Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Brooklyn. Borough of New York City that in the early twentieth century was filled with immigrant and second-generation Irish, Poles, Jews, and Italians. In this story, Brooklyn comprises neighborhoods of more than one social level, though poor, working people predominate. There are shabby tenements with residents whose lives are spent in sweatshops and other low-paying jobs. There are old houses owned by artisans, craftsmen, and storekeepers, many of whom are second-and third-generation Americans. Most of the schools are overcrowded and dismal, although Francie finds one that is not. There are stores of all kinds—bakeries, groceries, pawnshops, Chinese laundries, spice shops—places where an imaginative child can experience some of the wonders of a world different from her own. The daily life of the inhabitants of this diverse district offers a panorama of the likely, the improbable, and the possible, an education for the receptive heart and mind of a curious child like Francie.

Nolan flat

Nolan flat. Four so-called railroad rooms (one leading into the next) on the third floor of a tenement in Williamsburg. The family must share a bath down the hallway with two other families. This is the third home Katie and Johnny Nolan have had in their seven-year marriage, and it includes a tree growing near the fire escape. The tree provides a leafy bower for Francie during the summer Saturdays as she sits with her books and peppermint candies, reading and watching the tenants in the nearby buildings go...

(The entire section is 636 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is set in Brooklyn's immigrant neighborhoods. The novel opens in the summer of 1912 with eleven-year-old...

(The entire section is 102 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Smith uses a third-person omniscient narrator to relate her story. Thus, although Francie is the book's central character, Smith develops...

(The entire section is 355 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn remains popular because of its optimism, its feminism, and its philosophical ties to more recent novels for...

(The entire section is 289 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. What is the meaning of the novel's title? How does the tree function as a symbol throughout the novel?

2. Who seems stronger...

(The entire section is 108 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Betty Smith has said that she began writing A Tree Grows in Brooklyn after she read Thomas Wolfe's Of Time and the River....

(The entire section is 168 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn began as a play entitled Francie Nolan and a short story, "Death of a Singing Waiter." Smith eventually...

(The entire section is 199 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Brockmann, Charles B. "In the Shadow of the Tree." Carolina Quarterly 2 (1950): 41-46. Brockmann elaborates on the symbol of the tree...

(The entire section is 163 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Gelfant, Blanche H. “Sister to Faust: The City’s ‘Hungry’ Woman as Heroine.” In Women Writers and the City: Essays in Feminist Literary Criticism, edited by Susan Merrill Squier. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1984. Examines the common attributes of female protagonists such as Francie Nolan, whose physical hunger parallels her longing for knowledge and self awareness.

Ginsberg, Elaine K. “Betty Wehner Smith.” In American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present. Edited by Lina Mainiero. 4 vols. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1982. Gives facts about Smith’s professional career and her works, including a brief assessment of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Pearlman, Mickey. “Betty Smith.” In Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Catholic Writing, edited by Daniel J. Tynan. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1989. Discusses the biographical elements of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and includes background information regarding Smith’s similarity to the protagonist Francie Nolan.

Prescott, Orville. “Outstanding Novels.” The Yale Review 33, no. 1 (Autumn, 1943): 6-12. Provides an assessment of Smith’s character development within the novel and examines the elements of local color or regionalism in the work.

Sullivan, Richard. “Brooklyn, Where the Tree Grew.” The New York Times Book Review, August 22, 1948, 1. A comparison of the common elements in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Smith’s later work. Focuses on related themes, settings and characters, emphasizing the superiority of the first novel.