Shel didn't set out to write The Giving Tree to send a message to society, a point he continually reiterated with many of the books, songs and cartoons he would write in the future.
"It's about a boy and a tree," is how Shel described the book. "It has a pretty sad ending."
"It's just a relationship between two people; one gives and the other takes," he said. "I didn't start out to prove a message. It started out to be a good book for a kid. I imagine it reflects my ideas, but it is for children. I would like adults to buy and read it, and I hope they can find enough in it."
In fact, given his disgust with the me-first attitude among the folksingers and other artists in the Village who were creating art as a form of self-experiment, it almost sounds like he wrote it as an experiment, a reaction to their own mushiness. While he clearly wanted to tell a story with universal implications, he also wanted to keep it deliberately murky.
...and even when a member of the audience--who just happened to be a high school teacher who was also a nun--asked him the kind of message-behind-the-story question that he hated about The Giving Tree, he answered graciously.
"What did you mean to say?" she asked.
"It's about two beings," Shel replied. "One who likes to give, and another who likes to take." All she said was, "Oh."
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