Love comes in many forms in the modern-day world. The interpretation of what love entails and the extent to which the parties, either giving or receiving the love go to display their affection to one another has been frequently questioned, especially in instances where the effort is not perceived to be mutual. It is one of those things only the wearer of the shoe can truly give detailed accounts of whether the way they receive love is positive or detrimental to their emotional well-being. The tale of The Giving Tree, as told by Shel Silverstein, is one such case of controversial views in relation to unconditional love. The children’s book showcases the relationship between a tree that acts as the relentless giver and a boy who plays the receiver.
In the story, a young boy regularly visits a tree for apples. The tree is happy to give without expectations, only wanting the company the boy offers as he plays on its branches. The tree is described to be happy at this point. The relationship carries on throughout the course of the boy’s development into a young man. The difference now becomes that the boy only visits the tree when in need of something and rarely wants to spend as much time around the tree as he did when he was younger. Even then, the tree is open to offering the now grown man its apples not just for consumption but as a way to make a livelihood by selling the produce. The tree keeps giving now more than it has the capacity to sufficiently remain healthy as the young man takes not only the apples but other parts of the tree, like its branches so the boy can build a house and even its trunk so the boy can build a boat. This continuous giving obviously leaves the tree deteriorated and only as a stump. Even then, the boy, who is now an old man, pays the tree a final visit, and the tree happily allows him to rest on its stump.
Certain themes are depicted throughout the book to show love and its effects. Self-sacrifice comes off strongly as the tree offers everything it can to a boy who only seems interested in taking from it. Even then, the tree is described to be happy. This relationship can be compared to a parent-child relationship in the modern-day world. It is not uncommon to hear tales of parents who have sacrificed more than they can comfortably give for their children to live better lives. Even though it is often interpreted as the parent’s duty to be a full-time provider for the child, certain levels of giving leave the parent in a state of disarray and continued suffering. The disheartening part is when, after finally getting a better life, the child leaves the parent abandoned in their now full of distress lives, as seen every time the boy leaves the tree only to come back years later.
The notion that it is possible to give without expecting returns is adequately portrayed in Silverstain’s book, as the tree is often quoted as being happy. In one instance, the writer writes, “and she loved a boy very, very much… even more than she loved herself” (Silverstein). The discussion on whether such relations should be encouraged, especially in a modern world where mental well-being is given just as much priority as physical fitness, remains open for debate. From the tree’s perspective, giving makes it purposeful to the boy, and seeing the boy happy gives the tree joy. This is shown when the boy as an older man visits the tree, and the tree complains of feeling sad, considering it can no longer offer the boy apples or branches to swing from, but on realizing that the now older man neither has the interest nor the capability to chew apples or play, resolves to allow him to rest on its stump. Being of help once again restores the tree’s happiness.
From the story, the consequences of taking without giving are adequately displayed as the once healthy and fruitful tree remains only a stump after years of offering the boy its parts. Compared to relationships in real life, situations where one party is continuously giving have been noted to result in resentment and feeling used by the receiver and, in most cases, affect the quality of the relationship. This cuts across romantic and platonic friendships, as they all involve emotional ties to a friend or partner. The idea that unconditional love does exist is portrayed in the story from the tree’s perspective as it’s represented as being selfless even after the boy started visiting only for what it can give.
As a children’s book, Silverstein brings out long-term friendship in a beautiful way as he shows the relationship between the tree and the boy over different phases of their lives. Since the boy was young to being an older man, the book encourages maintaining relationships with those close and always being ready to offer a helping hand, especially to friends, regardless of how many times they come back to ask.
Giving is portrayed as a good thing, a helpful thing, and a way to share one’s blessings with those around us. Every time the tree has something the boy needs, it is excited to give without a need for the boy to reciprocate. As illustrated severally, when the boy comes back with a new request after a long time of absence, the tree is happy to be needed once again and is glad it can help out an old friend. The story emphasizes putting positive energy into the world rather than taking from it. It is by giving that we realize more pleasure than in receiving.
In conclusion, the story shows two sides to generosity; one that can be harmful to the giver when left unchecked and another one that brings joy to the giver just by being able to offer assistance to a friend in need. Finding balance should be a key factor in the modern world so that both sides don’t drain each other with one-sided favors. Healthy relationships involve effort from both parties. When the receiver is continuously taking without having anything to offer in return, the relationship turns to dependency, which is a less admirable trait and an act of selfishness to the relentless giver.
Silverstein, Shel. The Giving Tree. Atria, 2014.