Woman Troubles — A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Chapters 27-37

(My latest is up at Parenting.com)

This section of the book was painful for me to read.  It sets in motion Francie’s adolescence, a time full of pain, heartbreak and harsh realizations about the cruel world.  No longer can she look upon the family’s frequent bouts of starvation as a game.  Gone is her unquestioning faith in God.  She finds herself doubting that any woman can truly be good or kind.

After witnessing the women on her block stone Joanna and her baby, she comes to fear and hate women.

She feared them for their devious ways, she mistrusted their instincts.  She began to hate them for this disloyalty and their cruelty to each other.  Of all the stone-throwers, not one had dared to speak a word for the girl for fear that she would be tarred with Joanna’s brush.  The passing man had been the only one who spoke with kindness in his voice.

Most women had the one thing in common; they had great pain when they gave birth to their children.  This should make a bond that held them all together; it should make them love and protect each other against the man-world.  But it was not so.  It seemed like their great birth pains shrank their hearts and their souls.  They stuck together for only one thing; to trample some other woman… whether it was by throwing stones or by mean gossip.  It was the only kind of loyalty they seemed to have (p. 237).

What possible effect can this knew attitude towards womanhood have on Francie?  Will she ever be able to see herself as part of this group?  Will she be afraid to have children?  Will the loathing of her own gender turn to feelings of self-loathing as she experiences some of the same feelings they exhibit or will it act as a motivating force to change her for the better?  This book is full of examples of people who internalize negative stereotypes and become the person they have feared or hated.  Will it be this way with Francie?

Why is it that women so often feel such a need for competition, gossip, cattiness and intolerance towards each other?  As women, as potential mothers, our natural instincts should tend towards nurturing and kindness.  Like the women in the story, I think our negative instincts are born of fear.

When we are afraid for our own status, when we doubt our own worth, do we find it easier to tear someone else down, rather than to work at improving ourselves?

As we see so vividly with Francie, the road to self-improvement is painful and harsh.  The rewards are great but the journey is long and hard.  These chapters open with the throwing of a Christmas trees, a horrible tradition that sets the stage well for Francie’s adolescent turmoil — What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Lauren writes
from a New Yorker’s perspective about the ways our world has changed and how it remains the same.
Allysha says “[…]Often times it’s heartbreaking as Francie has to negotiate the world she has created in her mind with the reality she lives in.[…]”  In her usual thoughtful way, Allysha discusses this week’s section about growing up.


Pease let me know if you’ve blogged about the book and I’ll add a link here. And remember, you don’t have to stick to the schedule. If you have something great to say about the first page, let us know.

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4 Responses to Woman Troubles — A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Chapters 27-37

  1. allysha says:

    We know exactly what it is Francie was seeing and experiencing. Women are awfully competative with eachother. It’s a part of the worst of our natures. But there are glimmers of hope throughout the book, even with their weaknesses; of course the Rommely women, the Miss Tynmores, some of Francie’s teachers, even Johanna in her own way. I think poverty is an issue at work here. And although these traits carry through the social classes, Mary Rommely was right, and Katie realizes this at the beginning of this section: Problems such as these are caused by a lack of education. Francie is a smart girl with a hunger to learn, not just facts, but about humankind. While this kind of education causes pain, the real truth of things is not just the suffering but the joy.
    My post is up as well.

  2. Nettie says:

    I have to respectfully disagree about the lack of education being a factor in the way these women treated Joanna and in the catty, competitive nature so often exhibited by us women. My husband and BIL were talking about the way some of the women behaved at worked one day towards each other, and I was shocked. These are women at doctorate levels of education. They are both in very competitive fields where assertiveness and ambition are necessary to succeed, so maybe these women are more likely than others to behave in that way.

    But, I think it is far more common than that.
    You see it in the way Moms compete to see whose child is ahead developmentally, in the working women vs SAHM war, in the heated debates over different parenting practices, etc.

    Ironically, I wonder if sometimes it is BECAUSE of our nurturing side. Our love for our children is so strong and our expectations and desires for them and of ourselves to be successful are so great. We MUST believe we are doing things the right way and that our children are flourishing under our care. And we feel the need to prove it to the world. And too often, by trying to prove that they aren’t mothering as well as we are and their children are turning out inferior in comparison. It is very sad.

    (By the way, I LOVED reading this book. I couldn’t put it down!)

  3. allysha says:

    I see what you mean,Nettie, and I agree that education is not a sure-fire defense against people acting cruelly toward one another. I guess I meant not only degrees and book learning, but experiences that lead to a larger world coupled with what seems to be inherent in Mary Rommely. The description of her and her understanding of people at the beginning of the book combined with the additional educational opportunites that Francie and Neeley are getting seem like a good place to start.

  4. Kage says:

    DYM, I think it does come down to self worth. If one of those women in the stone throwers had had high self worth, she would have set herself apart from the others. And really Johanna (the “hor”) ended up to be the woman with the most strength in this situation (even more than Francie, and I think Francie is pretty strong), because she did not throw back. She was a good mother. I recently had some figurative stones thrown at me, and though I wanted to throw back, the strongest thing I could be was silent and love myself for the mother that I am, and not stoop to the stone throwers level.

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