Betty Smith Walter Havighurst - Essay

Walter Havighurst

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The mid-1920's in America are remembered as a time of prosperity and expansiveness, and the literature of those years shows us the Babbitts, the Gatsbys, and the Dodsworths living in a confident and careless country. But ["Tomorrow Will Be Better"] pictures the little people, whose lives are made up of poverty and postponements, in the mean streets and up the dark stairways that prosperity never finds. Through the cycles of economic change they carry their gnawing worries, their secret resentments, and their wistful dreams of tomorrow….

"Tomorrow Will Be Better" is a commonplace story, deliberately strung together of commonplace experience. It is a sequence, told in a level, unvarying key, of family scenes, office scenes, a routine courtship, a hopeful marriage, and finally, still in the muted key, a stillbirth in a makeshift Brooklyn hospital. Often the story is warm, real, poignant in its picture of hurtful human relationships. At times it lapses into obvious comment on youth's hopefulness and maturity's resignation and regret. The careful tracing of relationships, in a generally uneventful novel, produces a deliberate slowness of pace.

Miss Smith has taken pains to present a typical tenement family of Brooklyn, and all her persons merge easily into generalized conceptions….

While following the Shannons through defeating episodes of their unrewarding lives you may remember another folklore—of a Brooklyn that is brash and coarse and of its cunning and defiant people. This novel looks beneath that folklore and makes us see a more actual city, a city full of failure and loneliness, in which people are always being "shoved around."…

At every point in her limited experience Margy Shannon appeals to a reader's sympathy. She embodies the hurts of childhood, the hopes of youth, and the regrets that follow. But, perhaps because she is so typical, she rarely stirs the imagination. The novel leaves you remembering Brooklyn's folkways more vividly than its people.

Walter Havighurst, "City of Failure and Loneliness," in The Saturday Review of Literature (copyright © 1948 by Saturday Review; copyright renewed © 1976 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXVI, No. 34, August 21, 1948, p. 9.