Why "The Giving Tree" is One Messed Up Book

Monday, August 22, 2011

Now, if you are one of the 5 people who has heard me rant about this in lecture feel free to turn away now.

Otherwise, listen up.

I try really hard not to get all judgey when it comes to books. As a person who reads nearly everything I know that the appeal of a story is so intimately ensconced in ones personage that it is nearly impossible to detangle why you love some stories so much. Maybe it was Who read them to you, maybe it was Where you found the book, maybe the love of your life (you know, the one to whom you finally said yes to anal?) just dumped you for the skank down the hall and the only reason you did not fling yourself from the top of the dorm was that Danielle Steel novel.

I don't need to know - well, maybe about the anal - but that is a whole different blog post.

I do not like The Giving Tree. When I come across papers of Undergrads who wax poetically about the beauty of this book, I want to give them a shake. If I were to meet these individuals:

I would flee in terror.  ( I would also take aside any romantic partner of these simpletons and tell them to run far, far, away...)

Now the why: Yes, I get that the Tree "loves" the boy.  I get for some people that this is some kind of metaphor for Mother love.  For others it may denote some kind of romantic love, the all giving selflessness of archetypal L-O-V-E.


Both ideas are shit.  At least if you are beyond that age of 10.

The tree in this book - a feminine voice - gets all kinds of fucked.  She gets disassembled - literally. She gives everything.  She gets stripped down to the barest of entities...then gets sat upon.

The boy? I know this boy, don't you? The one who comes back when he needs something? The one who liked you enough to have sex with ( as long as no one else knew about it) - but not enough to date?  The father/brother/cousin/friend who wants you to loan him money, or drive him around when he lost his license because of DUI ( which was most likely the fault of some cunt, amiright?) - and if you dare to say no...Good Luck, sister.

This boy is entitled.

This boy will rape if he can get away with it, and then blame the victim of his rape. This boy will tell the police how his wife MADE him punch her, because she wouldn't shut the fuck up. This boy will tell his daughter that it is her fault when he rapes her.

This boy will start a war, then make up lies as to why he did it.  This boy will steal from the vulnerable and then tell you it was their fault for being stupid. This boy will deny climate change, despite scientific proof. This boy will feel he has the right and obligation  to tell other people how to live - who to love, how to express their sexuality, and if they should control their reproductive systems.

If I taught this boy in a preschool classroom ( and I have), I would spend a great deal of time teaching him how to consider the feelings of others. Most likely his parents have told him that he is special beyond imagination. They have praised leadership in his character, when it is, in fact, bullying.

I would watch him closely - and this would make him very uncomfortable. He doesn't like to be watched, because then you might see that he is doing things - things that are not acceptable, poking his friends until they lash out, then crying to you for being hit. Taking things from other peoples lunch. Pocketing other peoples toys. Kicking over other peoples block structures.

This boy doesn't understand when an adult doesn't buy his bullshit.  It has always worked before, after all.

The tree never says No to this boy. She gives, and gives and gives. Long past the point of pain, long past the point of being able to survive.

What is this saying to our children - when we read them this book, with love in our voices?

Are we saying: "I will do this for you"?

Are we saying: "If you love someone YOU should do this for Them?"

Are we saying: "If a woman loves you enough, she will give you everything that she is, no questions asked?"

Are we saying: "A boy you love should strip you down to nothing, and you should be grateful he comes back?"

I call bullshit.

And that is why I do not like the Giving Tree.

(perhaps later I will write "Why "I love you Forever" really creeps me out)

24 Baleful Regards:

Anonymous said...

The boy is obviously a Republican.

Dawn said...

aw fuck, you found me out.

Anonymous said...

I totally see your point. I took a different, more religious, message from it (eternal love even to those who continually fuck up and make poor decisions), BUT I also see your point.

When it comes to hurting others, that shit ain't cool.

Dawn said...

