The Problematic Quest for Happiness in the Modern World: A Serresian Reading of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree

Keith Moser


The purpose of this study is to explore Shel Silverstein’s complex and highly controversial book The Giving Tree from a different lens which incorporates the theories of the contemporary French philosopher Michel Serres. This investigation will highlight that this widely popular tale is not merely a narrative about giving as the title unequivocally implies, but it is also a story about happiness. Indeed, the theme of happiness, which has only been mentioned in passing by researchers such as Richard Neuhaus and Jean Elshtain, appears to be the central focus of this short story for children. Specifically, the progressive disenchantment of the character “Boy” throughout the narrative compels the reader to ponder whether the modern world is conducive to any type of genuine or lasting happiness at all. Moreover, regardless of the debatable intentions of this reclusive author, The Giving Tree is a poignant representation of the parasitic relationship that the alienated modern subject has with the remainder of the biosphere which provides sustenance to all of the earth’s sentient and non-sentient beings. The utter disillusionment of the protagonist later in life after a seemingly pleasant childhood also causes the reader to question the hollow virtues of consumerism that are allegedly supposed to maximize one’s happiness.

Full Text:


The Looking Glass: new perspectives on children's literature

ISBN 1551-5680