Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Faith in a Tree,” like many other Grace Paley stories, has, as principal characters, divorced or unwed mothers who tend their children in parks and playgrounds while waiting to find a man who will deliver them from their stymied lives. Forming a counterpoint to these characters are the more bourgeois, financially successful (usually male) characters who sacrifice emotional honesty in order to achieve respectability.

Early in the story, the reader learns that Faith was reared to believe in a “sensible, socialist, Zionist world of the future,” destined, as an American child, to be independent and free. Instead, her “lumpen time” and her “bourgeois feelings” are spent caring for her children. Clearly, Faith, like many middle-class children who came of age in the 1960’s, was meant for better things. Now, in every sense, she finds herself “up a tree.” The people who find themselves with her in the playground are in no better position, although they try to give her advice: Alex O. Steele tells her to “speak clearly, Faith, you’re garbling like you used to”; Mrs. Finn cautions, “You answer too much, Faith Asbury, and it shows”; Kitty worries, “Faith, you’ll fall out of the tree, calm yourself”; even nine-year-old Richard cries, “Faith, will you quit with your all-the-time philosophies.”

The other characters in the playground also seem to be stymied, going nowhere. Steele had once organized tenant strikes....

(The entire section is 529 words.)