Fiction refers to any story that is created out of the author’s imagination, rather than factual events. Sometimes the characters in a fictional piece are based on real people, but their ultimate form and the way they respond to events are solely the creation of the author. In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the characters are fictional, but they are based on people or character types from Smith’s life. This inclusion of facts from the author’s own life is the defining element of autobiography, the biography of oneself. For instance, many of the details and locations in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn mirror Smith’s own life. Examples include Smith’s own love of reading and writing, which Francie also loves, and the jobs that Smith held after finishing elementary school, which are the same kinds of work that Francie does. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a work of autobiographical fiction because it is a fictional story that . . . Read More
At Francie’s birth in chapter 9, Mary Rommely tells her daughter, Katie, that it is important that she read to her children every night, because education is a way to escape poverty. Katie reads a page from the Bible and a page from Shakespeare, and this bedtime reading is the start of the children’s education. Learning to play the piano and learning to love music are also a part of an education, so the piano lessons in chapter 17 also emphasize Katie’s commitment to her children. When Francie starts school in chapter 19, it is an important event for the family. Although Francie is thrilled to finally learn how to read, her first school is a terrible place, where the children are beaten and mistreated. It is Francie who finds a school where she thinks she can get a better education. In chapter 27, as Katie watches her children struggle to drag a large Christmas tree up the steps to their apartment, she suddenly realizes that . . . Read More
Ben is the young man Francie meets on her first day at her summer college classes. He is practical and a careful planner, who also helps care for his mother. He helps Francie study for her classes. Ben plans to attend college and law school. He loves Francie and is willing to give her the time she needs to learn to love him.
Doctor and Nurse
The doctor and nurse have only a brief role; they administer the vaccinations that Francie and Neeley need to begin school. The doctor shows no compassion or understanding about what it means to live in poverty. Although the nurse grew up in the neighborhood, she has managed to escape the poverty of her childhood and seems to have forgotten its lessons.
Evy Rommely Flittman
Aunt Evy is Katie’s older sister. Like all of the sisters, Evy is a practical woman, willing to work hard for her family. She is married to Willie . . . Read More
Book 1 includes the first six chapters of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and provides background information about the Nolan family and specifically Francie Nolan, the novel’s protagonist. The setting is a poor immigrant area of Brooklyn called Williamsburg. There is a tree growing in the area that survives no matter how poor the soil or water. The tree is called the Tree of Heaven by some of the residents; it grows only in the neighborhood where the poorest people live.
The book opens on a typical Saturday. Francie and her younger brother, Neeley, spend part of the morning collecting metal scraps to sell to the junk man. The children keep half the money, and half is put in the tin can bank at home. Francie’s mother, Katie, works as a janitor cleaning three buildings. Francie’s father, Johnny, drinks and does not support the family. He is charming but irresponsible. His job is singing at weddings and in restaurants. He earns . . . Read More
In Anderson’s novel Speak, the protagonist’s English teacher remarks: ‘‘It’s all about SYMBOLISM.’’ The teacher is referring to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s work. However, because of the stress placed on the word symbolism (placing the word in all capitals), one might question whether Anderson is referring to her own writing as well. If she is, what symbols does she create and how does she use them?
Literary symbolism is the use of a person, object, image, word, or event that suggests a deeper meaning beyond its literal one. For example, the snowstorms through which the protagonist of this novel must walk are both literal storms and a symbol of conditions in Melinda’s life. The snow blots out much of the landscape, exemplifying Melinda’s feelings of isolation. The harsh coldness of the blizzard symbolizes Melinda’s struggle to find warmth in her personal relationships. The snowstorm is just one of the many symbols that the author uses to give more depth . . . Read More
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the definition of date rape is when ‘‘forced sex occurs between two people who already know each other.’’ Date rape occurs in about half of all rape cases reported. ‘‘Even if the two people know each other well, and even if they were intimate or had sex before, no one has the right to force a sexual act on another person against his or her will.’’ The Department goes on to state that rape should not be confused with passion or love: ‘‘Rape is an act of aggression and violence.’’ Another major point that the Department clarifies is that the victim of a rape should not feel that he or she brought it on by the clothes they were wearing or how they might have been acting: ‘‘Rape is always the fault of the rapist.’’
In a report offered by the U.S. Department of Justice, the number of incidents of date rape has slowly declined. In the . . . Read More
Anderson does not reveal what is bothering her protagonist until well into the story. This creates suspense, which keeps her readers turning the pages to find out what is going to happen next and why Melinda is acting so strangely. Authors tend to use various forms of suspense to keep their readers engaged in the story. Suspense can also put readers in an active, rather than passive state, as they attempt to guess what happened by putting together the clues the author provides. Not all novels have to be classified as mysteries in order to create suspense. Most good novels have some element of suspense. Some are more subtle than others. Suspense is most obvious in crime novels and psychological thrillers. However, all well-written novels will provide enough unanswered questions to sustain the reader’s curiosity and thus offer suspense.
Throughout Anderson’s novel, the . . . Read More
Trauma and the Restorative Power of Speech
The trauma of the rape that Melinda experiences before Anderson’s novel Speak even begins influences the entire story. Because of that trauma, Melinda’s mental state continues to deteriorate as the story progresses. As she attempts to find, within herself as well as in the world around her, places in which to hide, she sinks deeper into silence. So many people disallow her a chance to reveal her inner fears, shame, and confusion. Her peers have already judged her and decide to ban her from their groups. Her parents do not have time or patience to encourage her to open up to them. Only Melinda’s art teacher perceives that something is troubling her. He is the only one who understands that sometimes words are either too difficult or too inadequate to express the deepest emotions. However, he also understands that in order for Melinda to heal, she must find a way to articulate her feelings. That is . . . Read More
Rachel was the protagonist’s best friend from elementary school through middle school. She is the one person that Melinda wishes she could talk to. However, Rachel believes that Melinda ruined her summer because of the police raid on the last party before school resumed.
Rachel hangs out with foreign exchange students at school. She takes up the habit of pretending to smoke candy cigarettes to give her a more European flair. When Melinda runs into Rachel in the girls’ bathroom, Rachel responds to Melinda’s statements with grunts or foreign phrases. Melinda learns that Rachel changes the spelling and pronunciation of her name to Rachelle, to sound more French.
When Melinda sees Rachel falling for Andy, Melinda wants to warn her. Melinda finally gets up the courage to do so, but Rachel thinks Melinda is jealous. However, it is because of Melinda’s warning that Rachel finally sees who Andy really is. When he . . . Read More
First Marking Period
Anderson’s novel Speak begins with the protagonist, Melinda Sordino, on her way to the first day of high school. Melinda is very nervous about boarding the bus, though the reason for her tension is not provided. The school bus is empty when she gets on, but she carefully contemplates where she will sit. Although sitting in the front of the bus reminds her of being in elementary school, she decides sitting close to the front door is her best choice. By the time the bus arrives at school, Melinda is the only student who sits alone. All her old friends have shunned her.
Inside the school gym, Melinda looks to find someone to stand with. She recognizes the different groups by types, such as the athletes, the cheerleaders, the Plain Janes. Her middle-school friends look her way and laugh. Melinda assumes they are laughing at her. No one motions for her to join them. When she spots Rachel Bruin, who used to be her . . . Read More