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Literature / The Giving Tree

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Don't do it, Giving Tree!

"Once there was a tree... and she loved a little boy."

A selfless tree falls in love with a boy and sacrifices everything she has to make the boy happy.

One of Shel Silverstein's best known works from an anthology of stories from a book of the same name. It is widely believed to be a metaphor for human, and especially parent-child, relationships.

Because of the story's simple plot and language, it's often a child's first introduction to metaphor and allegory.

This book provides examples of:

  • All Take and No Give: The tree receives no compensation beyond the joy of making the boy happy.
  • Always a Child to Parent: An endearing example. Throughout the boy's life, from adulthood to old age, the tree always refers to him as "Boy" to represent that he'll always be her little boy.
  • Cradle of Loneliness: The tree does this with her branches when the boy isn't spending time with her anymore.
  • Cradle-to-Grave Character: The young boy becomes a teenager, then a young adult, then a middle-aged man, and finally an old man. Throughout his life, the tree always refers to him as "Boy," no matter how old he gets.
  • Happiness in Slavery: The tree does not feel sad for being used by the boy. She gives of herself freely to see the boy comfortably through his life.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The Giving Tree, sacrificing more and more parts of her body until she's nothing more than a stump, but even as a stump she can still provide for the boy and be happy.
  • Nameless Narrative: No one is given a name, although the initials of the boy's girlfriend are apparently "Y.L."
  • No Name Given: The tree is never named, nor is the boy. This has a purpose.
  • Parental Substitute: The Tree is often perceived to be a metaphor for the Boy's parents, dedicating their lives to providing for the generation that will replace them.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Things like the tree being able to talk (as well as being alive even after being cut down) are easy to Hand Wave if you take this story as an allegory.
  • Soulful Plant Story: An emotional story about a tree who "gives" parts of itself away to a boy until he's an old man and it's just a stump.
  • Sweetie Graffiti: The boy carves "Me + T." in a heart into the tree's trunk, then another heart with "Me + Y.L." for his girlfriend when he becomes a teenager. Even after he's an adult and cuts down the tree to build a boat from her trunk, the "Me + T." heart remains.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: When the boy is young, he loves the tree as much as she loves him. But as he grows older, he stops visiting the tree because he's busy with his own life and only comes back every now and then when he needs something from her.