The giving tree
26 March, 2023, 5:45 pm
Some of you may have read this apparently simple story by Shel Silverstein. But it is much more than just a simple story. My wife used to read it to our daughters. Once there was a tree. And she loved a little boy.
Every day the boy would come and gather her leaves, make them into crowns and play king of the forest. He would climb up her trunk, swing from her branches and eat apples. They would play hide-and-go-seek. When the boy was tired, he would sleep in her shade. And the tree was happy.
But time went by. The boy grew older. And the tree was often alone. Then, one day, the boy came to the tree and the tree said: “Come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and eat apples and play in my shade and be happy!”
“I am too big to climb and play,” said the boy. “I want to buy things and have fun. I want some money. Can you give me some money?” “I’m sorry,” said the tree, “but I have no money. I have only leaves and apples. Take my apples and sell them. Then you will have money and you’ll be happy.”
So the boy climbed up the tree and gathered her apples and carried them away. And the tree was happy. But the boy stayed away for a long time… and the tree was sad. Then one day the boy came back, and the tree shook with joy, and said: “Come, Boy come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and eat apples and play in my shade and be happy.”
“I am too busy to climb trees,” said the boy. “I want a house to keep me warm,” he said. “I want a wife and I want children, and so I need a house. Can you give me a house?” “I have no house,” said the tree.
“The forest is my house. But you may cut off my branches and build a house. Then you will be happy.” The boy cut off her branches and carried them away to build his house. And the tree was happy. But the boy stayed away for a long time. When he came back, the tree was so happy she could hardly speak.
“Come, Boy,” she whispered, “come and play.” “I am too old and sad to play,” said the boy. “I want a boat that will take me away from here. Can you give me a boat?” “Cut down my trunk and make a boat,” said the tree.
“Then you can sail away and be happy.” And so the boy cut down her trunk, made a boat and sailed away. And the tree was happy… But not really. After a long time the boy came back again. “I am sorry, Boy,” said the tree, “but I have nothing left to give you. My apples are gone.”
“My teeth are too weak for apples,” said the boy. “My branches are gone,” said the tree. “You cannot swing on them.” “I am too old to swing on branches,” said the boy. “My trunk is gone,” said the tree. “You cannot climb.” “I am too tired to climb,” said the boy.
“I am sorry,” sighed the tree. “I wish I could give you something, but I have nothing left. I am just an old stump. I am sorry…” “I don’t need very much now,” said the boy. “Just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired.”
“Well,” said the tree, straightening herself up as much as she could, “Well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, Boy, sit down… sit down and rest.”
And the boy did. And the tree was happy. The tree continues to give the boy everything he asked for, even when it reduced her to a stump.
The boy, on the other hand, continually made demands of the tree without ever thanking her. So what is the moral value of this story?
The most common explanation is that it is a great example of unconditional love. But this raises an obvious question – is that really the moral we want to teach children?
To continually love someone and let them use you even though what they do is so selfish. The idea of unconditional love itself is flawed. Take marriage for example. While most newlyweds would declare their love to be “unconditional,” is it really?
What if their spouse was to physically abuse them? Or cheat on them? Teaching unconditional love to children simply isn’t realistic or viable in a world full of people simply looking to take advantage of others.
Some people state that the book is an allegory to the love of God through the sacrifice of Jesus. Another argument is the idea that the book is a simple environmental message, showing a negative example of how we should treat the world we live in.
While yet another argument is that The Giving Tree demonstrates the relationship between a parent and a child. In some ways the tree does resemble a loving parent, continually giving herself to try to give her “boy” as many chances as possible.
But is this a picture of a healthy relationship? The tree never gave any sort of “tough love” or discipline that is so essential to proper parenting, and more than loving the boy she allowed herself to be used.
I believe the relationship between the tree and the boy is an example of what we should not do in our own lives.
We should not continually take advantage of people, even if they allow us to. The boy is being self-serving and ungrateful. Often, we are the boy.
We are guilty of taking advantage of the disadvantaged, the gullible, and the ignorant. The story shows this deplorable side of humanity and reminds us to not only be thankful for what we have but also to be cautious of how we acquire it.
• ARVIND MANI is a former teacher who is passionate about quality education. He lived in the US for 35 years and was actively involved in training youths to improve their speaking skills. The views expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of this newspaper. He can be reached at theinspiredteacher9@ gmail.com