September 11th 2013
ENGL 382: The Enlightenment
Children and the Enlightenment
The Giving Tree
Every generation has their own favorite children’s book they enjoyed reading or being read to them as a child. For this prototypical 90’s kid, Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree tops all the other popular children’s books. Although it was originally published in 1964, my parents made a point to read it to me when I was young because it was a popular children’s book during the time of my parent’s childhood.
The story of the giving tree chronicles the relationship between a young boy and a young tree (apparently a female in the story). The story begins with both the boy and the tree as very young and throughout the story they grow up together; the story ending with “the boy” as an old man and the tree as grown. As the story starts out, the boy and the tree play together. They do a lot of fun childish things with one another, one of which being hid and seek. The beginning of the story shows the innocence and wonder that is childhood. The story also has a lot to offer from an imagination standpoint, something that we do not typically see encouraged during the Enlightenment period. As the story progresses, the boy grows into a teenager and then a man, no longer obsessed with such childish things. The tree gives the boy everything that he asks of her, from her apples all the way down to her trunk. The trees giving nature reminds of a quote from the poem “The Little Black Boy” by Blake in which the boy’s mother tells her son :
“Look on the rising sun, -there God does live
And gives his light, and gives his heat away;
And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive
Comfort in morning, joy in the noonday”
In this excerpt, readers should think of the tree as God and the boy as the flowers, trees, beasts, and men. The tree in this story is in its own right like God in that she continues to give to the boy throughout the story and serves as a way for the boy to thrive in live. The story itself is simply written but also has a lot to say to its reader. The theme of virtue in the story reflects the ideals of the Enlightenment period. The story itself will make sense to most young readers since the themes are at the forefront of the text. Children will learn to be giving, not take too much, and learn other thing from the story such as the meaning of love.
Children need a virtuous story such as The Giving Tree in their lives in this technology driven world. It is becoming much more difficult to teach children virtues when they are constantly being pulled away from life lessons by television and other technology. The fact is, we need more of an influence on our children than television, wholesome books like this one will give children more of a chance to live wholesome lives than many forms of technology will. “Surveying more than 2,000 children ages 8 to 18, the study documented that youth today are surrounded by media. The average child in the United States lives in a home with three TVs, four CD or tape players, three radios, three VCR/DVD players, two video game consoles, and one computer.” (Strasburger pg 6) Children need more books that have good messages like this one.
One of the themes found within The Giving Tree is that of virtue. The Enlightenment period placed a lot of emphasis on the idea of virtue when trying to raise children. Not to say that virtue is not just as important in modern society as it was during the Enlightenment, but it is especially harped on during the latter. John Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education discusses the ideal that is virtue, and he says “Virtue is harder to be got than a knowledge of the world; and if lost in a young man, is seldom recover’d” (Locke. Part IV Section 70) Here, Locke is simply saying that it is harder to learn to be virtuous than to know the world, and if a child does not learn virtue, it is very tough to recover/learn it. The Giving Tree shows readers that you may lose your way, but eventually you can find it again. I think that throughout the giving tree, we see this firsthand.