Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Paley uses the first-person point of view in this story, allowing the reader to see the playground and the characters in it from her perspective, which, throughout most of the story, is several feet off the ground. The protagonist is thus “above it all,” allowing her to be fairly objective about the other characters but unable to be really part of the life of the playground: She has not yet come down to earth. The reader is brought to epiphany along with Faith, descending, with her, from the branches and back into the world.

Language is an extremely important factor in Paley’s stories. The various ethnic idioms of New York City and the rich use of the vernacular add life and texture to her works. Language is also an important metaphor in the story. Faith is looking for the right vocabulary, the “unreducible verb” that will tell her “what to do next.” The other characters seem also to believe that she lacks such a language. Richard says, “That’s a typical yak yak out of you, Faith”; Steele accuses her of “garbling”; Mrs. Finn cries “Blah blah. . . . Blah to you.” Even Faith’s attraction to Phillip seems somehow related to his knowledge of languages. Ironically, however, it is a simple question and an even simpler answer that move Faith’s children, and thus Faith, to action.

The most evident metaphor in the story is the tree, on whose limb Faith waits to reenter life. The reference to the children as “seedlings” reinforces this image—it is the children who ultimately bring Faith out of the tree and back into the world.

Finally, it is the pure force of Paley’s language that carries this almost static story, entertaining and enlightening the reader. Describing one of the more respectable but less feeling inhabitants of the playground, she writes: “Along the same channel, but near enough now to spatter with spite, tilting delicately like a boy’s sailboat, Lynn Ballard floats past my unconcern to drop light anchor, a large mauve handbag, over the green bench slats.” Paley, unlike Faith, has no language limitations.

Faith in a Tree Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Cevoli, Cathy. “These Four Women Could Save Your Life.” Mademoiselle 89 (January, 1983): 104-107.

DeKoven, Marianne. “Mrs. Hegel-Shtein’s Tears.” Partisan Review 48, no. 2 (1981): 217-223.

Gelfant, Blanche H. “Grace Paley: Fragments for a Portrait in Collage.” New England Review 3, no. 2 (Winter, 1980): 276-293.

Harrington, Stephanie. “The Passionate Rebels.” Vogue 153 (May, 1969): 151.

Iannone, Carol. “A Dissent on Grace Paley.” Commentary 80 (August, 1985): 54-58.

Klinkowitz, Jerome. “Grace Paley: The Sociology of Metafiction.” In Literary Subversions. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985.

McMurran, Kristin. “Even Admiring Peers Worry That Grace Paley Writes Too Little and Protests Too Much.” People 11 (February 26, 1979): 22-23.

Paley, Grace. “The Seneca Stories: Tales from the Women’s Peace Encampment.” Ms. 12 (December, 1983): 54-58.

Park, Clara Claiborne. “Faith, Grace, and Love.” The Hudson Review 38, no. 3 (Autumn, 1985): 481-488.

Scheifer, Ronald. “Grace Paley: Chaste Compactness.” In Contemporary American Women Writers: Narrative Strategies, edited by Catherine Rainwater and William J. Scheik. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1985.

Smith, Wendy. “Grace Paley.” Publishers Weekly 227 (April 5, 1985): 71-72.

Sorkin, Adam J. “Grace Paley.” In Twentieth-Century American-Jewish Writers, edited by Daniel Walden. Vol. 28 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1984.

Sorkin, Adam J. “What Are We, Animals? Grace Paley’s World of Talk and Laughter.” Studies in American Jewish Literature 2 (1982): 144-154.