Study Guide

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Narrator Point of View

By Betty Smith

Narrator Point of View

Third Person (Omniscient)

Point of View Broadens the Story

Even though at times, the narrator feels like an older, wiser Francie, our narrator is clearly outside the story since we can hear what is going on inside many of characters’s minds. This is what makes this third person omniscient.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is much more than a plain old coming of age story. Francie is definitely the protagonist, but since there is a third person narrator, we know the struggles and joys of so many of the people around her. This book is about more than the journey of one little girl, and it can just as easily be understood as a story about complex family relationships or a story about an entire community struggling with poverty.

Because the narrator can zoom away from Francie’s thoughts and perspective for a minute or two, the scope of the novel broadens. Had the author chosen to write in the first person, the book most likely would have been reduced to a simple coming-of-age story.

Point of View and Tolerance

This point of view provides a nonjudgmental look at many of the characters. With few exceptions (the sexual predator and Thomas Rommely for example), most of the characters are neither all good nor all bad, and instead allowed to be complex people.

When you enter people’s minds, however briefly, you get to see things from a new perspective and usually learn that people are more complex than you may first think.

Sissy is judged by her community for her sexual behavior, but not so much by the reader because we get to see how giving and kind she is. The omniscient narration (kind of like a bird's-eye-view) helps here because we learn things like “she was mother to everything that came her way [. . .] she loved the down-and-outers. She wanted to make everybody happy” (11.17).

Johnny, who by most accounts might be considered a lousy father, is more pitied than hated because we get to see that his intentions are good. He is the person who Francie goes to for comfort; when he re-bandages her arm with his good undershirt, the narrator tell us “The cloth smelled of Johnny, warm and cigarish. But it was a comforting thing to the child. It smelled of protection and love” (18.47).

Mama, who may appear cold to an outsider, softens for us as readers when we learn about what motivates her and her insecurities. While she could be interpreted as being mean for not making a big deal over the tree her kids win at Christmas, because of the narration, we know what is going on in her mind. She is just so sad that the only way her kids can get a tree is in such a demeaning way. She thinks, “My children must get out of this. They must come to more than Johnny or me or all these people around us. But how is this to come?” (27.35).

Just like in life, when you get to know people, it is usually impossible to easily define them as exclusively good or bad, and in many ways, the author seems to be whispering a spirit of tolerance to us. We're all guilty of judging people too quickly, and it's good to be reminded that for the most part we're all just trying to find the best way through our days.

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