, which the tree very happily obliges. The tree ultimately, in complete self-sacrifice, gives the boy its trunk when the boy is a grown man and wants to make a boat and sail away. When the boy is an old man, he returns and asks the tree for more. When the tree explains to him that it has nothing left, the tree offers the old man a place to sit and rest on its stump, thus making the tree extremely happy.
Some believe that the book symbolizes the true nature of love, requiring unconditional giving and self-sacrifice. Some say “The Giving Tree” is an example of an abusive relationship, as the boy continuously takes and takes from the tree leaving nothing left. Some interpret this tree as being an irresponsible parent creating an ill-equipped man later in his life. Some believe, as do I, that the tree, offering itself to the boy in pure love, is rewarded and shown reciprocation in the end when the boy returns to the tree as an old man and rests with the tree, symbolizing end-of-life in the need of the old man to sit and rest.
My take on the book is simple. I think “The Giving Tree” symbolizes life and how weak and feeble people are; how dependent we are on each other. At the same time, I see the beauty of the gracious and unrelenting giving that the tree offers, with not a shred of greediness. In a sense, the boy repays the tree, at the end of his life, in way only the tree can understand and this may be the essence of a true giver,
Nature comes full circle. I think this book describes it as a whole, in a general way, very well. Exceptionally well made, the youngest children grasp the point, if many adults do not.
Is this a sad book? It might be. Is it relevant? Yes, it’s definitely relevant. The illustrations are simple, the reading is easy, and the concept is genius. This is a fantastic book for anyone, and everyone should read it.
“The Giving Tree,” by Shel Silverstein (1930-1999), published by Harper Row in 1964.
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