The Giving Tree

Richard Derderian

September 11th 2013

ENGL 382:  The Enlightenment

Gavin, Michael

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.



Works Cited:





5 thoughts on “The Giving Tree

  1. I myself loved The Giving Tree when I was younger! I thought that you made great connections between some of the core themes in The Giving Tree and some of the readings we discussed. I was particularly interested in your comparison of the tree to God, using the Blake poem as evidence…that’s not something you really pick up on when you’re a kid. For future writing, I would try to narrow down some of your broad statements about the Enlightenment. For example, “The Enlightenment period placed a lot of emphasis on the idea of virtue when trying to raise children” is a great statement, but you don’t really support it in that paragraph (although you do use Locke to support it later on.” Just be careful where you’re making your broad statements and where you’re putting your evidence!

    Grade: S

  2. Richard, I like your choice of books, and how you draw parallels to Blake’s “Little Black Boy.” However, I’d like to see you reference certain portions of “The Giving Tree” and discuss specifically what values they teach. I like the argument of technology’s encroachment on virtue, but I’d like you to expand on that a little more. Unpack why we need books to teach our kids lessons vs. television, movies, etc. The argument could be made that there are lots of educational shows that emphasize making right choices. “Sesame Street” is an example of this that’s been around since the 60’s. You create a good framework for the common thread of virtue in these books, but maybe find something else from Strasburger to tie into the argument of children being negatively affected by television to emphasize books.

    Also, just give your post a quick once over. I spotted a few typos that make it feel a little rushed. You’ve got a good start just build on this some more, and find more threads to link your connections.

  3. Just to make sure, at present, I’d give this an unsatisfactory. You do reference the articles mentioned in the prompt, and summarize your children’s book, but the argument you present isn’t supported adequately by the sections you cite, and doesn’t present a uniform thread through the works. Please expand on the lessons presented in this book, and how they relate specifically to each of the other works, and reference the passages from the readings that you tie into your argument directly.

  4. Thanks for the feedback, I’m just confused as to whether this is satifactory or not. I see two comments that give me and “s” but one that muddles up whether or not I need to revise. Please let me know at your earliest convenience.

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