His name was Shel Silverstein, and like Sonny Liston he was discovered dead in his home. When his housekeepers left one Friday, he was fine. Returning the following Monday, they found Shel lying on the floor. Somewhere in that three-day window he died.
He also wrote a children’s book called The Giving Tree. The book came out in 1964. When I first read the story, it brought tears to my eyes. My throat puffed up like an adder’s, my nose leaked, and a cold emptiness settled in my chest, just below my physical heart. The emptiness was not of the flesh, it was like a floating mirage from another dimension. Not really there, but more real than anything at that moment.
In other words, it’s a beautiful story. Simple, yet it speaks to the human heart, as do the best stories.
As variable as human personalities, so go the interpretations of the story. In other words, I’m sure your interpretation of the story defines something about you in a psychological sense. I’m just not sure what that sense is. There are three primary interpretations:
1. The tree is the image of unconditional love, giving, giving, giving — no matter what.
2. The boy represents spoiled, transparent selfishness, using the tree to fulfill his presumptuous wants. Only in the end does the boy have a need.
3. The tree is Mother Earth or Nature, always providing for the boy, who signifies Humankind, taking, despoiling, a lackadaisical conservator.
There is a fourth interpretation that leaps readily to mind, a theological interpretation: the tree represents God, the gracious giver; the boy is Humankind, the ungrateful receiver. And truthfully, you might say it’s the same as number one only clothed in priestly garments. It’s simply unconditional love. You’re correct, only there is a slight difference; the difference lies in God’s inclusion. And God is to a large extent distinct from Humankind.
A fifth interpretation might be the similarities between the behaviors, needs and emotions of childhood and old age. For at both times the boy takes pleasure and/or satisfaction from the tree. During the other stages of his life, he merely uses the tree to fulfill his selfish desires.
And one more: we all need love; we all need someone at some time. We may flounder off looking for fulfillment through other things, but in the end, we need to love and be loved. We need close emotional connection to other human beings. Loneliness hurts.
My take on the story is this: it’s a story about love.