Study Guide

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Society and Class

By Betty Smith

Society and Class

Being poor is the ever-present backdrop for the characters in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Francie’s neighborhood school is overcrowded, and the teachers don’t even think the poor deserve an education. They live in buildings that are barely up to health codes, and the children get little parental supervision because the adults have to work so much to make ends meet. They are undernourished and constantly hungry, but the author doesn’t seem to think these are insurmountable hurdles. They are real and difficult problems, but the Nolans are able make it out of their poverty.

Questions About Society and Class

  1. Why do the poor kids collect scrap and go to the “junkie” every Saturday?
  2. What is unusual about Mr. Tomony? Why do you think Smith included him in the book?
  3. Who is crueler—the doctor for saying the awful things about Francie, or the nurse for not sticking up for her or comforting her?
  4. What is the hardest thing about being poor for Francie? How does she overcome it?

Chew on This

In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, once someone is out of poverty, they usually lose all compassion for the poor.

If everyone had the same amount of education, there would be no poor people.