Study Guide

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Coming of Age

By Betty Smith

Coming of Age

Francie turned and went down into the cellar and sat in the dark a long time waiting until the waves of hurt stopped breaking over her. It was the first of many disillusionments that were to come as her capacity to feel things grew. She never liked blackboard erasers after that. (15.13)

When you grow up, there are some major bummers. One such bummer is when you are expecting something cool—let’s say a real close look at a real school eraser—but instead you get spat upon. Okay, well, maybe we don’t all experience this exact same thing, but Shmoop is fairly confident something similar happened to you. Can you think of a time when you were totally spat upon in some way when you had high expectations that something cool was going to happen?

He was talking more quietly now asking the nurse how that kind of people could survive; that it would be a better world if they were all sterilized and couldn’t breed anymore. Did that mean he wanted her to die? Would he do something to make her die because her hands and arms were dirty from the mud pies? She looked to the nurse. To Francie, all women were mamas, like her own mother and Aunt Sissy and Aunt Evy. (18.19)

The doctor talks about Francie like she is much too stupid to understand what he is saying. Francie looks to the nurse for some comfort but finds none; she feels ashamed, alone, and scared. It stinks when you first find out that there are people who will hate you for things out of your control.

“My brother is next. His arm is just as dirty as mine so don’t be surprised. And you don’t have to tell him. You told me.” (18.24)

Coming of age implies that this is a story about Francie figuring out who she is, and how she develops her identity and her values. To the doctor and nurse’s surprise, she stands right up for herself and tries to protect her brother from experiencing what she just went through. She is protective of her brother and is willing to speak her mind.

She had been in school but half a day when she knew that she would never be a teacher’s pet. That privilege was reserved for a small group of girls… girls with freshly curled hair, crisp clean pinafores and new silk hair bows. (19.3)

In case the doctor’s visit wasn’t enough, now Francie definitely knows that social class plays a big part in how you are treated in the world. She is well aware of this injustice and how challenging things will be for her because of it.

On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived. (22.3)

She is a reader, through and through. Reading and education are very important—not just to the people around her, but also to herself.

Francie was ten years old when she first found an outlet in writing. What she wrote was of little consequence. What was important was that the attempt to write stories kept her straight on the dividing line between truth and fiction. If she had not found this outlet in writing, she might have grown up to be a tremendous liar. (26.34-35)

Francie is a tall-tale-teller, a fibber… oh, okay… let’s just say it: Our girl likes to lie. She loves a good story and if real life doesn’t provide enough excitement, she will embellish the truth to her liking. The fact that she realizes she has a good imagination and can channel it into writing really helps her figure out who she is, in addition to helping her become more trustworthy.

“As long as I live, I will never have a woman for a friend. I will never trust any woman again, except maybe Mama and sometimes Aunt Evy and Sissy.” (30.70)

Francie writes these words in her diary after the incident with Joanna. She is ashamed of herself for not smiling at Joanna and is furious with the other women in the neighborhood to attacked Joanna and her innocent baby. She’s had it with women.

“Don’t be mad at me, Mama, because I fought you. You, yourself, taught me to fight for what I thought was right and I . . .I thought I was right.”

“I know. And I’m pleased that you can and will fight for what you should have. And you’ll always come out all right—no matter what. You’re like me that way.” (44.131-132)

Something that happens to many people as they grow up is that they realize (gasp) that they are just like their parents in many ways. Yes, it will happen to you, too. Mark Shmoop’s words.

“It’s a beautiful religion,” she mused, “and I wish I understood it more. No. I don’t want to understand it at all. It’s beautiful because it’s always a mystery, like God himself is a mystery. Sometimes I day I don’t believe in God. But I only say that when I am mad at Him. . .Because I do! I do! I believe in God and Jesus and Mary. I’m a bad Catholic because I miss mass once in a while and I grumble when, at confession, I get a heavy penance for something I couldn’t help doing. But good or bad, I am a Catholic and I’ll never be anything else. (45.132)

Francie's relationship to God and religion has changed from the beginning of the book. As she gets older, we hear her sometimes doubt the existence of God, especially when Papa dies, but as the novel starts winding down, she feels pretty comfy as a Catholic.