Beauty in Every Soul – A Tree Grows In Brooklyn Chapters 1-10
Betty Smith paints with words, talented beyond my limited means to express. As I read this book, I ask myself over and over again the question – WHY HAS NO ONE MADE ME READ THIS BOOK BEFORE?
I’m sure Betty would say that a person cannot be forced to read a book but must discover it on their own. I can imagine she would deny the perfection of her own exquisite prose, stating that there are multiple sides and shades to anything, the good must be taken with the bad and a love or distain created out of the complex web of contradictions.
I was hooked from the moment she began to describe the old man, seated in the bakery.
“Francie stared at the oldest man. She played her favorite game, figuring out about people […] her thoughts ran…
‘He is old. He must be past seventy. He was born about the time Abraham Lincoln was living and getting himself ready to be president […] He was a baby once. He must have been sweet and clean and his mother kissed his pink toes. Maybe when it thundered at night she came to his crib and fixed his blanket better and whispered that he mustn’t be afraid, that mother was there […] Now his children are getting old too, like him, and they have children and nobody wants the old man any more and they are waiting for him to die. But he don’t want to die. He wants to keep on living even though he’s old and there’s nothing to be happy about anymore.’ […]
A terrible panic that had no name came over her as she realized that many of the sweet babies in the world were born to come to something like this old man some day. She had to get out of that place or it would happen to her.”
Aging and death are recurring themes in this book, the idea that our time here is limited. As I read, I feel a growing sense of urgency, an urgency to get out of this place I’m in before “it” happens to me, to choose my life and not live by accident.
Francie’s mother chooses to take charge of her life and clings to the direction she has created for herself, while her father lets life happen to him, playing the victim and enabling himself to fall deeper and deeper into a hole of self-loathing. The amazing part about these two and all of the characters in the novel is the depth with which they are portrayed. I LOVE that I can simultaneously identify with and censure a character. I adore that they do not feel like flat people made up of words on a page but rather living, breathing beings who might accidentally let a fleck of spittle fly my way if I'm not careful.
The description of the way Francie’s sainted grandmother views the world seems to be a roadmap for the way Betty Smith wants you to view the world she has created within the story, seeing the good and the bad in people but choosing to embrace the good, realizing that we are all flawed and we are all deliciously beautiful in all our failure, triumph and daily plodding hypocrisy.
Near the end of this week’s section, on page 95, a Woman is telling Francie’s mother Katie that the child is a whelp who would be better-off dead. Although Katie feels no great love for her child, she fiercely disagrees with the woman’s conclusion.
“Don’t say that,” Katie held her baby tightly. “It’s not better to die. Who wants to die? Everything struggles to live. Look at that tree growing up there out of that grating. It gets no sun, and water only when it rains. It’s growing out of sour earth. And it’s strong because its hard struggle to live is making it strong. My children will be strong that way.”
“Aw, somebody ought to cut that tree down, the homely thing.”
“If there was only one tree like that in the world, you would think it was beautiful,” said Katie. “But because there are so many, you just can’t see how beautiful it really is. Look at these children.” She pointed to a swarm of dirty children playing in the gutter. “You could take any one of them and wash him good and dress him up and sit him in a fine house and you would think he was beautiful.”
And you’d be right, Betty Smith, he would be beautiful because he already is. We all are.
Yes, you too.