You know - I never even considered a religious overtone to the book....and I can see how the tree could be a Christ-figure.

But I tend to think of the parents who read this with the "Isn't this a great love story?" vibe.

Then again, there are parents who model this behavior for their children too.

MFA Mama said...

YES! THANK YOU! Gawd I hate that book...I've never met anyone else who felt quite as strongly about it.

SUEB0B said...

I wrote a post about how Shel Silverstein messed up my life, and also about that book. I agree with you:

Dawn said...

SueBob - I KNEW there was a reason we have been friends so long, we think alike!

Fucking Silverstein.

Have you gotten a look at "I love you Forever"? With the mother creeping into the bedroom every night?

Gah, it gives me nightmares. She should just dress like a clown and fuck the kid up completely.

Laura said...

This post was really interesting to me, because my 2 year old daughter was recently gifted this book for her birthday. I never heard of it before, but it always makes me uncomfortable to read it to her, as I wasn't clear on the message and it seems to contradict everything I'm trying to teach her about respect and loving. Fortunately she hasn't taken much of an interest in it yet, so maybe I'll drop it in the recycling bin next chance I get. Thanks for the perspective.

Maura said...

Interesting! I always thought of the tree as an old man.

Lisa said...

I've always hated this book too! Always thought of the boy as such a brat, never giving anything back to the tree. And Love You Forever- creepiest book ever!

Dawn said...

Also - feel free to believe I am full of shit. Entirely your right.

Joy said...

Well, TGT kinda creeped me out as I read it to my son, who went through a phase of loving it. (I was much too sleep deprived to figure out *why*.) It since has passed on - the book and the phase!

As for Love You Forever, I heard (in an interview, maybe?) that this book was written for the children of the author's that were stillborn, or miscarriages, (both I think). I sob as I read that book (and it is hidden up high on a shelf, so I don't have to read it) as I think of it as the love they wished they could share, in person, with their angel babies...

Dawn said...

I've heard the same interview Joy. His wife had a series of miscarriages and this story came after a healthy pregnancy and successful delivery.

As a parent, I "get" the relief and certainly the idea of unconditional love.

It's the crawling into bedrooms when the person is sleeping which disturbs me.

monicac2 said...

Hate that book!

Ours came with a CD of the author reading the book. Uber creepy.

And "I Love You Forever"???? THE CREEPIEST.

Anonymous said...


Thanking you from the bottom of my heart.... I wish YOU could be my 'real life' friend. I love how you think.

Dawn said...

Oh Anonymous, be careful what you wish for....You may find me sitting in your living room asking if you have real cream for the coffee....

Ginnysicle said...

And that is why Dr. Seuss beats Shel Silverstein anyday. The Lorax would smack the shit out of that greedy little boy.

And LYF is f'ing creepy. I love my children to the bottom of my soul, but I'm not going to cat burgle their houses and put them on my lap when they're forty.

Anonymous said...

Probably won't have the real cream. I like mine black. However, I do have good, and sometimes really, really good wine ;D

Dawn said...

Oh Anonymous, You are more than half way to winning my heart. Plus we can always just BUY the real cream....

Anonymous said...

It's about parenting. That's it.

Zoe said...

I completely agree! I have always hated that book. People told me what a beautiful story it was... so I read it. WTH? The poor tree (mom) is abused and taken advantage of by a completely ungrateful life-sucking boy? How is this wonderful?!? You go girl!

Heidi Robinson said...

I hate I Love You Forever. It's gross. Enmeshed much?! And the same for this book. Gross.

Dr Seuss foreverrrrrr!

Ann said...

Doesn't this book sound like an abusive relationship? And even if it didn't, I don't see what's so special about it that people wax lyrical about it.

Unknown said...

I just found this review by searching Google for "the giving tree is fucked up" right after I read it to my daughter for the first time. This review is on point and had me dying of laughter. I'm throwing that piece of shit out in the morning!

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