A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: A classic for writers and everyone

Sara Pisak, Opinion Editor

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Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one classic that when read makes readers want to become an author. I was first introduced to the text when a friend of my family and a former teacher of mine gave me the text as a gift. Mrs. Cannon described the work as “one of my favorite books as a young girl and I should never lose my thirst for knowledge.” Only a few pages into the text, a reader will more than understand why the quest and thirst for knowledge is important.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is largely autobiographical. The main character Francie, like author Betty Smith, lived in an impoverished section of town, shared the same birthday, went to college without a high school diploma and studied at the University of Michigan. Also a reader finds out later in the text it appears both Francie and Smith love to follow the adage, “write what you know.”
In writing what Betty Smith knew, she produced a text that was realistic in displaying the human condition and which treated issues of gender with sympathy.

Writing what Smith knew also led to criticism as people panned the book as being to political, overly compassionate to the poor and glorifying unions. However, Smith’s text was not read by solely one social class but was a uniting factor. Having a critically acclaimed work, which spans societal gaps, is all any author can hope for.

Smith’s work allows a reader to inhabit Francie’s world and see global events and life events as she does. In doing so, the reader is also able to inhabit Francie’s introspective nature and contemplate the world as they know it but through the lens of Francie’s quest for knowledge, quest for herself and quest to remain innocence and not become pessimistic. In the text, Francie like Smith writes what she knows. As a child, she is hungry to learn about the world, life and even everyday school subjects.

Since the text employs flashbacks, flash-forwards and eventually comes full-circle to end where the text began, a reader is able to follow Francie’s life quest to learn as much as she possibly can. Francie does let her mother’s favoritism, war, death of her father, poverty and ignorant teachers keep her from bettering herself through education, while not becoming jaded or cynical. Francie’s quest for education should be something every reader strives to emulate in their lives: the idea that everyone no matter their social standing deserves to be educated and they should never stop learning.

When Francie’s father dies she stops writing the cute, fictional stories her teacher loves. Instead, she writes what her teacher describes as “sordid” literature, essentially nonfiction stories about her life. Her teacher suggests she burn these sordid stories and return to the literature which Francie does not believe in any longer.

Of course, Francie continues to do what her creator Betty Smith has done: She writes what she knows. Francie would rather write stories which capture the human condition with honesty and face criticism than write a work she does not believe in and be praised. Not only is Francie’s condition regarding her work reminiscent of the criticism Smith received for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn but it is an admirable stance for any writer to adopt.
I had already decided writing would be a part of my life when I first read this text, but Smith and Francie will always be a major influence on my writing style. While reading this book, I decided although fictional stories also wonderfully capture the human condition and the human spirit, each of us has a different perspective which is worth exploring through autobiographical writing and nonfiction.
Francie and Smith’s shared view on writing is an admirable one to adopt. More writers and readers should take a cue from both authors, and write what they truly believe will cause frank discussions on the human condition. At the end of the day, writing a work an author believes in is more important than writing only for the sake of writing.

I too hope each reader of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn never loses their quest for knowledge and their love for the written word.

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