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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

It's All Shel Silverstein's Fault!

I finally figured out what corrupted the culture over the last 40 years -- Shel Silverstein with his subversive book, The Giving Tree. You remember the story, of course. "Once there was a tree... and she loved a little boy. And every day the boy would come and he would gather her leaves...and swing from her branches and eat apples."

Do you remember the rest? The little boy starts to grow up and, once he becomes an adolescent and gets a girlfriend, the tree doesn't exist for the selfish little twerp except when he wants something.

First she gives him her apples so he can get money to "buy things and have fun." (She should have told him to get a job and work for it!) Then he comes back demanding help to build a house so he can have a wife and children, so the tree gives him her branches. (Obviously, he was too immature to even think of getting married.) Then, after abandoning the tree for years, the boy returns disillusioned wanting to build a boat so he can sail away and start a new life. So the tree gives him her trunk. (What happened to the wife and children? Imagine what it was like to live with the guy!) He disappears again, but shows up years later as an old man. At that point, the tree has nothing left to give, but the old man just wants a quiet place to sit so she invites him to rest on her stump. "And the tree was happy."

That tree should have been cut down and turned into doormats or mulch for the garden! Let her be walked all over without doing so much harm to the boy.

Yikes! Talk about enabling the worst qualities of a person: keeping him a whining baby, letting him strip her of everything without giving a thing in return! No doubt as he sat on her stump he whined and complained about all the bad luck life cursed him with. I'll bet he was a liberal!

The book is a product of the 60s and, I confess it with shame, I read it to my children and even liked it at the time. The theme was all over the place. I remember "giving tree" banners adorning the stage at a Christian Family Movement Convention in South Bend, IN in 1975 (where all the priests said Mass wearing non clerical garb and stoles). It was always turning up as a cutesy retreat theme.

The sick relationship between the tree and the little boy were all over the place teaching us to give in to every whim and demand of the selfish people in our lives. Is it any wonder parents today have adult children moving in to mooch and whine about their hard lives; they learned the lessons from Shel and his tree. And parents let their kids take advantage because they feel so darn guilty. After all, if the tree is a metaphor for mom, then we are obviously being told the way to show love is to never say no and give until we're an old stump.

So I blame Shel Silverstein for the selfishness of today's world. Parents fed their children The Giving Tree's poisoned apples from the time they could chew solid food. And just see where it's taken us. The Occupy Wall Street crowd expect the government to act like that dumb tree. In fact, the Nanny state is an orchard of "giving trees" except they give away other orchard's apples, not their own.

Maybe Shel meant the book as a joke and the tree was an exaggerated picture of the Jewish mother. Whatever.... Read the book to your kids as a lesson in how NOT to show love. The tree started out fine when the boy was little. I'm all for kids climbing trees and swinging in branches and making leaf crowns to play king of the forest, and eating apples. But once they're old enough to want money to "have fun" they need to earn it themselves.

If you have any "giving trees" in your yard, cut 'em down. And if you have the inclination to act like one, here's my advice. Lie down on the floor and tell your children to walk all over you. Let them stomp that inclination out of you in one, short session. Then stand up, and instead of being a "giving tree" be a "loving tree," remembering that true love is tough love.


Conservamom said...

wow..when you put it that way,makes total sense.

Anonymous said...

I never read "The Giving Tree" to any of my children, including the ones at the school where I worked as an instructional assistant. I am a "Little Red Hen" person. You know the story of the Little Red Hen, who found the wheat, planted the wheat, watered the wheat, harvested the wheat, took it to the mill and baked it into bread all by herself because the cat, the pig and the dog would not help her? Well she and her chicks ate it all themselves and let the freeloaders have none even though they wanted some. Now that is my kind of story.

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Sounds like you were one smart teacher. I have a Paul Gallico version of the Little Red Hen and I love to read it to the kids and it's one of their favorites. They have a strong sense of fairness and can relate to the justice of what the little red hen does. Besides, she knows her St. Paul!

Anonymous said...

Yes, St. Paul, "He who refuses to work does not eat." He did not say those who could not work, but those who refused. I have known blind people who were taught to work and who took great pride in doing so. It gives self respect and gets respect from others. St. Paul worked making tents, so he would not be a burden on anyone. My two daughters, who read "The Little Red Hen", have never been without a job when they needed one, even if it meant waiting on tables, working on an assembly line or doing accounting while going to college. A housewife can even make things to sell. That is if they do not tax her to death. Ha! Ha!

Alice said...

I'm not sure if you're serious when you say that you blame Shel and his tree for all that you said. If I remember correctly, Shel Silverstein was one of that group with Marlo Thomas and all the Free to be You and Me people. He was in good company. It is possible that he believed that his story was about unconditional love. I think that is why it appeals to most people. There is something wonderful about the idea of a love that keeps on giving. The problem is that it's a lie. The tree gave up things essential to her well being and life itself--appropriate in a situation where martyrdom is called for but not in one where a person (or tree) is being taken advantage of. I see the end of the book as a picture of despair. Of course, Shel Silverstein presents it as a picture of love. A big difference. And that's the problem. I think it's a great book for teaching kids about boundaries and when it is and is not loving to give.
And my kids love love love the Little Red Hen especially when read by their Paka.

Alice said...

Oh--and it's good for teaching about selfishness too. It's amazing how clear that is to them in the book and yet how foggy it can be in their own dealings with their sisters :)

Anonymous said...

I have to correct my post of Oct.27at 4:05 AM. Actually the Little Red Hen found the GRAIN of wheat, but I think you all got the message.