A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Essay by chawawwa33College, UndergraduateB+, December 2007

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A Tree Grows in BrooklynThe book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, written by Betty Smith takes you in to what it was like to live in the early 1900's and to be a immigrant. The book follows Francie, her two siblings, her mother Katie and her sisters, and her drunken father. The book revolves around the growing and hardships that Francie Nolan and her family have to overcome in their life. The book also tells the story of how Francie grows up and eventually losses her innocence. It talks about how Francie and her family survive being poor foreigners living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY. This book also compares The Tree of Heaven (A so called tree that grows where the poor live) and their life.

The story opens up with Francie Nolan talking about a tree that grows in her yard. Some people referred to this sort of tree as the Tree of Heaven, because this tree grew wherever its seed landed.

Later on through out the story the Tree of Heaven symbolizes what kind of life's people lead around Francies neighbor hood. It does this by surviving without many material advances such as; growing threw cement, neglected rubbish heads, boarded-up lots, no sunlight, and very little dirt. The tree is a foreshadowing of Francie's life in Brooklyn.

Francie, the main character, lives with her mother Katie Nolan, her father Johnny Nolan, and her brother Neely. All of these characters play a huge part in the growing up of Francie throughout the story. Francie Nolan is an eleven year old girl who as she gets older she starts to and eventually loses her innocence. Francie is similar to her mother as a hard working strong girl who grows into an educated woman. Katie Nolan, Francie's mother is a strong hardworking mother. She realizes early that the man she has married cannot support the family at all. Katie does what she can to make sure that her kid's live better lives than her or her husband. She thinks that eventually education will bring her children out of poverty and then succeed at living a better life then their parents. This is why she makes sure that they are educated. Francies father Johnny is an alcoholic. He does very little to help support his family. Most of his money goes to alcohol. Despite this Francie relates more to her father than her mother. Francie is captured by her fathers charm although he isn't a good role model for her. Neely, Francie's brother is a year younger than her. Katie seems to like him more than Francie. Neely reminds Katie of Johnny, without Johnny flaws. Neely and his sister become good friends throughout the novel and experience their lives together side by side.

The Nolan's were a poor family living in Brooklyn in the 1900's. Katie and Johnny got married within six months of their meeting. As Francie was born the two new parents were working as janitors in a new public school. A year later Katie got pregnant again with her second child Neely. Living in poverty and now having two children brought stress onto Katie and Johnny. With this new stress of surviving Katie is determind to survive and lead a good life for her children. On the other hand Johnny becomes weak and leans on alcohol as a way out. Evedently Johnny cannot supply anything to the family and solely depends on Katie as a way to survive. Instances with Johnny and Katie's oldest sister who is referred to as Aunt Sissy force the family to move two time. There new home on Grand Street in Brooklyn will become their last home as a family. At this time Neely and Francie both start school the same year. Francie goes to a different school where she will not be treated different than the richer kids. Before the kids can graduate their father dies of alcohol and pneumonia. Katie however told the paper to leave out the alcohol so that people think good of Johnny the way he should be. This death plays a major role in Francies character maturity. For instance in her English class she use to write about flowers and happiness, something that wasn't true to her, she now began writing about the hardships and gloomy times she lives in. When the kids finaly graduate Katie decides to attend Neely's graduation and not Francie's. Francie is a little upset over this but after the ceremony her Aunt Sissy has flower waiting for her from her father (who had giving the money two years in advance to sissy for this day).

After their 8th grade graduation the two children have to start working this summer to help provide. Francie ends up getting promoted and now makes enough money that the family can rely on. With her new job Neely is able to go to high school even though he would rather not. Francie who would love to attend high school cannot because Katie tells her they cannot survive with both of them not working. Katie still realizes that they must have an education to succeed in life. Despite the fact that Francie did not go to high school she manages to enroll in college for a few courses. During Summer school Francie meets a young man named Ben Blake who is going to attend law school. Ben helps Francie pass her exam for college. Ben had choosen the University of Michigan for Francie to attend. Before she goes away to college Ben ends up giving her a promise ring for when they meet again. When this happens Francie loses the rest of her innocence and has become a women. While this takes place Katie and Sergeant McShane (A sergeant who's wife has passed away) move out of their apartment the day before their wedding.

Before Francie leaves Brooklyn for good she recaptures her childhood one more time but because she is older realizes that all the things she use to do are not the same anymore. The one thing that is the same though it got cut down in its original spot is the Tree of Heaven that just keeps growing in her yard and now resides next to a stump in the yard.

In conclusion, the novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn takes you into the life of a poor family living in Brooklyn in the 1900's. The story is mainly told threw the eyes of a little girl named Francie who eventually grows up and loses all her innocence. The novel explains the hardships many families facing poverty had to go threw to survive. This book lets us imagine to live with the Noles family and what it took to finally come out of poverty.

The Novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith illustrates exactly what we have been learning in this class. In class we have talked about immigrants coming to America and facing many different challenges. This novel talks about the same exact things as in class. This class and the novel both talk about poverty, racism, and life struggles foreigners had living in the early 1900's.

In class we talked about how many families grew up in poverty and living in the slums. Through out this book it tells a story of a child and how she views growing up and living in poverty. During class we discussed how living in poverty usually means you live in the worst conditions. Small houses or apartments with nothing more then a bed to sleep on and if you could afford it you had heat and running water. The class discussed how some poor people living today have to actually choose and plan out what bills they are going to pay that month. For examples if you had heat you could have no electricity and if you had no heat you could have running water and no electricity, these are just some examples of what people actually go threw. This is what is also told in this novel as well. As the Nolan family just made enough to survive, they were not surviving on much. All they could afford was stale bread and some other inexpensive things. The poverty the Nolan's live in restricts them from being fully satisfied for most of the story. They have to live in a couple different places throughout the story and each of them were small apartments or houses at which was just affordable. Living in these areas increase the violence and crime. This is shown when Francie, who we live the story threw, is attacked and would have been raped if it wasn't for her mother Katie. During class we agreed that the poorer areas of cities and suburbs are more likely to become infested with crime and violence.

Racism was also discussed in class and in this novel. In the novel Francie attends her first school with her brother Neely. Francie first senses a hint of racism when the vaccination she has to get for school is focused on the poor familys in Brooklyn and not the wealthy ones. Francie quickly recognizes that her teacher is racist toward her and the other children also. The teacher favors the wealthy children over the poorer children. This is show when it is said that the wealthy kids got put up front while the poorer children were made to sit in the back. When Francie makes note of this she realizes that she will never be the teachers pet because she was looked down upon for being poor. In class we discussed many different situations and the role racism can play in people's lives. For many of the new immigrants coming from places like China, Japan, Africa, and many other places to seek a better life in America. We discussed how anyone who wasn't truly white was tormented and hated for the most part. Although there are only a few ethnicity issues in the book, the main racism was in terms of wealth and social status for the children. In class we have talked about others looking down on others for being poor and living a lifestyle for which they can survive. Social status was a big issue in this novel and also one of the big issues we talked about in class.

Also in class we grazed the hardships that people have to go through just to overcome starvation. In class we watched part of a film that talked about Marla Owens and her son. Marla Owens was working two jobs just to put food on the table and it was still not enough for any other luxuries and sometimes the essentials (EX: Heat, Water, and Electric bills). Due to the mother working two jobs she is forced to neglect her son and makes him live with his uncle. The 6 yr old boy found his uncle's gun and took it to school killing another child. The next couple days the media and others were pointing fingers at the parents saying that they should have paid more attention to their kid. But, she was a single mother who was just trying to keep her kid alive and giving up her life because she is forced to attend two jobs to earn money on which they can survive. The book is similar because Francies mom Katie is forced to work as much as she can because of her doomed husband. Katie has to work extra hours to help pay for the rent and give her children what they needed. Not only did Marla Owens face a hard time when her son shot someone but thousands of immigrants also went through the hardships of surviving in the early 1900's. For immigrants, including the ones in the book, had to work for low pay, dangerous jobs, and were also forced to work many hours. It did not stop there, immigrants were always put at the bottom of the social class standards which made everyday life depressing and exhausting. In the book an example of social class standards is when Francie got spit in the face from the wealthy girl slapping the erasers. Learning in class that even at an early age we can realize where we stand in society to an extent. As in the book Francie then feels shame on the life she is living and the poverty she goes threw.

Most of the discussion in class about immigrants and working to survive are all explained or touched upon at some point in this book. Betty Smith brought us this book in a unique way. It was unique because it was mainly told threw the eyes of a poverty stricken girl and what her and her family went threw. From everything that I have learned in class about immigrants coming to America and what they went through, this book was defiantly easier in helping me understand what it was like. The book showed it to me through a young girls eyes and this class has showed me an all around picture of how every immigrant went threw these struggles to survive.

Personally I really liked this book. The book caught my attention and was hard to put down at first. It's hard to imagine a girl living in poverty can still find happiness and cheerfulness in the way that she is brought up. I also found it amazing that Francie's mom could withstand all the pressure on her and not have a mental break down. With her husband a drunk and provides little to the family and eventually ends up dieing at the age of 34. Katie never gave up hope though and did everything she could to help her children live a better life than what she is living. I also loved the way the author told the story threw the eyes of the little girl as she matures into a woman at a young age. Despite the fact that her father died I loved the way the novel ended. Katie got married to the Sergeant, Francie and Neely went of to further their education at college, and none of them would have to worry about poverty again.