By Tiffany Ayuda
Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a poignant, unforgettable story of childhood and family in Brooklyn from 1902 to 1919. Francie Nolan and her brother Neely were basically raised by their single mother Katie in the Williamsburg slums of Brooklyn. Smith makes readers visualize the hardships of growing up in a life deprived of love, attention, a father figure, money, a nice home, a family.
The story is told through Francie's narrative, making the story more personal and passionate. The story opens up with Francie and Neely rummaging through the wastes and trash of Brooklyn, eager to find something useful, convertible into something of monetary value.
This first chapter prepares readers for an insurmountable struggle as they begin to substitute themselves in Francie's position. Francie's childhood is a genuine model of perseverance, inspiration, and endurance. The social and educational pressures of growing up poor are an even greater feat for Francie without the love and understanding of her alcoholic father.
The absence of Francie's father in her life is struggle she continues to endure for her, her brother, and her mother. As the oldest child and only girl, Francie acknowledges her responsibilities as the older sibling and the success expected of her as the next generation of Nolan women to emerge from the shadow of suppression and hardship and become a strong, educated woman.
Francie exhibits all the qualities of a young girl still growing up to find who she is, but in a way, she is a lot cleverer, wise, and experienced for her age. At an early age of 10, Francie helped her mother raise her younger brother; she knows what it is like to ration food, save money, to be misunderstood, and defend herself against the stereotypes of being poor.
The image of the tree is significant to the story and to the character of Francie. The tree symbolizes Francie raised on the roots of distrust, suppression, hardships, but grows into someone beautiful, strong, and spirited. Francie is the tree of Brooklyn, branching out her compassion for other people, giving inspiration and life to everything that is shameful and forgotten. Smith's use of the tree is a profound example of nature personifying life.
The experiences and emotions of life become part of the image we portray. You do not have to be poor or even rich to gain something inspirational or powerful. Life is a struggle for anyone because even with everything that you are given, you are never satisfied.
There is always something greater to strive for, someone you aspire to become or even save because you love them. This book gives greater meaning to the notion that what we see is not always what we perceive it to be.
From this book, anyone who knows what it is like to change your fate and become someone you want to be instead of someone you are destined to be. To grow from adversity is nothing shameful; it is precious to be who you are and still be someone you want to become.