Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Full Closure: Reflections on “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”: Book Five (Chapters 55-56)

Please click on key word A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for previous installments in this series.

I think it is imperative to find out as much as possible about one’s heritage, to examine it with truthfulness regardless of whether it hurts or not. They say history is doomed to repeat itself when people are ignorant of it. The same thing goes for families. Francie is an example of someone who came ahead a stronger and wiser person because of her clear-headed decisions made in full knowledge of where she has come from.

Francie comes just short of saying that her mother’s marrying her father was a mistake. Then she very nearly steals a man from another woman, just like her mother. She falls head over heels for a young man who has already said he is engaged, but that he plans to call it off. He says he wants to be intimate with her before going to serve his country. She says no, but has second thoughts about her decision when she finds out he has married his fiancé after all.

I found her conversation with her mother to be very interesting. It is wonderful that she is able to share her emotional conundrum with Katie, and that Katie can be so understanding. Francie knows that waiting for marriage is best, and promises to do so, but wants to know if she did the right thing in this instance. As a woman, her mom says, she did not. She missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

But on denying herself that, she also eliminated a lifetime of regret that could come from either stealing another woman’s man, giving herself away before finding her lifetime partner, or possibly becoming pregnant or contracting a disease. She did the rational and moral thing at the time, rather than follow her emotions, which is what her mother did when she set about to steal Johnny from her girlfriend. This is what sets her apart from her mother and what will eventually allow her to find a true love that will last.

Francie gives up the passion for Lee in exchange for a more quiet and respectful romance with Ben. They do share the same kind of shy smile, and I do think that Francie was initially attracted to Ben, but he did not “need” her enough to pay her any attention for so long that she found love elsewhere with Lee. The book leaves it up in the air whether she will settle on him or not.

Has Katie found true love in Sergeant McShane? It is hard to believe that one could love from afar as they seemed to begin to do when they first met. They would see each other randomly in public and each kept the other in his or her thoughts as the health of their spouses deteriorated. They have a physical attraction for each other, and can see the qualities that each had to offer. This is a more rational type of love, one that will trust on time to build.

As Francie says goodbye to her old neighborhood, the book comes full circle back to many of the particulars described in the beginning of the book: the tree, the librarian and her bowl of seasonal flowers, the prizes at Cheap Charlie’s, and the little girls watching the big girls get ready for their dates. At the end she says “Goodbye Francie” to the girl across the street, although her name is Florrie. (In book one, as a small girl she would watch Flossie across the street.) The last sentence is: “She closed the window.” She has had full closure and can continue her life – a life that she herself will build.

I hope you have enjoyed my reflections on this novel, whether or not you have read it or plan to. I may have more thoughts to ponder after meeting with my Long Island book buddies. “A Tree in Brooklyn” has become a commonly used metaphor in American life. In America, you are what you make your life to be.


Loren Christie said...

Did you think she had passionate feelings for Lee? I thought he was a selfish cad and I was so glad she did not give herself away to him. She saved herself from deeper grief. I was surprised at her mom's talk. As always, I really enjoy seeing what you pulled from the book, which is the best part of reading a book together. You bring up a lot of great points here and key insights in the story. I'm glad you liked it too.

Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

Yes I do think she felt passionately for Lee, but she was so inexperienced with love it may be that he was the only one to fill in the gap while the nice guy was busy building his career. It would be nice to see Betty Smith's real story and see if she married and if so whom. I agree that her regret at having said no is less than if she had said yes.