Topic Proposal: Social ecology and Eco-Marxism in Thoreau’s Walden and The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.

I want to write about how the social ecological and eco- marxism trope can be seen in “the Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein and in Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden.”I am interested in writing about this topic because “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein was the first children’s book that impacted my life in relation to learning how to treat my environment. Despite Thoreau’s “Walden” being a 19th century piece of literature it still relates to our contemporary culture because it addresses issues like exploiting land, how money plays a role in society and proposes a different kind of lifestyle, that of simplicity. Both of these literary piece although intended for different audiences and different time eras, grasp the nature of humankind and address it. In Thoreau’s “Walden” we can see how money plays a big role in society and we see this in the example of when he wants to build home or the reason why he went to live in the woods. Moreover, I want to focus on on how prosperity does not need to be simply monetary but also, living in peace with Nature. That is where Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” comes in because the main character used the Tree his whole life and never returned anything to the Tree. Nature is presented as being innocent and constantly being robbed.

Questions I want to focus on:
1. How is a form of economy presented in “The Giving Tree?” How does this relate to the form of economy presented in Walden?
2. How are eco sociology and eco marxism tropes presented in both “Walden and The Giving Tree?
3. Although “The Giving Tree” was intended for a children’s audience, how does this story appeal to eco critics?
4. In “Thoreau’s “Walden” does he appeal to ethos, pathos, or logos the most? Why?


13 responses to this post.

  1. Correction* For question two, I meant to write social ecology!

  2. Posted by al002 on October 27, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    I find this a very interesting topic and well defined. The most interesting question you posted would be “3. Although “The Giving Tree” was intended for a children’s audience, how does this story appeal to eco critics?” because we should exam how simple children books can have an effect on them because they are young making them valuable to ecocritics. A question I would suggest to you would be similar to your question four:

    5. Does Thoreau’s “Walden” appeal to ethos/pathos/logos do the same for Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree”?

  3. Posted by brightgirl04 on October 27, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    I agree with the commentator above that your topic is well-defined. You state you want to focus on living in peace with nature, here is another question you can ask:
    How are Walden and The Giving Tree similar or different in their suggestion of ways to live in harmony with nature?

  4. I must admit, “The Giving Tree” is one of my favorite tear-jerker books – I remember sobbing after reading it one time – and I had a moment of wishing I had thought of this idea first! So bravo, I think it will be interesting to apply an ecocritical reading to this.

    I like question #3. I think focusing on the nature of the text itself and the effect of the message and how it is delivered is an interesting focus.

    7. What is so powerful about The Giving Tree being a children’s book versus an adult book with the same message?

    • What adult book are we talking about that has the same message? If we’re talking about “Walden,” are these two books really comparable in their message?

  5. Posted by kwalley on October 28, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    This topic is very unique and I think it offers an interesting humanity to the idea of ecocritical writing. I also like question 3 because I think it is always important to understand what the intended audience was and that a successful piece of writing supersedes its intended audience and reaches more people. Another question to consider might be:

    8. How does the “robbing” of the Giving Tree by the story’s main character contrast to Thoreau’s use of nature in his own living situation in Walden?

  6. 3. Although “The Giving Tree” was intended for a children’s audience, how does this story appeal to eco critics?
    The third question is interesting because The Giving Tree connects people of different ages to a central theme. Nature should not be taken advantage of which is what eco-critics argue and the message of the book.
    Another question: How does the main character of The Giving Tree relate to people’s use of nature now?

  7. Posted by teagueoreagan on October 28, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    I really like question one because it addresses the issue of economy and tears down the seemingly positive message of The Giving Tree in favor of addressing the unequal relationship between the tree and the human. It is true, the human takes and takes and takes and now that I think of it I am truly unsure what I was supposed to take away from that story as a child. It almost seems to endorse the ideology of natural exploitation. Very curious indeed.

    One of the first questions that comes to my mind is what is Silverstein’s perspective on nature and how does this shape his story? What is the perspective implied by the story and (though not necessary to include but valuable to know) what are the personal politics and perspectives on nature of the author?

  8. Posted by yribaf on October 28, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    I find this topic to be well thought out and will be an interesting analysis. I found this question to be interesting: Although “The Giving Tree” was intended for a children’s audience, how does this story appeal to eco critics? Even though the story is for children, it sheds light on the environmental issues in our society.

    Another question: in Marxist ideology, capitalism is defined as an unsustainable economic system, and Marx theorized that capitalism would eventually meet a full-collapse. Considering this theoretical framework, what are the implications of the Giving Tree’s death following the distribution of its natural resources (i.e. the commodification of ecological resources)?

  9. Posted by etrotta on October 28, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    I like your question about the role of eco socialism and eco marxism in the works you intend to examine. Another question you could pose would be how community functions in those texts and whether the authors idealize reliance on the individual or a community.

  10. #1 is the most promising question so far because it connects the two texts. Since social ecology and eco-Marxism are slightly different (see Garrard), you should pick one of them (rather than both) as your theoretical lens. As discussed in class, I do think you need to flesh out the rationale for reading these two texts together more fully before proceeding. Overall though, an interesting paper topic!

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