Disclaimer: I don’t usually go on rants. But I’m about to go on one now. You have been warned.
Though I’m not always successful, I try really hard not to be judgmental about what books people like. In most cases, even if I don’t like a book personally, I can understand the appeal it might have for someone else.
Not so with THE GIVING TREE.
I hate THE GIVING TREE. Except for the pretty green color of the cover, this book has zero redeeming qualities, and if provoked, I will tell this to everyone who comes within a ten-mile radius of me. (This once happened inside my favorite indie bookstore in Woodstock, NY, and I hereby publicly apologize to the proprietors for the fifteen-minute rant in their children’s section.) I’m not even going to touch on what happens if you take this book as a metaphor for martyrdom in romantic relationships or parenting. Because even if you just take the relationship between the tree and the boy at its most basic level–as a simple friendship–this story is A HORROR SHOW.
For those of you who haven’t read THE GIVING TREE since you were kids, here’s the story. When the boy is little, he plays in and around the tree all the time, and they’re very happy together. Then the boy gets older and asks the tree to give him some money, so the tree gives him her apples to sell at the market, and this makes her very happy. Then the boy grows up and wants a house, so the tree lets him cut off her branches to make one, and again, she is happy. Then the boy wants to sail far away, so the tree lets him chop down her trunk and make it into a boat. When the boy finally, finally returns to her, he’s an old man. The tree apologizes that she has nothing left to give him (and politely does not mention that this is because he has TAKEN IT ALL.) The old man says he’s tired and that all he wants is a place to rest, so the she lets him sit on her stump. AND THE TREE IS VERY HAPPY. (The full text is here if you’d like to see the madness for yourself.)
Guys, WHY do people think this story is sweet? Allow me to demonstrate the utter insanity by writing you a similar story in which both characters are people. We’ll call them B and T. To avoid getting caught up in a discussion of gender roles, we’ll say they’re both girls.
Once there was a writer named T
and she loved her friend B.
Every day, they would work in the coffee shop together.
They would read each other’s writing
and encourage each other
and eat cinnamon rolls
and drink coffee,
and they were very happy.
But time went by
and B got a book deal,
and because she was busy with deadlines,
T was often alone.
Then one day, B came to the coffee shop in a panic.
T said, “B! It’s so great to see you!
Sit down and tell me what you’ve been up to!”
“I don’t have time for that,” B said.
“I’m on deadline, and I can’t figure out how to fix this book.
I need you to help me.”
So T read the manuscript
and helped B fix her plot problems,
and when all the ends tied up nicely,
B went home to call her editor,
and T was happy.
B was out of touch for a long time,
and T was sad.
But one day B showed up on her doorstep,
and T was overjoyed to see her.
“Come in!” she said.
“Tell me about your book launch! What’s it like to be published?”
“Sales have been really bad,” B said.
“I don’t have any money, and I can’t pay my rent.
My landlord’s kicking me out.
Can I stay with you for a while?”
“Of course you can,” said T.
So B moved in for months and months
and filled up T’s living room with her boxes
and finished T’s ice cream without buying more
and hogged the shower
and fell asleep in front of the TV with the lights on every night,
but T was happy to have her friend back.
Then one day, B moved across the country.
She stayed away for a long time.
And when she finally called,
T was so happy she could hardly speak.
“How are you doing?” she breathed.
“Not so good,” B said.
“I’ve been really depressed,
and my editor is expecting another book next week,
and I haven’t even started it.
I really need you to come help me.
Oh, and I’ve been drinking so much that I’ve damaged my liver,
so I’m going to need half of yours.”
So T sold all her belongings
and canceled her lease,
and she polished up her work in progress–
the novel she’d been writing for years–
so she could give it to B
to publish under her own name.
And B sent off those gorgeous pages to her editor
and then she went out partying all night
while T checked into the hospital to have half her liver removed.
After a long time,
B finally showed up in T’s hospital room.
T was on a lot of pain medication,
so she was only half lucid,
but she could still see the sad look on B’s face.
“You look awful,” she said.
“God, I’m so hungover,” B replied.
“I could really use some coffee.”
“I’m so sorry I can’t make you some,” T said.
“Come here, lie down on my bed and get some rest.
You’ve had such a hard time. You deserve it.”
And she used her last bit of energy to scoot over in the narrow hospital bed
so B could lie down next to her,
and B did.
And T was happy.
Let’s just take a minute to reflect on how completely fucked up that is.
GUYS. WHY are we teaching our children that it’s okay to empty themselves out for their ungrateful friends and then APOLOGIZE for not being able to give more?? Which part of this message is helpful or acceptable? People spend years in therapy learning NOT to do this. It’s one thing to be generous, to help your friend fix her plot problems or lend her a few dollars. But it’s quite another story when you start sacrificing body parts.