Skip to Main Content

Islington Branch Book Club - Past Titles: "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" by Betty Smith

Take a look through previous titles we've discussed at our Islington Branch Book Club

"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" by Betty Smith

  1. Poverty and Resilience: Poverty is a central theme in the novel. How does Francie's family cope with poverty, and what strategies do they use to survive? Discuss the resilience of the Nolan family in the face of adversity.

  2. Education and Ambition: Education is highly valued by Francie and her family. How does education serve as a means of escape and empowerment for Francie? Discuss the role of ambition and determination in Francie's pursuit of knowledge and a better life.

  3. Gender Roles: The novel explores traditional gender roles and expectations in the early 20th century. How do characters like Francie and her mother, Katie, challenge or conform to these gender roles? Discuss the ways in which gender influences their opportunities and experiences.

  4. The Importance of Community: Brooklyn serves as a vibrant backdrop for the novel, and the community plays a significant role in Francie's life. How does the neighborhood and its residents shape Francie's upbringing and worldview? Discuss the sense of belonging and support found within the community.

  5. Family Dynamics: Analyze the relationships within the Nolan family, particularly between Francie, Katie, and Johnny. How do their relationships evolve over the course of the novel? What challenges do they face as a family, and how do they support each other through difficult times?

  6. The Power of Imagination: Francie has a vivid imagination and finds solace in books and storytelling. How does Francie's imagination help her navigate the challenges of her life? Discuss the role of imagination in coping with adversity and finding hope.

  7. Social Issues: "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" touches on various social issues, including alcoholism, domestic violence, and class inequality. How does the novel address these issues, and what commentary does it offer on society at the time?

  8. Loss and Grief: Francie experiences loss and grief at a young age. How do these experiences shape her character and worldview? Discuss the novel's portrayal of loss and the ways in which characters cope with grief.

  9. The American Dream: Discuss the concept of the American Dream as it relates to Francie and her family. How do they define success and happiness, and what sacrifices are they willing to make to achieve their dreams?

  10. Coming of Age: "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" is a classic coming-of-age story. How does Francie navigate the challenges of adolescence and transition into adulthood? Discuss the themes of growth, maturity, and self-discovery in the novel.

  11. Literary Style: Betty Smith's writing style is known for its vivid imagery and emotional depth. How does Smith use language and symbolism to bring the setting and characters to life? Discuss specific passages or scenes that stand out to you.

  12. Legacy and Memory: The novel concludes with Francie reflecting on her past and the legacy of her family. How does Francie reconcile her memories of the past with her hopes for the future? Discuss the novel's themes of memory, heritage, and the passage of time.

Early Life and Education: Betty Smith was born Elizabeth Lillian Wehner on December 15, 1896, in Brooklyn, New York City. She was the second of three children born to German immigrants, John Wehner and Catherine Hummel Wehner. Smith's childhood was marked by poverty, and she often drew upon her own experiences growing up in Brooklyn for inspiration in her writing.

Despite financial struggles, Smith was determined to pursue an education. She attended Girls' High School in Brooklyn, where she excelled academically and developed a love for literature and writing. After high school, she attended the University of Michigan, where she studied playwriting and dramatics.

Literary Career: After completing her education, Betty Smith worked as a playwright and journalist. She wrote several one-act plays and short stories that were produced and published in various magazines. However, it was her debut novel, "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," that would bring her widespread acclaim and recognition as a writer.

Published in 1943, "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel that follows the life of Francie Nolan, a young girl growing up in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn in the early 20th century. The novel received critical acclaim for its honest portrayal of poverty, family, and the immigrant experience in America. It became a bestseller and a beloved classic, earning Smith literary accolades and a devoted readership.

Despite the success of her debut novel, Betty Smith only published three more novels during her lifetime: "Tomorrow Will Be Better" (1948), "Joy in the Morning" (1963), and "Maggie-Now" (1958). While these novels did not achieve the same level of success as "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," they were well-received by critics and readers alike.

Later Years and Legacy: Betty Smith lived much of her later life in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where she taught creative writing at the University of North Carolina. She also continued to write and lecture on literature and writing.

Betty Smith passed away on January 17, 1972, in Shelton, Connecticut, at the age of 75. Despite her relatively small literary output, Smith's impact on American literature remains significant, particularly through the enduring popularity of "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn." The novel continues to be cherished by readers of all ages and has been adapted into film, television, and stage productions, cementing Betty Smith's place as one of America's most beloved authors.


Westwood Public Library

Main Library

660 High Street
Westwood, MA 02090
Email Main Library

Islington Branch

273 Washington Street
Westwood, MA 02090
Email Branch Library