Coming of Age in a Tree Grows in Brooklyn

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Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn presents the problems of a child growing up, the coming of age when one meets challenges and overcomes obstacles. The protagonist, Francie Nolan, undergoes a self-discovery as she strives to mature living in the Brooklyn slum despite its poverty and privation. Thus, Smith's thematic treatment of the struggle of maturity has become for the reader an exploration of loneliness, family relationships, the loss of innocence, and death and disease.

One of the challenges of growing up is loneliness. As a small child living in Brooklyn Francie had no friends her age, the kids in her neighborhood that would have been candidates for friends either found her too quiet or shunned her for being different. "So in the warm summer days the lonesome child sat on her stoop and pretended disdain for the group of children playing on the sidewalk" (pg. 106). Francie played with her imaginary companions and made believe they were better than real children. But all the while her heart beat in rhythm to the poignant sadness of the song the children sang while walking around in a ring with hands joined." As time went by and Francie got older she began to get to know a different kind of loneliness. "Spring came early that year and the sweet warm nights made her restless. She walked up and down the streets and through the park. And wherever she went, she saw a boy and a girl together; walking arm-in-arm, sitting on a park bench with their arms around each other, standing closely and in silence in a vestibule. Everyone in the world but Francie had a sweetheart or a friend she seemed to be the only lonely one in Brooklyn without a friend. (pg. 403)" Loneliness is one of the challenges we must all conquer as part of maturing and it helps us learn to be independent and overcome hardship.

Family relationships are a second problem faced by all in their coming of age. Francie loves her Johnny Nolan, her father, more than anything, she adores the way he...
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