I read “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein to my seniors today. I have found that I can teach the critical perspective of Feminist Criticism in a lot of ways…reading difficult essays…watching movie clips…listening to song clips. What I have learned, however, is that students seem to understand this particular literary theory best when it is applied to a children’s book. The term is simplified, yet their thinking is not.
They saw the tree and boy’s relationship as a metaphor for an immature couple. One partner takes for his or her own gain while the other gives for the other’s benefit. They saw the leaves falling from the branches as a symbol for the sadness the tree felt when the boy left her. When I shared with them that I saw the tree as a maternal figure, they said, “nahhh miss. That’s just your experience.” Exactly. And that was precisely my point. We all have different experiences and thus, interpretations.
Motherhood is indeed all about giving. And quite frankly, there is nothing I want more than to give to my daughter: my time, my affection, and my undying support. The list goes on. Reading that story made me consider where the line is drawn and what if I don’t want to draw a line? If giving makes someone happy, will it eventually deplete them? I’m not sure…
My students’s homework is to write an analytical paragraph on the gender roles revealed in the book. My homework is to read the book to my daughter to see if she has a reaction to it, even at an early age. And in the meantime, I will continue giving (especially to my daughter) so long as I balance that with giving to myself at times too.