Study Guide

Faith in a Tree

by Grace Paley

Faith in a Tree Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Faith in a Tree,” as the title suggests, is about a woman named Faith, the protagonist of many a Paley story, sitting in a tree. It is a Saturday afternoon, and Faith has brought her two young sons, Richard and Tonto, to their New York neighborhood park to play and pass the time, among other parents and children and passersby doing the same.

Unlike those around her, however, Faith feels subtly trapped in her life as a single mother; she senses an unidentifiable longing, both carnal and intellectual, to make a more meaningful connection with the world. Bored with the mundane pretensions of the park’s social scene, she withdraws, retreats into herself, and climbs into a sycamore to establish the distance and detachment she needs. From her post, she muses flippantly on the scene below her and its position in the universe—“What a place in democratic time!”

She answers the queries of casual acquaintances passionately, but her cryptic answers are enigmatic and senseless; she describes and lampoons the other mothers, such as the self-righteous Mrs. Junius Finn, who “always is more in charge of word meanings than I am” and “is especially in charge of Good and Bad.” She responds to the various stimuli of passersby, such as a pair of men listening to Bach on a transistor radio; she alternately ignores and wrangles with her clever and disapproving older son, Richard; she jumps down from the tree for some competitive flirtation with a likable and considerate man named Phillip Mazzano. She later considers climbing back up for oxygen when another woman seems to be prevailing in the contest for his attention....

(The entire section is 670 words.)

Faith in a Tree Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Faith Asbury is perched in a tree in a neighborhood playground in New York although she would prefer to be out in the “man-wide” world or with a “brainy companion” who could speak to her “of undying carnal love.” Below her, under the tree, are her children, Richard and Anthony. Scores of other neighborhood children, “terrible seedlings,” watched over by their mothers, swarm about the playground: “Among the trees, in the arms of statues, toes in the grass, they hopped in and out of dog shit and dug tunnels into mole holes.” There are also men in the park, “young Saturday fathers,” and older fathers, holding the hands of the young children of “a third intelligent marriage.” Several characters stop under Faith’s tree to chat with her.

As Faith mulls over her past and tries to think about her future, and as passing characters stop to speak with her, the reader learns that Faith had been married to Ricardo, who is now in an unspecified exotic country, presumably living with a younger woman who “acts on her principles” the way Faith had once done. The reader also learns that Faith was reared in a Jewish, socially conscious family, that she has an unfulfilling job by which she supports her children, and that she really does not know what to do next in her life. Faith is also “up a tree” concerning her beliefs. She notes thatMy vocabulary is adequate for writing notes and keeping journals but absolutely useless for an active moral life. If I really knew this language, there would surely be in my head, as there is in Webster’s or the Dictionary of American Slang, that unreducible verb designed to...

(The entire section is 673 words.)