First there was a Man. Then a Woman. Then in quick succession, two cats, a confused dog beast, and two kids. I stay at home with them. I'm the Man

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Giving Tree, A Co-dependant's Field Guide To Life

The Giving Tree: A fine piece of children's literature, or a touchstone for twelve steppers* and other co-dependants? Let's discuss.

This poor fucking tree. The book starts out promising. A little boy comes and hangs out and makes leaf crowns and swings in her branches and eats apples. It's never made clear whether or not the boy has broken into an orchard or if this is some remarkable wild apple tree that happens to produce bushels of pest free apples, but hey, that's picking nits.

The boy carves a heart into the tree and inside it carves M. E. + T. We learn two important facts right here:
1. This is one lonely little boy.
2. This is one creepy tree in that it enjoys being tattooed by lonely little boys.

Then the boy gets older and starts coming around less and when he does come around, it's because he needs a place to bang his girlfriend. Whose initials, along with his own, also go inside a heart carved onto the tree. The tree seems to have no problem with this because as we've already established, she's creepy and is in to watching teenagers copulate as long as they agree to tattoo her again immediately upon completion. And from the book "the tree was happy." Mm, I bet.

Then the kid takes off again for a while. He comes back and now he's an almost an adult. He demands that the tree give him some money. Not too bright, this kid. The tree tells him that she has no money, but she'll give him her remarkable magic pest free apples and he can take them into the city and sell them for money. The kid does this--and here's the kicker--without even a thank you. Not even a mumbled, resentful "thanks." This ungrateful punk then goes off again for years. When he comes back, he's paunchy and approaching middle age. He says he "wants a wife and children." But to get those things he needs a house. Then he asks the tree for a house. Obviously the woman he's interested in is some kind of gold digger, but each to their own. So the tree tells him she doesn't have a house, but he can take her branches and build a house. Much to his credit, the kid doesn't reply, "What the fuck kind of house am I supposed to build with the branches of an apple tree?" What he does do is cut off all her branches and then he takes his leave. Again, without a single showing of gratitude. "And the the tree was happy."

The next time he comes back, he's older and his life has turned to complete shit. Not surprising considering he tried to convince a gold digger to marry him by building her a house made from the branches of a single apple tree. This time he says he just wants to sail off in a boat by himself for a while. Got a bad case of the poor fucking Me's, this guy. The tree tells him to go ahead and cut her down so he can build a boat for himself. And this selfish asshole does it. Without even a meaningful look back over his shoulder when he leaves. Again, "and the tree was happy . . . but not really." No shit? A little disappointed are you tree? After giving up your entire being to an ungrateful bitch? It's about time. But wait . . .

Finally he comes back and now he's an old man. And when the tree sees him, she's all apologetic because she feels like she has nothing left to give him. She is just a stump. But the old man says he's just tired and wants to rest. So the tree says hey, stumps are great for resting. So the old man sits down on the tree stump, I think we can reasonably assume to die. "And the tree was happy."s

Am I wrong in thinking that this is some crazy, co-dependant, seriously unhealthy shit? That's rhetorical. I'm not.  Just two fucked up needy beings feeding each other's psychoses until both their lives have turned to shit and they die. Jeez, thanks Shel. Nice children's book.  I can only imagine what kind of, ahem, complicated opinions Mr. Silverstein held in terms of women and Mother/significant other dynamics.

I do know for sure that if my kids ever come to me and try to cut down my trunk in order to make a boat, they are screwed.


*I don't mean to lump all people who are in a twelve step program together. I just happened to have been fairly to quite close to a number of them in my life, and they all love this book. Anecdotal, but true.



  1. Thank you. The first time I read that book, I almost threw up. It is SICK. I would never show it to my kids, save as an object lesson on how they can NEVER expect me to act.

  2. You know me and I don't like this book. The boy/man has entitlement issues without a shred of gratitude and the tree is the queen of enablers. After re-reading the book online, I'm not even sure what the message is supposed to be. Methinks ol' Shel was on LSD, peyote buttons, or shrooms when he wrote this. Definitely not weed.

  3. And thank you for confirming my gut instinct to never read this book because whiny entitled brats fill me with a rage.

  4. I don't read all of your posts, so if I am missing the tongue-in-cheek aspect here, then this is my disclaimer. If not...

    ...I am not sure why parents/adults have some asinine need to find the "meaning" in things that are for children. If you are going to pick apart this book like a turducken in the Biggest Loser house, then there are a myriad of others (all of Maurice Sendak's and Dr. Seuss' Cat in The Hat books come immediately to mind). Have you watched Thomas the Train, Curious George, or even the old classics of Tom and Jerry or Looney Tunes? Anything here strike you as particularly GOOD for kids? Thomas the Train is constantly effing things up, Curious George is always doing what he's been told not to do, Tom & Jerry and the Looney Tunes characters are always trying to kill each other and let's not forget often rascist. You're counting on adults to make quality kid content, that's like expecting a vegetarian to be a solid butcher.

    I'm not arguing that this is a great book, though I do like it, but it's simple entertainment. If I am still reading this to my sons when they are able to question the anti-environmental and mannerless nature of "The Boy" then I'm the crackpot. But as they are only 3 and 1, who cares what they want to read or what message or lack thereof exists in the material? Have we gotten to a point where we shield our kids from literature we don't see eye-to-eye with? What's next? Book burning?

    1. The leap from "humor tinged children's literature critique" to "book burning" is my second favorite thing about this comment. The first? You never read Curious George.

    2. I am not sure why some adults have such limited manners that they would go to someone else's blog and call the writer "asinine." Who asked you?

      A little advice, given your rudeness: when your sons are "able to question the ... mannerless nature of 'The Boy,'" perhaps you should let your wife field their questions.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. I'm guessing Shel wasn't breast-fed.

  7. We read this once and my kids thought "the boy" sucked. He never said thank you and he destroyed the tree. They said he was mean. They made me proud.

    1. Same here. I thought the whole moral of the story was to teach kids the importance of gratitude.
      A lot of time we are 'the boy' and lack gratitude to our parents while they give, give and give...

  8. Next to The of my least favorite books...ugh.

  9. Next to The of my least favorite books...ugh.

  10. Yes! I have always disliked that book! This post beautifully expresses why.

  11. I first heard of this book in Catholic education class. The teacher, a mother of 3 young boys, read it to us (middle school kids!) and wanted us to get from it a religious message...that God was like the tree, endlessly giving, and we should be more grateful.

    Didn't get it then, don't get it now. In fact the word I had for it at the time was unfair, but you are so right, codependent fits like a glove.


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