________________________________________Characters of Note________________________________________
Smith, Betty. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: A Novel. Toronto: Musson Book, 1945. Print.
(noun) literature : a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character
Francie's father, Johnny, makes a tradition of singing this song as he arrives home. Francie's Irish heritage is never far from mind when Johnny is around. Yet in sharp contrast to the other children in her neighborhood, she is a 2nd generation American citizen as both Johnny and Katie were born in the USA. Francie's success compared to that ofher grandparents, parents, and peers emphasizes the cross-generational struggle to achieve the American Dream.
New York: 1943
One persistent memory Francie has of her father is his paper shirt collars. Per the advertisement below, detachable shirt collars came in more expensive linen or rubber versions (illustrated below), but Johnny's use of paper collars is a reflection of his economic and social roles in society. Paper shirt collars appear sturdy, but are ultimately flimsy and susceptible to the elements (such as when Johnny falls in the water and the paper collar crumbles). Johnny is always well dressed, and even when drunk, he appears sober. Contrastingly, when sober Johnny appears drunk. Like a clean paper shirt collar, Johnny is not as solid as he appears, and if you look under the surface, you see he would crumble under the slightest touch.
This novel unfolds through the narrator's account of growing up in working-class Brooklyn during the early-mid 20th century. Our heroine, Francie Nolan, relays the intimate details of her life experience from a position of mature reflection, while simultaneously transporting us into the joy, confusion, pain, and curiosity of the journey to adulthood. We watch Francie transitions, somewhat linearly, from early childhood to school, then higher education and the workforce. She learns from her family, neighbors, and people met or encountered along the way. One of the greatest gifts granted by the narrator's REFLECTIVE wisdom is the way it elevates the seemingly trivial, the mundane-in-the-moment, to hold equal weight and poignancy as any turning point.
Toward the end of the book, Francie takes a job with a Press Clipping Bureau, where she eventually becomes a Newspaper reader. Before word processors with cut and paste there were readers and people to make clippings! This picture illustrates the workspace in which Francie may have been working.
Johnny was an active member of the Waiter's Union, and particularly proud of his Waiter's Union pin, which might have looked something like the one below. Labor unions emerged in the late 1800s and spread in popularity through the early 1900s as a way for workers to ensure their wage, health, or general work concerns were met. Unions are still popular for various types of work today.
(December 15, 1896 – January 17, 1972)
Born & Raised in Brooklyn, NY.