My mother read me all kinds of bed time stories growing up. Ones with Princes and Princesses most likely from Disney books and others such as “Little Critters,” “ No, David”and “Madeline” and so many others. The one bed time story that stood out to me the most out of all the others, was the one that brought tears to my eyes and still manages to at least make them watery to this day. “The Giving Tree” written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein is a picture book story about a boy and his relationship/friendship with a tree as he grows from little boy to elderly man, written and structured for children. The Book was published on October 7, 1964 and the story is considered by, if not all, many as a sad story that is able to capture messages that can be interpreted in many ways. Such a story felt too so sad for publishers to categorize the book as a children’s story and it almost did not publish due its simple written form yet honest slice of life. However, thanks to and published by Ursula Nordstrom, this book was able to go on shelves. A decision that would impact all readers of all ages.
The story begins with introducing the main character, an apple tree that is very lively and has the ability to speak. The tree is not given a name other than “The Tree” and is kindly given the pronouns she/her. The story then introduces another main character, shown as a very young child, who the tree addresses as “Boy” and continues to address him as such throughout his whole life. The book illustrates the two spending time together everyday by the boy gathering her leaves and making them into crowns, climbing her tree trunk, swing from her branches, eating her apples, playing games such as hide-and-go seek, and resting in her shade. The story mentions the tree loving the little boy very much and the little boy loving her back just as much.
The tree is the most happiest spending time with the little boy and the boy shows love and care for the tree carving, “ME + T” inside a heart on her trunk, symbolizing him and The Tree. These few pages show how giving the tree is and how innocent the little boy is as he asks to play, eating her apples, and staying in her shade. However, the story continues on as the boy grows from little boy to young adolescent. As he grows he spends less and less time with the tree and starts spending time with a significant other. He carves “ME + Y.L” above the first carving, symbolizing him and his dearest also inside a shape of a heart.
After a long while the adolescent boy comes to visit the tree. The tree expresses happiness and invites the boy to play. To climb on her trunk, swing on her branches, eat her apples, play in her shade and most importantly be happy. But the boy declines saying he had grown out of doing such things. Instead he tells the tree that he is in need of some money, wanting to buy things and have fun. He asks the tree if she has any money to give. Of course the tree has no money to give but tells the boy to take all her apples so that he can sell them to make money. It brought happiness to the tree that he agreed as she thought this would also bring happiness to the boy.
Years had passed since the boy’s last visit and the tree becomes devastated, until the boy comes back for another visit. The boy is now in his adult years and the tree expresses pure joy seeing him again. She invites him to play, telling him to climb her trunk and swing on her branches and be happy. He, however, declines claiming he is too busy for such things and tells the tree he is in need of a house to keep him warm and raise a family. He asks the tree if she could give him a house, and of course the tree can not provide him with such an object. Instead the tree encourages him to cut all her branches and use them to build himself a house. The boy accepts with no hesitations, bringing the tree happiness in the same way as the previous visit.
Many years had past once again before the boy visited the tree and when he dose, the boy is now an old man. The story explains that the tree is so over joyed, she could hardly speak and invites him to play and be happy. The boy declines stating he is too old and sad to do such activities. Instead he asks the tree for a boat wanting to leave and sail far way from this place. The tree has no boat but encourages the boy to cut down her trunk so that he may build a boat of his own. Of course the boy takes once again and the tree claims she was happy. However, for the first time, as it seems she gave everything that she possibly could to the boy, the story illustrates the trees’s heartbreaking true feelings.
Many years had passed once again and yes, the boy visits the tree as the story illustrates him as an even older elderly man. In the sight of him the tree greets him with apologizes. Apologizing that she has nothing else to give, no apples to eat, no branches to swing on and no trunk to climb and play. The boy explains he is just too old and tired for such activities and carries no interest. Instead he explains that he was actually looking for a place to sit and rest. The ending of the story is the tree telling the boy to sit on her stump to rest. So he dose which makes the tree the happy again.
How this story shaped me as a person?
As a little girl, perhaps not even reaching the age of ten, this story made me cry my eyes out. My mother read this book to me, both of us not knowing what the story was about. To this day I thanked her and my father for taking the time out of their tiring busy work schedules to have made time for me.
After reading (had my mother read me) this story for the first time, and after crying many tears, I felt such a strong dislike for the boy. At the time I was asking,
“Why did he stop visiting the tree?”
“Why couldn’t he let his children play with the tree if he was so busy?”
“Did the boy ever say, Thank you?”
“Why didn’t the boy care as much as the tree did for him?”
“Was the boy ever even grateful?”
What I took from this story as a child was that the tree just wanted to be happy with the boy and she was willing to give all her love to make him happy. She was so innocent and wanted nothing but the little things that created loving memories and happiness. In the beginning I felt that the little boy was innocent enough in wanting the same things, until he got older. As the story went on I felt he did not appreciate the tree’s aide and kindness and never being satisfied with the things he had. I took it as the boy taking advantage of the tree and not working hard enough for the things he wanted while the tree unquestionably gave all that she was, and for what? Years of abandonment in return.
Now being in my young adult years. I still pretty much think the same thing. The boy, in my opinion, should have been more appreciative of the trees love and kindness. He should have been a true friend and giving back in return. This story shaped who I am because this story made me realize how giving my parents are and how loving they are. I didn’t want to be the boy’s character that grew to be, in my opinion, ungrateful. I wanted to be kind and learn how to give back especially to my friends and family. This helped me recognize how important innocence is in the sense that I don’t need lots of money or expensive objects to make myself truly happy. To create memories and happiness without such things is something truely powerful and pure, and if opportunities came along with good faith, then it was all the better. Because of this book I remind myself to practice pure life, care, love and cherish. I refuse to be the boy who took, and gave nothing back. if The Giving Tree was alone now, believe that I will run and give everything I can to give her happiness.
What would you do?
I mentioned before that this story is interpreted in many ways. So how would you interpret this amazing story? What do you think of the boy and tree? What message do you think Shel Silverstein was trying to tell?
To this day this book has been one of my favorite bed story ever and I am happy to share it with other readers.
Thank you Shel Silverstein, Rest In Peace. September 25, 1930 - May 10, 1999