Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Difference of Opinion at a Dinner Party

From Wikipedia, this is the plot of Shel Silverstein's THE GIVING TREE.

The Giving Tree is a tale about a relationship between a young boy and a tree. The tree always provides the boy with what he wants: branches on which to swing, shade in which to sit and apples to eat. As the boy grows older, he requires more and more of the tree. The tree loves the boy very much and gives him anything he asks for. In an ultimate act of self-sacrifice, the tree lets the boy cut it down so the boy can build a boat in which he can sail. The boy leaves the tree, now a stump. Many years later, the boy, now an old man, returns, and the tree sadly says: "I'm sorry, boy... but I have nothing left to give you." But the boy replies: "I do not need much now, just a quiet place to sit and rest." The tree then says, "Well, an old tree stump is a good place for sitting and resting. Come, boy, sit down and rest." The boy obliges and the tree is very happy.

Guest One at a dinner party said this story was a family favorite, handed down to the next generation as an example of selflessness. No story ever made more of an impression on her children. The book was a popular gift at baby showers and birthdays. Giving is the most important thing to learn.

Guest Two said, she hated this story. For her, the tree was a mother. A mother that was expected to give everything until she was all used up and completely spent. Shouldn't the child have seen this before the tree became a stump. Wasn't the tree's happiness a form of masochism?Or sadism on the part of the child?

Both of these women are giving, caring, lovely people. How can they differ so much? Is the tree a mother? Does the tree teach selflessness?

What do you think?

17 comments:

Brian Lindenmuth said...

Over at The Daily Dish (last year sometime I think) Andrew Sullivan's readers had a huge debate about the various interpretations of The Giving Tree. Very interesting.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Patti, it's a beautiful parable and, I agree, it has been handed down to the next generation. I have heard it quite often myself along with the very popular hymn, Footprints in the Sand." I'm inclined to go along with Guest One: you give and give until you have nothing more to give but then you don't see it happening often, do you? It's a valuable lesson, though.

Deb said...

I like the book and read it to all three if my children. I think you interpret it differently at different points in your life. Once I was apt to see the tree as a mother, giving all for her child's happiness. Now I'm more likely to see the tree as God, providing what we need at different points in our life--including a last place to rest when we get old.

/Look at it this way, at least it wasn't a political argument. I almost had to intervene recently when a dinner guest went on a rant and someone took offense.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Since I had never read the book, it was very interesting to hear them both describe it. One woman, and actually probably the single nicest person I know, was full of scorn for it. Said it was man's view of what mothers should be. The other almost wept at it--how the story was so important to three generations in her family--that it taught them such an important lesson.
I don't think I could read it objectively now. I would carry their interpretations into it.

Charles Gramlich said...

and there in a nutshell is why the human race, even when well intentioned, will never be unified. Objective reality is nothing, subjective reality is everything.

George said...

I'm conflicted over the meaning of THE GIVING TREE and I think the author meant it to be ambiguous. My kids loved it when I read it to them.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I am sure it is only a problem to the adults, not the kids. They (hopefully) are at the right end of this debate.

Chris said...

I've never actually read the story, so in reading the synopsis you posted, my initial reaction was closer to guest #2 than #1. Not necessarily from the perspective of a mother, but kind of an environmental thing. Seems as much a story of taking as giving, which I don't dig.

Anonymous said...

Jackie is more in agreement with the second viewpoint - what did the boy ever give back? He just took with no thought other than what he wanted until it was too late.

And there is no climate change.

Jeff M

Richard R. said...

I read it many years ago, when I was reading a lot of Shel Silverstein works. This won't help the POV discussion in any way, but I simply took it at face value: it is what it says, no more, no less. I'm usually not big on interpreting what I read, I just try to enjoy it, the words, use of language, storyline, illystrations, if any, the way the characters are drawn. When I read the Travis McGee books, I pretty much skipped right through all of his philosophical thoughts and speeches, I just wanted the story and to see how he solved it, what happened to accomplish that. It was the same with this story.

Yes, I know many children's stories are intended to have a moral to them, but imposing a moral, or a morality, can interfere with the simple enjoyment of the tale itself, so I try not to do much of that, and I think I'm the better for it.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I share a lot of your sentiments, Rick, which is why I was not an English major in college.

Dana King said...

I've never read the story, just your synopsis. I'm inclined toward interpretation Number 1, though i am a little everyone thinks of the tree as a mother and not a parent. This is what parents do, what we should do: give our children the means they need to go on without us. The Sole Heir is now a senior in college; I've done pretty much what I can to get her started. Now my job is to provide her a place to rest (figuratively and literally) when she needs it. A place where she is always welcome, and what advice i can share to rest her mind. And I'm fine with that.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Don't be surprised if it goes on for some years. Kids today do not have the opportunities that we did. I think the "giving" will go on a lot longer. And the "giving back" will get short shrift.

Ron Scheer said...

It's a challenge to just let a story be a story and not draw a lesson from it. Or assume one was intended. Then sit back and notice what "hot buttons" it has triggered. Gives a real insight into our knee-jerk reactions.

There was an example of this in an episode of HOMICIDE we watched last night. A white bus driver hits a black woman crossing a street and the incident triggers a riot. The interesting debate afterwards was between a white and a black detective, each with his own very different interpretation of what happened.

Cap'n Bob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cap'n Bob said...

Woman #2 is right. I hope this clarifies the argument for everyone.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks for settling that.