If you have ever been a human child, you have probably read The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, though you may not remember it very well. It's an interesting little story with a highly ambiguous message. If you need your memory refreshed, here's a Wikipedia summary:
The book follows the life of a female apple tree and a boy who are able to communicate with each other; the tree addresses the human as "Boy" his entire life. In his childhood, the boy enjoys playing with the tree, climbing her trunk, swinging from her branches, and eating her apples. However, as time passes he starts to make requests of the tree.
After entering adolescence, the boy wants money; the tree suggests that he pick and sell her apples, which he does. After reaching adulthood, the boy wants a house; the tree suggests he cut her branches to build a house, which he does. After reaching middle age, the boy wants a boat; the tree suggests he cut her trunk to make a boat, which he does, leaving only a stump.
In the final pages, the boy (now a shriveled old man) wants only "a quiet place to sit and rest," which the stump provides. The story ends with the sentence "And the tree was happy."
There are a lot of interpretations of what this is supposed to mean. Many people believe the story is inspirational as a depiction of giving without expectation of return. But if you look at it straight-forwardly as it is presented, without applying any metaphorical sheen, it's pretty disturbing. The tree loves the boy unconditionally, and he responds by casually hacking her apart to satisfy his own desires, without ever expressing any gratitude towards her, until there is almost nothing left.
Personally, I believe that Shel Silverstein did not intend for the tree's actions to be seen as aspirational. I think he intended us to see the relationship between the boy and the tree as disturbing and problematic, but if so, he certainly did not make his moral very transparent.
I have a friend who gets rather worked up about the disturbing implications of The Giving Tree. So when the main page posted some Guardians of the Galaxy fanart depicting Groot as the Giving Tree today, I had to send it to him. He responded with this:
And it makes me realize Groot is a much better example of what the Giving Tree was trying to say. He sacrificed parts of himself for his friends throughout the movie, and then ultimately had to sacrifice everything, but his friends were fully aware of what he was doing and what it meant for them, unlike the selfish little shit in the book.
Yes! Groot is just as generous as the Giving Tree, but he gives of himself for good reasons, not just because a selfish man-child having a mid-life crisis wants a boat. Groot is a much better role model than Shel Silverstein's Giving Tree, embodying a kind of generosity and empathy that we can all admire and aspire to emulate.
We are Groot!