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In the novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, the main character, Francie, goes through such changes and the reader is intimately involved with her decision-making capabilities. From the days collecting garbage at a young age with her brother up to working in a pressroom in Manhattan, Francie developed from a rambunctious, confused adolescent into a mature and well-rounded young woman. Francie lacked access to many of the things one might consider necessary to help raise a fine young woman, nonetheless, her experiences and ability to cope and learn transformed her into a respectable, educated young woman.
Francie had to face many things that stood in the way of her commitment toward self-actualization. Other than the obvious pressures of sexism and those of the social hierarchy, many other obstacles caused Francie to adapt to her life of hardship. Before the death of her father, Johnny, Francie shared a special bond with him that overcame any feelings of insecurity or fear she had. Johnny was her crutch, which she could lean upon whenever opposed by life's pressures. However, after his death, Francie was forced to deal with such pressures on her own and without the support of her father. This caused an immediate and rapid transformation from child to woman. The author makes this clear using many words that are associated exclusively with a woman and never a girl. For example, many times after the reader is informed of Johnny's death, the author frequently mentions the type of clothing that Francie is wearing.
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As she matured, Francie went against every stereotype associated with a girl of her status. Growing up in the slums of Brooklyn with an alcoholic father, a nagging mother and a promiscuous aunt, Francie's chances of making it in such a materialistic world were slim to none. The author often illustrated how materialistic the world was by describing, in precise detail, the way the rich upper class girls presented themselves. In addition, the local librarian represented the world's view on girls like Francie and further emphasized the lack of recognition Francie received. Like the rest of the world, the librarian accredited Francie with no individuality and offered her the same novels to read as if Francie had no choice but to accept what we given her. This further reinforced the idea that Francie was not the shining star she wanted to be, and was merely viewed as just another sheep in the herd.
One of the most interesting motifs throughout the novel was the fact that time passed not in months of years, but in the passing of holidays. This author probably does this to instill a sense of repetition in the backdrop of life in order to contrast the changes in the characters with the static background of time (p. 177). Another interesting motif in the novel was the sexism presented by the author. The degradation of woman regarding their lack of unity and competence was very noticeable in the second half of the novel. Francie as well as her mother, Katie, both are caught mentioning their hatred towards women. Francie describes, "It seemed like their great birth pains shrank their hearts and their souls. They stuck together for only one thing: to trample on some other woman whether it was by throwing stones of by mean gossip. It was the only kind of loyalty they seemed to have" (p. 237). This reiterates to the reader the sexist obstacles that Francie had to overcome in order to achieve her dreams.
The novel, overall, is a very inspiring and thought-provoking piece of work. The book makes good points regarding the myth of the American family. One might assume that the success of an individual is based solely on their upbringing and the influence that the family has on the individual from the perspective of society. On the contrary, even a family that is forced to move from embarrassment due to the perspective of their neighbors will have a positive influence on their children. Johnny's tender love and Katie's strict determination to make life easier for their children was exactly what was necessary to shape Neely and Francie to be the educated young adults they longed to be. Also, as shown in the Christmas tree catching scene (pp. 203-204), Francie and Neely worked together to help each other to adapt to their changing environments to become the respectable young adults they worked so hard to become against all forms of adversity.