You can still read this because I'm not revealing plot in this reflection. Let me know what you're thinking about the book.
This past weekend we drove to the Poconos for a family party, and I read through a good chunk of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith on the way there. We never go through Brooklyn to get to P.A., but we do pass through the Bronx. I was snapping pictures in an effort to get a nice shot of an interesting tree and I looked like a tourist just to get a picture for this post. All the trees I found were boring, or came out blurry because the car was moving. I did get a great shot of a Home Depot sign in the Bronx, and it got me thinking about the metaphor in the title of this novel. As I understand it, the tree represents the character Francie, and the idea that despite one's environment or social economic class, a person can still reach his potential. Smith emphasises through the thoughts of the adult characters that education is the key to the American dream.
A tree may grow in Brooklyn, but a Home Depot grows in the Bronx. As I sat in the passenger seat delighted over this silly sign, I started wondering about the way the American dream is shifting, and the aspects of it that remain timeless. Just like the tree next to Francie's tenament, the billboard rises above the Bronx, in clear view of all passing over the bridge. Francie's story does the same. Then my mind wandered into a comparison with another classic book I love to pieces that is also set on Long Island, New York: The Great Gatsby. Meanwhile, the princess was screaming to stop the car so she could visit all of the potties in the tri-state area. Perhaps this billboard could be a metaphor for industrialization, I thought, while walking her into a McDonald's at a truck stop. Maybe it reflects the monopoly of super stores over the small business. Anyway, that's another book, as is our Potty Expedition.
There is so much I love about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, so far. The setting gives me a better idea of what life was like in New York in the early 1900's, but the characters are timeless and even modern in the struggles they face. It's the kind of book that makes you forget the time while you read, and you aren't tempted to count the number of pages until the end of the chapter. First of all, I have to say,
The characters are endearing, and the story is littered with bits and pieces of universal life experiences. I love Francie, and her whole family. I understand both of her parents, her aunts, and grandparents in ways that bring tears to my eyes. I can sympathize with Francie's mother in her struggle to pull her children up out of poverty. Her resentment of Francie's father is mixed with a passionate love for him. She mourns his faults, but hers are just as great. I can see why she favors Francie's brother over her and understand why she neglects both her children in some respects, even though it disgusts me. Also, I love Francie's father for all of his charm and talent. I mourn his inability to reach his potential with him. Francie says that growing up she didn't realize that she was supposed to be ashamed of her father. I think she was right to not be ashamed, to see him purely for what he was minus what Addiction stole from him. He is a loving, good soul, a deeply sad character.
I thoroughly enjoy the character Sissy, Francie's aunt. I think she is such a fire cracker and I love how she advocates for her niece. I picture her being sort of like a Betty Boop. The characterization of Francie's maternal grandmother is also expertly done. I can really hear the accent in her voice when she talks; I can see her clearly in my mind's eye. The only characters I dislike so far are some of the teachers, the butcher who sells bad chopped meat, and Francie's maternal grandfather because he is a hateful man. Also, I don't really like Neely. I feel bad for his predicament and wonder if he'll ever live up to his mother's expectations, but at the same time I see him as a bit of a brat. However, even in the mist of my disdain for these characters, I am blown away by the way Smith crafts a scene. It is genius.
Since there are saltine crackers all over my den floor right now, I will end here, and write again when I finish the book. I'm about half way through just because I like it so much. Sorry I'm being such a nerd, maybe being so far ahead will make up for not finishing Les Miserables. Let's wait until July to start another one so everyone has plenty of time to really enjoy this book and read slowly. -Loren