There are lots of books and movies we re-visit as adults and go “holy balls, this thing was for kids?” Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree was kind of like that for me.
On one hand, I used to think, Aw, that’s so sweet! He comes back to the tree at the end! (spoiler alert for those with deprived childhoods).
On the other hand… What the actual f*ck?!
The kid in the book? This guy? Guy’s a dick.
And sure, you can say, “Oh, he’s a kid, he doesn’t know he’s being a dick.” But no. He grows up… and becomes more of a dick.
Upon re-visiting this as an adult with a few love-bruises of my own (not the sexy kind, ya pervs… the my-heart-hurts-and-I-need-pizza kind), I realized this book wasn’t just a sweet kids’ story where old love prevails.
It was a metaphor for an abusive relationship.
One sec, lemme just pick up the bombshell I just dropped… along with this mic.
“Carlyn, that’s a super dark place to take this, yo.” Hey, I respect your skepticism. This is not a fun reimagining of a beloved children’s story. But at the same time, it probably makes this one of the most important children’s books out there.
Because under all the bark and leaves, it’s just a love story. The boy and the girl love each other. But when he starts fading away, she continues to love him. She puts him first, whereas he puts her last.
No matter how long he leaves her, his returns are such a high that she doesn’t even think about the lows. Eventually, he starts taking something from her every time he’s with her. A piece of her. First it’s her apples, then her branches, then her trunk. He takes and takes until there’s nothing left.
And she loved a boy very, very much — even more than she loved herself.
Read the above quote again. It helps teach the most important lesson in this book, fellow former-kids:
Don’t be the tree.
Sure, the boy comes back to her at the end. He always returns to her, when he needs something. Because he knows she’s willing to give it.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if the boy loved the tree. What matters is that he didn’t love her enough to see that his type of love was destroying her. And she loved him too blindly to realize it for herself. Who wants to be like that?
So, thanks for the life heads up, Shel!
Don’t be in a Giving Tree relationship. Don’t allow your happiness to wholly depend on the devotion of another — you’ll lose yourself along the way.
Or hey, maybe it’s just a kids’ story about a boy and a tree.