Long, long ago in course called Spiritual Development of Children, our prof criticized The Giving Tree for promoting unhealthy male-female relationships. The tree is female, and in relationship to the male just gives and gives and gives until she/it has nothing left to give but a stump for the old man to sit on, while the male just takes and takes and takes until he’s too old to take anything else. I can see her point, but hopefully having this book on our bookshelf when we were kids hasn’t turned me into calloused selfish misogynist. ;) As a kid I can remember thinking that the tree was really nice, though I wasn’t sure what kind of relationship it was supposed to represent. Anyway, one of our students did a presentation on The Giving Tree this week for an English competition, and I thought her interpretation of the story was interesting. (You can watch the story, read by author Shel Silverstein, here or below.)
My student didn’t know that it was a well-known English children’s book. The story, unattributed and in various forms with various titles, is apparently floating around the Chinese internet (she used this version, called “Boy and Tree Story”). In her English version for the performance, the boy sells the tree’s apples to buy toys, chops off the branches to build a house, chops down the trunk to build a boat so he can go sailing and relax, and finally as an old man returns to sit on the stump, where he smiles with tears in his eyes. She acted out the story with some classmates and then gave this speech:
This is a story of everyone. The tree likes our parents. When we were young, we loved to play with mom and dad…… When we grown up, we left them, we just came to them when we need something or when we are in trouble. No matter what, parents will always be there and give everything they could to make you happy. You may think the boy is cruel to the tree but that how all of us are treating our parents. Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who are in fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.
I thought it was interesting that she saw it as representing child-parent relationships. It makes sense, but as a kid growing up with this book I’d never thought of the story in that way. Coincidentally, a different student in an unrelated class told me about “gnawing the old” (啃老), which, according to her, refers to the way adult children still depend on their parents. The image on the right is one that came up when I googled the Chinese term.
(P.S. — I don’t understand why Chinese EFL students insist on including platitudes or vaguely profound inspirational sayings in everything, but that last line of her speech is very typical. So was playing Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up.”) YouTube video below: