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Reconsidering “the Giving Tree” 10 Years Later: it kind of Sucks

When I was a kid, “the Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein was always one of my favorite books and it wasn’t till I reread it as an actual *grown* person that I realized this book might suck — which sort of happens when you reread almost any literature that English class made you read. Ahem, “Great Gatsby?” I’m looking at you. 

Anyway, if you’re not familiar with the book, it pretty much goes as follows: a boy climbs a tree and has a good time with this tree, right? And they’re just having a grand ‘ole time until the boy leaves and just doesn’t come back. Doesn’t that sound sort-of-a-little like your friend’s bad ex she keeps complaining about? Kind of rude, but whatever. Sometimes people make mistakes. 

But the boy keeps coming back — and not only does the tree keep letting him — but she’s always happy to see him and be with him! MORE content that sounds like your best friend and her sh*tty ex, right? You know I’m right.

The boy comes back every time and takes more and more from the tree. He takes her branches, leaves, apples — and this poor tree becomes nothing but a stump. Literally stripping her of everything and leaving her every time. WHY ARE WE TAUGHT THAT THIS IS OK? Not my feminist narrative.

Then the boy comes back when he’s super old and bored and just sits on her stump! And is the tree happy? probably not. Why haven’t we considered this?

As a child, we are taught that the tree is a really nice, totally submissive girl — influencing us to believe that’s how we’re supposed to behave. Give… and give… and — you guessed it — give some more. Sort of like the whole knight-in-shining-armor idea that was the plot-line to any Disney princess movie before 2010. 

If anything, this book should be an example of what the not be (the boy) and what to not tolerate (the tree). Remember “500 days of Summer” and how we all thought Summer was the worst for breaking Tom’s heart? But then we grew up and realized she was upfront and honest the whole time? Same energy.

I’m not blaming the tree for the way the boy manipulated and took advantage of her… because that’s entirely the boy’s fault. I think it’s important to note that you should not feel like a bad person for having clouded judgment. It is exactly like when you’re head-over-heels for a guy that everyone tells you is the WORST. But do you see it? Nope.

This story could have had a positive message if done right. For example: the boy not being satisfied with material things and always wanting more should show how unhealthy and materialistic that is. Or, how the tree is totally an empath. (She’s probably a Cancer moon, amiright ladies?)

But we’re just gonna pretend the book ended the right way and here is something you need to learn as a child from “the Giving Tree” if it was written correctly: stop giving everything you have to satisfy the needs of your partner. It’s really important that in any healthy relationship you both are taking care of yourselves in order to keep the relationship in a healthy place.

So, basically, if you grew up after reading “the Giving Tree” and believed that you should give all of yourself for the happiness of others, only to be left a stump with an old man sitting on you: please stop believing this.     

Keep your branches and your apples & be happy to just be with yourself OR with someone who will never take, but will help you grow. The end.

Hi, I am Marygrace Irvine! I am a sophomore at Temple University studying English and Political science.
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