Friday, June 09, 2006

Giving

I'm finding The Giving Tree's message very weird now that I'm reading it as an adult instead of hearing it read to me. The tree gives body and soul to this boy who gives her absolutely nothing in return - not even a thank you - and we read it to kids why? To teach them unconditional love? To teach them to be doormats? "Cut down my trunk and make a boat," said the tree. "Then you can sail away . . . and be happy."

I think adults like The Giving Tree a lot more than kids do, and it's a classic because we keep reading it to them. Adults get choked up reading it, which kids never do. I picture a mother reading this to her three-year-old when she's trying to get him down for a nap. She's tired, her shirt is all sticky from where he spilled applejuice on her at lunch, and she hasn't washed her hair in days because what's the point? She knows in a few years he'll want to build a house and sail away, and he'll come dropping in occassionally to ask for cash. Of course she cries when she reads it - it feels like the story of her life. But she still loves the boy.

I'm reminded of Margaret Atwood's rewrite of "The Little Red Hen", which ends not with the hen refusing to share her hard-earned loaf, but giving it up to the other animals: "I'm a hen, not a rooster. Here, I said. . . . Have some more. Have mine." The feminist in me wants to say we shouldn't be teaching children this, especially girls - they should be learning to take care of themselves first and others second. The humanist in me is saying the world would be a better place with more nurturers, more selflessness.

4 comments:

Andrew said...

Give the kids some selflessness in their stories. They're not going to see much of it elsewhere.

PS I like the Atwood adaptation. After all, she is the little RED hen.

Andrew said...

Actually, I like the idea of the hen giving the bread away. I'm not sure what to make of the actual rewrite

Julia said...

No, the little RED hen would be standing in line for her bread and she sure wouldn't share it once she got some.

I think the Atwood rewrite is disheartening, but valid commentary.

Eli said...

That reminds me of an article I read recently about how parenting actually makes people unhappier than if they don't have kids. Oh, here it is: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1202940,00.html

I think kids must be worth it, though. Much as your story about that mother makes me sad, it must be. Why else would we keep doing this? Just biology?