The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein was one of my favorite books growing up and actually is still my favorite book to this day. I started off loving this book because it was a bout a little boy’s relationship with a tree, and growing up outside and in the mountains I could easily identify with his intimate relationship with nature. (Obviously this relationship takes a turn for the abusive later on but that part encouraged me to love nature even more). I loved the way it was written as a child because it was very simple and easy to read, but even now I still love the way it is written. Shel Silverstein has this great flowing ability with his words that are so poetic and smooth. The language and the way it is written is without a doubt appropriate for children and although it is an easy read, its fluidity is still appreciated from a more mature viewpoint.
I don’t think that pornographic, egocentric, or sexist would be among the words I would use to describe this book. The subject matter is extremely appropriate for children as well as adults. As a child, it can teach you how to love and respect nature, to be ecofriendly, generous, to have mutual respect, and discourages greed. As an adult all the same messages apply but I think it also offers lessons on enjoying the moment, appreciating what you have, and offers relationship advice. Personal relationships can be toxic and damaging to one of the partners if the other partner is self-motivated.
I realized even at a young age that the little boy was selfish and took advantage of the tree, and that his greed leads to the demise of the tree that so graciously gave every part of her to make him happy. Strasburger quotes Joshua Meyrowitz saying, “Parents could once easily mold their young children’s upbringing by speaking and reading to children only about those things they wished their children to be exposed to, and if this is the case but today’s parents must battle with thousands of competing images and ideas over which they have little direct control.” I think my parent’s motivation behind reading me this book was in hopes that I would grow up to appreciate nature as they did and respect what is given to me and not take advantage of it. I feel their efforts entirely worked! I agree with Strasburger that now a days parents cannot shelter their children as much from outside influences but I do think they still have a tremendous effect on their children by what they are exposed to at home. I read it countless times as a child and it’s message is something I try to always carry with me.
This book does reflect the ideas of childhood we discussed from the enlightenment. The idea of children being taught to love and appreciate nature is an evident theme throughout the enlightenment. Another common theme is childhood being a time of innocence and purity and adulthood being a time of experience. For example, in Gray’s Ode Upon a Distant Prospect of Eton College, the speaker speaks of a simpler time “Where once my careless childhood stray’d,” (line 13) and he was “A stranger yet to pain”. (line 14) This implies the impending doom that experience will bring. Encouraging virtue is and important aspect to Locke “Virtue is harder to be got than a knowledge of the world; and if lost in a young man, is seldom recover’d.” This story is all about being virtuous in childhood and the disastrous effects it can have on your adulthood if you are not. The boy is morally dubious in every way when he interacts with the tree, taking her leaves, apples, trunk etc. and because of his greed, she is reduced to a stump by the time the boy has grown up and become a man. (Section 70)