Previously known for her plays “So Gracious in the Time” and “Three Comments on a Martyr”, Betty Smith changed the American literature world with her “fictional” novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is a coming of age novel about a girl that encompasses various different hardships in the poverty-stricken borough of Brooklyn during the early 1900’s. This classic American novel published in 1943 immediately drew attention to its author and its content. Published during the middle of the Second World War, Smith attracted various different audiences that related to her book. By the end of 1945, Betty had earned nearly $110,000 just from the sales of more than 3 million copies of her book.
Although considered fictional, Betty Smith composed this novel with various non-fictional experiences from her own life. Reading about Betty Smith’s life experiences allows the reader to see the various sources of inspiration for the events and people in the book even if the book is labeled fiction. What inspired Smith to bring such an ordinary person’s life into a fictional literary realm? While interviews never addressed the subject, various literary critics did. Critics agree that because of the chaotic time period in which the book was published in, the American public accepted and drew towards the conversations of poverty, immigration, the working class, and women. According to C.S Johnson’s Dissertation, He states that the Betty Smith would not have been as successful if the economic and social conditions had not been favorable. Smith’s ability to give the reader different versions of the “American Dream” draws everyone, from the immigrant to the American native.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is told from an omniscient point of view, which allows the audience to see the moral development of the protagonist, Francie, as well as the thoughts of other characters that help shape her development. The narrator brings the reader on a thrilling ride from life before Francie to Francie’s near-end of adolescence age. Smith paints the hardships and experiences of Francie and her family so vividly that the reader cannot hold back their emotions of sorrow, love, and despair for the protagonist. Through these hardships is when Smith weaves in the experiences of poverty, treatment, and living conditions that were faced by early immigrants. Smith also weaves in the social and political conditions of New York in the years prior to World War One. Through Francie the reader begins to understand the historical contexts that were experienced by Betty Smith during her childhood.
Betty Smith encompasses various different important topics that still make her novel favorable and desirous to read years later. Smith’s incorporation of universal literary themes and the symbolism of the ever-famous tree of heaven allows readers to dive into her novel to explore their significance and connections to modern day life. Her ability to place the reader in Brooklyn back in the early 1940’s through the use of vivid word pictures and expressions allow the reader to see life for early immigrants and their families.