Betty Smith Rosemary Dawson - Essay

Rosemary Dawson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[A Tree Grows in Brooklyn] has the charm of accurately remembered details, set down simply and with feeling….

As long as the book moves with the rhythm of life in Williamsburg and remains true to that setting it is a beautiful and moving piece of work.

But toward the end of the novel the rhythm is broken. As soon as Francie is out in the world, getting a job and finding the first love of her life, the novel takes on more of the mechanics of the usual popular piece of fiction and becomes less real….

And so it is a disappointment to find at the end that things are solved for the Nolans not through their own efforts, but by the intrusion of a perfectly pleasant and affable stranger who plans to marry Katie Nolan and to adopt Francie and the other children, to give them college educations and all the advantages. This is not what the reader wants for the Nolans; it is not true enough to the promise of the book…. It should show a way out for the families of the slums—or the lack of a way out—with the same truthfulness that it showed slum life while the family was living it.

However, there are beautiful passages in the book, and on the whole it is a moving, tender, and fine piece of work.

Rosemary Dawson, "The Charm of Betty Smith," in The Saturday Review of Literature (copyright © 1943 by Saturday Review; copyright renewed © 1970 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXVI, No. 37, September 11, 1943, p. 9.