"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder": A visual journey through a Tree grows in brooklyn by betty smith 

     Docent, Jolie Smith

Epigraph: “You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace.” Frank McCourt, Angela's Ashes I picked this quote, as there is not an epigraph in the story, because I think it encapsulates the main character Francie's reliance on imagination and storytelling, as her childhood reality in the slums of Brooklyn was anything but optimal. As a mere 10 year-old, she would sit on the stoop for hours, just thinking. I believe this is what helped shape her character and endure her poverty-stricken and lonely childhood: Her unwavering hope, enabled by her vivid imagination. Possibly the best gift she'd ever received was her mother reading The Complete Works of Shakespeare and the Protestant Bible to her each night. Believing in a better world is what enabled her to love her real, flawed world. Francie finds writing to be her refuge, and writes of flowers, family, and perfectly sunny days. It's only when her beloved Papa dies that she takes her shattered innocence and starts writing of her harsh reality.
Universal Theme: "Love Conquers All" Read this for explanation: https://docs.google.com/a/ccpsnet.net/document/d/1WxWO-fSAKWrp6HhP37UkCcumrk3HWbzuKUnNL1cwd7M/edit?usp=sharing
Tone: Raw and hopeful The tone of this book, though it provides a third-person omniscient perspective, comes widely from Francie's perspective, voice, and personality. This piece by Vincent Van Gogh depicts two figures strolling in a wood of many tall trees and thick grass. I relate this to the Nolans' quest to navigate through their own deep woods while remaining a loving family. Scrubbing floors all day while 9-months pregnant, shooting a man who was about to shoot Francie, and going through school without any friends are just a few of these challenges. The Nolans, luckily, take this challenge in stride and thus the tone has a positive, inspirational tone, modeled by Francie's own outlook on life. The characters in the painting seem relaxed, enjoying their scenery. Francie enjoys her scenery greatly, and wouldn't trade her Brooklyn childhood for anything. This just proves life certainly depends on one's outlook on it, and this story's outlook is authentic and raw, while still focusing on the beauty and strength rising from these moments.
Historical Setting: This story takes place in the 1912 slums of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where 5 cents will buy you the leftover meat at the butcher's, 5 stale loafs of bread, or a piece of land after 10 years of devout saving. The Nolans love music, dancing, and most often survive off of stale bread. The novel follows the family's ups and downs, focusing on the protagonist Francie, and her struggle with love, poverty, loss, and a will to stay young and free in a society pushing her to grow up.
(Historical Setting, cont.) This book also takes World War I as a backdrop, a much-used topic of conversation within the Williamsburg folk long before the threat of war truly loomed. Francie, who could not care less about America's involvement in the war, feels the effects of the war when she must desert her aspirations for an education and instead keep her job, which had started as merely a summer excursion. She started out in an artificial flower factory, but felt her life and goals vanishing by the second, and therefore found her determination to work at a real desk job. She found it not long after at a press clipping office. Food is even more expensive, and many items are rationed, and Katie Nolan has a new baby, Laurie, to feed. The war brings a historical context to the story, and allows the war to be painted from a vivid new angle.
Text Connection: This piece is an artistic statement about the inhumane conditions the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory put their workers through, eventually leading to 146 dead workers in the fire of 1911. When reading this book and following Francie through her life journey, I was reminded of a book I read a few years ago called Uprising by Margaret Peter Haddix. This book is about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, in the heart of the Progressive Era. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was in central New York City, where thousands of poor immigrant families settled upon arriving at Ellis Island. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, like so many of the factories of the time, took advantage of the immigrants and young children desparate for money, by paying them next to nothing, giving them no rights, and exposing them to horrendously unsafe working conditions for their hard labor. Uprising follows the stories of three young girls from immensely varying backgrounds who all find themselves working in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory--and all find themselves in the locked building when the fire starts. I thought of these girls whom the book follows when I read of Francie and her social standing in industrial New York. These girls grew up in the same era, and I see many parallels between their characters, as well: They find themselves working at a very young age to combat starvation and poverty within their families, forcing them to abandon hopes of higher education, they are hardworking and very intelligent, and have grown up having to be older and braver than imaginable. I admire all of these characters and the incredible tenacity they displayed.
the Protagonist: A tree, aptly named the "Tree of Heaven by Francie, grows in the cement in front of the Nolan's apartment, symbolizing hope in the face of adversity. In order for the Nolan family's love to endure-and for Francie to keep her spirit alive in such desparate conditions- they must grow and stand tall against all odds. I think this tree represents the Nolans, the many other suffering families of the early 1900's, the hope in the American dream, and especially Francie, the protagonist, whose brave spirit perseveres through the collapse of her childhood innocence in her experiences with death, poverty, loss of love, isolation, and despair. DAY IN THE LIFE JOURNAL: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1tSacRS1jT7SIh0PwWEFNc8V9KkzakuXLlcNV1zpCTA0/edit
The Protagonist and the Mandala: I think this peculiar piece also represents Francie. The chair has but one leg as its foundation, but it still proudly stands tall, because of the massive amount of balloons holding it up from the top. Francie's inner character is a bit backwards, just like this chair. She relies on her writing, imagination, and aspirations to keep her upright and hopeful, while her foundation, her reality in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is not enough to keep her standing. Francie's one, big dream is to get a proper education. Mary Rommely, Katie's mother, told Katie right after giving birth to Francie that the one gift Katie could give Francie was education, something that both Katie and Mary never had. Katie stayed good on that promise, until money got too tight. Francie still had the determination to get her education in any means possible. As she takes college summer courses and reads every possible magazine in her clipping job, new balloons are added, raising her higher from the new possibilities she's discovered through her education. When her Papa dies, the last leg of her chair seems to have broken, but she is still held up by the many balloons she's created for herself. LINK TO MANDALA: https://docs.google.com/a/ccpsnet.net/document/d/1MCau-wO7eCkck9ynLSmMtyUfilrcDTul3xdD4jAqz-A/edit?usp=sharing
Watch it Come to Life: Francie's Papa, Johnny, sang like there would be no tomorrow. In this touching clip from the 1945 movie, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, based on the book, Johnny sings one of his classics, Annie Laurie, while the children gather around him. This time, though Papa had sung the tune so many times before, Francie could feel there was something different. As Papa sang the ending verse, one that he never sang, about saying goodbye, Francie knew something was very, very wrong. Papa truly did sing like there was no tomorrow, as he was depressed and sick from alcoholism and died just a few days later. WATCH THE CLIP HERE:
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