The Tree With Healthy Boundaries

This year is the 50th Anniversary of Shel Silverstein’s book The Giving Tree.  Given how deeply implicated Shel Silverstein is in the magical Christmas mornings of my childhood, this is a big deal to me.

I recently came across this NY Times Book Review discussion of it.

“As for the argument that “The Giving Tree” is somehow a commentary on the ways humans ravage the environment, I mean, maybe? ” says Anna Holmes, founding editor of Jezebel, which I love, and am therefore annoyed about how annoyed I am by this.


Anna also brings up the common idea that it’s about “man’s inhumanity to woman.”  I think it’s about that, too.  But she’s not sure it’s an indictment of that.  OF COURSE IT’S AN INDICTMENT, THAT’S WHY EVERYBODY’S SO BUMMED OUT BY IT!  Reality ain’t all puppy dogs and unicorns, and storytellers don’t owe you a happy ending or a pat moral.  Declining to give them, in fact, strikes me as a mark of integrity, though notoriously not so much box office success.

The final insult comes from President Obama’s economic adviser Betsey Stevens blaming the victim in this whole tragedy- “If only she’d set limits, she wouldn’t be a stump today!”

I’d like to gently but exasperatedly suggest that humanity’s ravaging of the environment (and the increasingly terrifying consequences) and a culture of violence & disrespect toward women are closely related.  You can find a conversation in the air to that effect, and I think it’s important.  The trees aren’t going to give us a lecture.  There’s no lecture coming.

So this whole “fuck this tree; this tree is a pushover” reaction upsets me.  It strikes me as trying to avoid responsibility for things we urgently need to take responsibility for.  It strikes me as trying to get out of  looking back at a gentle cautionary tale given to us 50 years ago and having to admit “well, I guess we didn’t listen.  And now look where we are.

But I’m game.  Maybe the tree should have had better boundaries.  I’m guessing that would go down something like this:



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