The Giving Tree
Silverstein, Shel. The Giving Tree. Illustrated by Shel Silverstein. Harper & Row, 1964. 31 pages.
Perhaps the great beauty of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein is its ambiguous message, allowing its readers to interpret the story in their own way. Silverstein’s tale of a boy’s relationship with a tree told over time is certainly a “love it or hate it” piece of literature. The children’s book follows a boy, who spends his day with a tree; he climbs on her, swings from her branches, and eats her apples.
As the boy grows up, he stops visiting the tree as often. He only returns when he needs something from the tree, such as her branches to build a house, or her trunk to build a boat.
“And so the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away. And the tree was happy…but not really”
Silverstein also illustrated the book, using several artistic elements in order to bring the story to life. The gradation in his illustrations of the boy creates the impression of growth, as the boy ages and his illustration increases in size and changes in shape. Silverstein also employs a cartoon art style that creates “a comfortable distance between the child reader and a potentially disturbing theme” (Horning 112).
Reading The Giving Tree can raise philosophical questions about ethics, inviting children to wonder if the boy was being selfish by taking away what made the tree a tree, or if the tree was being overtly selfless and allowing its identity to be taken away. It is difficult to pinpoint the singular lesson or message of the story, perhaps because there isn’t one. However, Silverstein has left his story open to a wide-range of
interpretations, which is what makes The Giving Tree so special.