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Unconditional Love — Is “The Giving Tree” a Depressing Book?

When I was little, I asked my mother what love is.

“Love is something you give away. But unlike other things, the more you give the more you receive in return. If you give one, you get two. If you give two, you get four, and so on. But you shouldn’t give love just for the sake of getting more. You should love as God loves us.”

This statement has had a profound impact on me since I was that curious little girl of four.

Perhaps this is the reason I still cite Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree as one of my favorite books of all time.

A few years ago, I attended my cousin’s daughter’s 1-year birthday party and I decided to gift The Giving Tree, along with a couple of other Shel Silverstein books, as a present.

A younger cousin decided to flip through The Giving Tree when the celebrations began winding down. He had never read, or even heard of the book before, so I awaited his finishing the book with great anticipation.

“Wow, that was DEPRESSING!” he declared as he closed the book shut with a flourish.

“What are you talking about? It’s a great book that teaches the concept of unconditional love, either from parents or from God. It’s one of my favorites!” I countered.

“Yeah, I get that. But don’t you think it’s too dreary for little kids?”

“No…”

However, I did see his point. And I was reminded of this incident once again when I read this quote from Ryan Gosling on Best Week Ever regarding The Giving Tree:

That book is so f**ked up; that story’s the worst. I mean, at the end the tree is a stump and the old guy just sitting on him; he’s just used him to death, and you’re supposed to want to be the tree? F**k you. You be the tree. I don’t want to be the tree.

I was taken back, and shocked further to read that the author of the post, as well as the majority of commentered, agreed with Gosling that The Giving Tree is a depressing, “f**ked up” book.

What say you? Do you think that The Giving Tree is a depressing book?

I can definitely see how people would think so; we live in an imperfect, cynical world. As humans, we are incapable of perfect, unconditional love. Additionally, attempting to love someone with the type of love described in the book has the potential to have devastating effects — whether through heartbreak, unnecessary sacrifice, and/or devaluation of oneself.

But I still stand firm that we should strive for perfect love, as God loves us.

Just as my mother taught me 26 years ago.

And I plan on teaching my kids this important lesson too.