G is for ‘The Giving Tree‘: I first read Shel Silverstein a few years ago, as an adult. And I smiled my way through his poetry collections, ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’, ‘A Light in the Attic’, and, when I read ‘The Giving Tree’, I had tears in my eyes. My copies of both the collections I mentioned above are well-used; and as I remarked in a reply to a comment on my earlier post, they contain sticky-notes all over the book (no dog-ears on my books!) to mark pages where the kids had picked poems to share on their many sharing-a-poem/something-funny days for early elementary school days. While ‘The Giving Tree’ has no such sticky-notes, it is marked by emotion, on every page.
This book is one that has been open to so many interpretations and as you read those different views, you might find yourself nodding in agreement/or not to many of those interpretations – such is the brilliance of this short story. Some interpret it as plain, simple friendship, others with a religious angle with emphasis on the unconditional love from the tree, still others view it from an environmental view – mother nature and man, and many see it as a depiction of a parent-child relationship. Well, everyone can agree that the boy takes and takes, and the tree is selfless in its unconditional love and in giving. And this hopefully is lessons learned on how-not-to-be…
One view from a professor of religion: in the words of Professor Timothy Jackson from Stanford University (found on Wiki): ‘Is this a sad tale? Well, it is sad in the same way that life is sad. We are all needy, and, if we are lucky and any good, we grow old using others and getting used up… Our finitude is not something to be regretted or despised, however; it is what makes giving (and receiving) possible. The more you blame the boy, the more you have to fault human existence. The more you blame the tree, the more you have to fault the very idea of parenting. Should the tree’s giving be contingent on the boy’s gratitude? If it were, if fathers and mothers waited on reciprocity before caring for their young, then we would all be doomed.’
Many other views can be found in a symposium of the book here.
Shel himself, when asked about this book, which was way too many times for his comfort, would remark: “It’s just a relationship between two people; one gives and the other takes.” Another time, he said this of the book –“It’s about a boy and a tree. It has a pretty sad ending.”
Just like he says in a poem in the collection “Everything On It”
“There are no happy endings.
Endings are the saddest part,
So just give me a happy middle
And a very happy start.”
In an interview regarding one of his most famous cartoons (something else I learned about Shel Silverstein, along with the fact that he was a song writer, including for ‘A Boy Named Sue’), his response to the interviewer, regarding the comic holds so true for this book as well: “You do something, you make it simple, and everybody else starts loading it up with deep meanings. Which is okay with me, if they want to do that. Everybody loves Rorshach tests.”
The Giving Tree is definitely Shel Silverstein’s most famous work, and considering everything else he wrote, that is amazing. But it took him four years to find a publisher as editors found it too depressing for kids and too simple for adults. The book was finally published in 1964, with an initial small publication of a little over 5000 books. And initial interest in the book increased by word of mouth – by all those people making the interpretations I mentioned earlier (so, ministers, preachers, environmentalists, and so on). And by 2001, the book surpassed the expectations of the publishers and over 5 million copies of the book had been sold. As of today, that count has reached over 10 million.
So what did the book ‘The Giving Tree’ teach me? Well, it did remind me to:
- Enjoy the moment; cherish those times with friends and family.
- Get outdoors, remove your shoes, climb a tree or two, eat those crispy apples off the tree, play hide and seek, get outdoors!
- Appreciate what others do for you; and also appreciate yourself..
- Learn to Say ‘thank you’ and ‘please’ (pretty please works too!) – these magic words never hurt, ever!
- Say ‘I love you’ to your loved ones – no need to wait for special times or moments for this 🙂 now works..
- And this book does make us think about the fact that when we give and take, we do need to learn to pause and see how much of the giving we can actually do and the taking we should actually do. Learning to say ‘no’ when you are over your limits either way (giving or taking, too) matters, and at the same time, learn to be a gracious giver and grateful taker!
So, have you read ‘The Giving Tree’? Or any of the others by Shel Silverstein? Which ones? What are your thoughts on them? As for me, I plan to read, by Shel’s own statement in another interview, one of his favorite (of his) books – ‘Lafcadio, the Lion Who Shot Back’.
Sources (among others):
wikipedia; http://shelsilverstein.tripod.com/ShelPW.html; http://www.ep.tc/realist/28/17.html
This post goes towards ABC Wednesday‘s round 22 – letter G (my theme for ABC Wednesday’s Round 22 is children’s books – I will pick one popular (and sometimes the not so popular/the unknown) book – classic/modern/old/new… – and write about it – be it a backstory or facts or something else completely).