The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein is a children’s book about the love between a tree and her boy. The great thing about this book is that it’s not just a simple children’s book. It transcends generations. From a toddler hearing it from his or her parents to a parent reading it to their child, The Giving Tree is one of those books that holds different meaning for every single reader that picks it up, depending on what stage they are experiencing in life. I wrote a short post about this book as part of my 3 Days, 3 Quotes Challenge, which made me think about it more and made me want to have a more in-depth discussion.
I’ve been exposed to this book several times over my 27 years of life, and at 3 different stages in my life. First, like most people, I was exposed to this book in my childhood. I doubt very seriously that I thought about it too much beyond “I wish I had a tree” and “That tree is so nice!” But, from that moment, it became and remains to be my favorite book of all time. For children, this book is meant to instill in them the values of generosity and giving. The tree gave selflessly to the boy, caring for little more than his happiness. That is meant to show children the importance of giving without expecting anything in return. It’s a worthwhile message, but not a unique one. This moral can be found in a large chunk of children’s literature in every size, shape, and language imaginable.
The second time in my life when I read this book was when I received it as a gift from my college boyfriend. He didn’t (and, as my now-best friend, probably still doesn’t) exactly understand why it was my favorite, but he remembered my love for this book from some long-ago glossed over conversation, and bought me a copy for Christmas. As you can probably imagine, my goo-goo eyed 18 year old self thought this was the absolute sweetest thing ever, and did the obligatory crying, hugging, and jumping up and down in glee. In fact, the copy I received that Christmas is the same copy that resides on my shelves today, nearly 9 years later. When I was reunited with The Giving Tree that Christmas, my experience with the book was completely different. For the first time, I understood the underlying themes and nuances found in this simple story for children.
At that time in my life, the love the tree had for her boy represented the love a mother has for her child. I was in college, but still living with and fully dependent upon my parents. It was a rough time for our family. My parents were struggling financially, but like the tree, did everything they possibly could to ensure that I, as their child, was well taken care of, regardless of the concessions and sacrifices they had to make for themselves. I had clothes on my back, food in my stomach. I wanted for nothing.
On my second lifetime read-through of The Giving Tree, I got angry at the boy and I cried for the tree. Even now, these are not emotions that I handle with grace, nor do I handle them with anything resembling subtlety. Imagine an 18 year old girl, sitting in the Student Union reading a children’s book, and sobbing and yelling uncontrollably at its pages. That was me. I no longer thought “I wish I had a tree” as I did as child, but rather “that boy is so selfish!” and “I never want to be like that!” It gave me perspective to appreciate my parents, their love for me, and the sacrifices and concessions they made for me. These are lessons that, although I wasn’t great at it then, and I’m not perfect at it now, I tried and continue to try to incorporate into my life when interacting with my parents. I never want to do to them what that boy did to that tree, and I always want them to know that they are appreciated.
My third milestone read with The Giving Tree was actually last week. Now, at 27, that college boyfriend is now my best friend, and I have been married for 5 years to a man I’ve known literally my entire life. My husband I have a home, a menagerie of pets, and a grown-up life of our very own. My third experience with The Giving Tree, a “simple children’s book,” differed from my second nearly as much as my second differed from my first. Last week as I read The Giving Tree, I still didn’t wish I had a tree, and I still felt that the love between the tree and the boy could be representative of the relationship between mother and child. But, in addition to that, I can relate it now to the relationship between husband and wife. In our pre-marital counseling classes, my husband and I learned a concept called “following your arrow”. Essentially, this concept is a visual representation of how a wife should always put her husband first and a husband should always put his wife first.
In The Giving Tree, the tree always puts the boy’s needs before her own. I still got angry at the boy, I still cried big, ugly, loud tears, but my third round with The Giving Tree gave me a refreshing perspective on my husband and my marriage as a whole. No marriage is perfect, and ours is no exception, but, my husband has always, without exception, put me first. He has always gone to any and every length to make sure I was happy, taken care of, and smiling as much as possible. My husband is every bit like the tree. I don’t think I’m anything like the boy, but, my most recent read of this book reminds me to follow my arrow and strive to be more like the tree every single day; with my friends, my parents, and most importantly, with my husband.
Just about everybody has read The Giving Tree at some point in their life. What does this book mean to you?