As a writer seeking to better myself, I follow Kristen Lamb’s blog. She’s given some incredible advice over the years, much of it entirely for free! But every so often, some of her posts reach far beyond just writing and author advice. Her latest post, Why I Hate “The Giving Tree”–But How This Story Makes Us Better Writers, is one of these.
Now, I had to google “The Giving Tree” and reread it again before I could remember what it was about, and it never actually had an impact when I read it. I guess because it didn’t have magic or animals in it (then, as now, I was very partial to a particular kind of books). Reading it now, I think it’s rather brilliant. Not that I necessarily like it, but I do admire it. But enough of my thoughts, it was Kristen’s that impressed me.
I’ve cherry-picked my favorite parts, but if you want to read the whole thing, definitely click the link above:
“Shel Silverstein didn’t write The Giving Tree with plans that it was a cautionary tale against toxic relationships. He didn’t write it to be some Christ-like example of selfless love. He wasn’t writing a tale of capitalism run amok or misogyny. According to him, he simply wrote a story about the complicated dynamics of human relationships. We, as the reader, assign whether this is a tale of warning or wonder, horror or hope.”
“I honestly believe that stories we gravitate to as children says a lot about our fundamental nature, our strengths and weaknesses.
I always loved the parable of the Tortoise and the Hare, namely because one of my strongest traits is my persistence. I loved the parable of The Crow and the Pitcher because I was always good at finding clever ways to solve seemingly impossible problems. The stories I loved possibly reflected back personality qualities that even at a very young age, I possessed and was even proud of.
But then there was my dark side, a side I noticed even by the tender age of four when I was sounding out the words And the tree was happy. My tendency to people please (Old Man Whickutt’s Donkey) and my seeming inability to set a boundary with those who would take and take until I had nothing left to give (The Giving Tree) and me happily enabling my own self-destruction. The anger I felt toward the tree being a fledgling anger I felt for myself.
Why did the boy feel the need to take all the apples? All her branches? Why couldn’t he just take some? Why did the tree feel the need to offer all her apples and all her branches? Couldn’t he see he was killing her? Did he even care?
When it came to her trunk? Why didn’t she tell him to just go pound sand?
God, how many times have I done the same?”
“Our culture is guilty (my POV) of assuming that every child’s story is to serve as a role model. Don’t bully. Be a good friend. This is what happens when you learn to share. But literature serves a higher purpose.
Isn’t the point of being a parent to rear a fully developed person more than simply being an activities director? That we are charged with rearing a grownup with fully developed empathy and a sense of injustice? Doesn’t it say something when a child reads a story like this and is incensed at the injustice of it all?
The children’s movie Inside Out explored how dysfunctional we have become regarding human emotion. We aren’t permitted to be angry, sad, disappointed, jaded or hurt. We can be depressed (because there is a pill for that). Yet these “negative” emotions serve a purpose. It is okay to be angry and sometimes it is downright warranted. It is all right to be afraid.
Our culture has become obsessed with never being offended and yet being offended is vital. There are things that should offend us. That is when real change is possible.
Insulating entire generations from ever experiencing negative emotions is in a word? Psychotic.
Silverstein didn’t believe in happy endings being a necessity. He felt that set children up for failure, that things didn’t always work out. That if every book had an HEA then children would wonder what was so wrong with them. They didn’t always get an HEA in their lives. What were they doing wrong?
Nothing, my Wee One. It is life. Fair is a weather condition.
Good stories also serve as catharsis. We need to watch comedy because we do need to laugh, but you know what? Sometimes what we need is a good cry, too. And maybe we aren’t yet “evolved” enough to cry over what is going wrong in our own lives, but we can cry for a beautiful tree that was rendered a stump.
And that makes us all just a little bit more human.”
Now I’m a real sucker for my happily-ever-after, but even I agree with Kristen.
What are your thoughts, readers? Did you remember this story? How do you interpret it? Do you agree with Kristen about the bad side of only giving children their happily-ever-afters?
By the way, if you’re a writer, definitely subscribe to Kristen’s blog!