Is Shel Silverstein’s classic children’s book The Giving Tree a tender story of unconditional love or a disturbing tale of selfishness? Does it sentimentalize entitlement or is it a cautionary tale about being taken advantage of… to DEATH? And what does Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss think about it? These questions and more are answered after the jump.
Forensic psychologist and playwright Robert Levy writes in HuffPo:
In May, The New York Times Book Review‘s “By the Book” column asked the author Leah Hager Cohen about the worst book she had ever read. Her answer? Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. “I cannot understand why this book, which sentimentalizes entitlement, benightedness, and contempt, became a classic of children’s literature,” she pronounced, with what I took to be self-righteous certitude.
I was astounded by her response. The Giving Tree? The beloved book of my childhood that I read to my own children today, stifling tears at its bitterly ironic message of ecological consumption and mindless greed? How could Silverstein’s parable be misinterpreted as a straightforward tale extolling the virtues of selflessness and sacrifice? Does anyone really think Silverstein intended his readers to happily accept that the tree, reduced to a mere stump at the story’s conclusion by the boy’s relentless taking, should truly be pleased by the boy’s actions, and that we should be as well?
Apparently so. One quick online search laid bare a passionate presence of The Giving Tree haters who virtually high-five one another over their shared disdain of the book. “This book reeks of the patriarchy,” a Goodreads member wrote in her one-star review. “Keep it away from your kids — especially your daughters.” One blogger argued that it “romanticizes self-destructive and self-negating behavior in women…. [T]he boy is a self-centered chauvinist who abuses the tree to the point of destroying it.” After reading similar indictments — mostly from women — I could no longer read the book in quite the same way, a shadow cast over my once unshakable interpretation. My own self-righteous certitude had been duly punctured.
Continue reading Robert’s article here.
Me? I’ve never like the book. “STOP ENABLING THAT BRAT!” I scream to the tree every time I read it. And: “IT’S YOUR OWN DAMN FAULT! YOU’RE LETTING HIM TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOU!” But then I’m tough like that. No fool for love am I.
Not everybody has the same takeaway though. In the 2008 WOW/HBO documentary Heidi Fleiss: The Would-Be Madame of Crystal, Heidi has her own unique take on The Giving Tree. In her mind, SHE’S the tree, you see and, well… just watch below.
Fascinating how people see themselves. And fascinating the way everybody can get out of the book whatever it is they need.