Analysis of the Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

January 18, 2010

Shel Silverstein in the short story called The Giving Tree portrays happiness as being when we give and have the capacity to give. The boy in the story always wants and always takes and as a result is never happy or contented. He always comes back to the giving tree in search of happiness. He thinks that happiness is in money and possessions. Had he simply looked at the example the tree was making, he would have realized that happiness is in giving not receiving.

Whenever the boy leaves the tree, the tree becomes sad, not out of want for the boy, but out of want to give to the boy. Every time the opportunity arises for the tree to give she does and then is happy. At the end of the story when the boy is an old man, all he wants is a quiet place to sit and rest. He had become tired from all the work he had put into being happy. All the things that he had tried to make him happy were now gone. All he had was the stump of a tree. In contrast the tree, who no longer had anything to give, was happy even to the end because she was able to give everything she had to comfort the boy.

Alternative Analysis:

The first lesson learned is to balance giving and taking. The boy just comes back with more “needs” more wants but never gives and he never feels satisfied. We should learn from that and learn to be content. Not aimless. Not unmotivated. Not goal-less. But content with where we are at the moment even if we work towards a goal.

The second lesson learned is from the tree’s faults. You may ask…what did the tree do wrong? It died from it’s giving. Had the tree not allowed the boy to take the branches, the tree could have given many apples to many people and helped more than just one selfish person. While the tree has the lesson of giving rather than taking down, it doesn’t realize that it is actually being very dysfunctional in the relationship.



  1. “The Giving Tree” is a wonderful story, and Shel Silverstein has truly captured the heart of biblical living and giving. Blessings!

  2. This is symbolic to me of the “Nanny State” that this country is turning into: Instead of the “takers” being content with the affluent helping to get them through a life crisis, they want more and more and more until there are no people of means left and we are all reduced to “sameness”.
    This is a disgusting story and I am shocked that so many people celebrate the idea of altruism to the point of complete destruction of the giver as being “noble”.
    Ammalaura February 18, 2012

  3. Wow, Laura, a disgusting story? Really? Really?
    As a child, I loved this book. My heart broke for the tree and for the boy. I learned that in the giving all you have, you can easily just be left with nothing.
    The boy never understood the love of the tree and the tree became nothing more than what it could to the boy. And eventually became nothing.
    I felt the tree gained some dignity at the end, when she raised her stump up and became a seat for the boy, who had finally realized that all that he had felt he needed his whole life, he didn’t actually need at all. He just needed a place to sit.
    I never took from that anything like, “Oh, I should give all I am to some selfish boy who will gladly leave me with nothing.” In fact, I saw that his love was selfish and didn’t want that. I saw the mistakes of the tree; not in loving the boy, but in giving all that she was to a boy that didn’t care about her. Could the tree ever do it better? Maybe not. Maybe that’s just how she had to be. But certainly I could.
    It was a tragic, bittersweet, sad, touching, moving story. But disgusting? I think you’ve missed the point entirely. Love is not disgusting. Ever. No, really. Ever. Hate is disgusting.
    This book doesn’t celebrate destructive altruism. It illustrates it. Literally. It’s literally illustrated destructive altruism. So you can learn from it. At a young age. And not take such advantage of unconditional love.
    Jeez. SMH. “Disgusting.”

  4. For me, this is a story about what can happen in love between 2 people. When a realtionship turns from love; mutually giving and receiving in a respectful, caring manner, to dysfunctional abusive, selfish, disregarding and destructive behaviors that are exhibited by one party. Rather than dissect the Giving Tree, let me ask any of you whom read this, ifyou would advise your sons or daughters to stay in a relationship where the other party was taking, abusing, and literally destroying them? Would you encourage your own son or daughter to stay in ‘love’ at all costs, no matter what? For me at the end of the Giving Tree, the final inslut to the tree, is the old man’s ass sitting on the face of the tree. How much more metaphorical does the illustrator have to get? If you disagre with me, go back and re-read the Giving Tree again. Tell me where you spot the first sign that the relationship is going from love to disrespect, abuse and destruction ‘in the name of love’. Does unconditional love require one to tolerate and put with abuse, destruction, dis-respectful selfishness?

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