Iconic Quotes From the Novel 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn'

Betty Smith's Famous Novel - Coming-of-Age Story

The cover of 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn'
Betty Smith's 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn'. Harper Collins

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a coming-of-age story. It's a tragic and triumphant book about Francie Nolan, as her family struggles with poverty, alcoholism, and the brutal realities of life for an Irish-American family in Brooklyn, New York. Here are a few quotes from ​A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

  • Everyone said it was a pity that a slight pretty woman like Katie Nolan had to go out scrubbing floors. But what else could she do considering the husband she had, they said."
    - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 1
     
  • "Francie knew that mama was a good woman. She knew. And papa said so. Then why did she like her father better than her mother? Why did she? Papa was no good. He said so himself. But she liked papa better."
    - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 1
     
  • "Before they went to bed, Francie and Neeley had to read a page of the Bible and a page from Shakespeare. That was a rule. Mama used to read the two pages to them each night until they were old enough to read for themselves. To save time, Neeley read the Bible page and Francie read from Shakespeare."
    - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 6
     
  • "Maybe that decision was her great mistake. She should have waited until some man came along who felt that way about her. Then her children would not have gone hungry; she would not have had to scrub floors for their living and her memory of him would have remained a tender shining thing. But she wanted Johnny Nolan and no one else and she set out to get him."
    - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 7
     
  • "Those were the Rommely women: Many, the mother, Evy, Sissy, and Katie, her daughters, and Francie, who would grow up to be a Rommely woman even though her name was Nolan. They were all slender, frail creatures with wondering eyes and soft fluttery voices."
    - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 7
     
  • "they were made out of thin invisible steel."
    - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 7
     
  • "Part of her life was made from the tree growing rankly in the yard. She was the bitter quarrels she had with her brother whom she loved dearly. She was Katie's secret, despairing weeping. She was the shame of her father staggering home drunk."
    - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 8
     
  • "She was all of these things and of something more."
    - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 8
     
  • "Oh, God, don't send me any more children or I won't be able to look after Johnny and I've got to look after Johnny. He can't look after himself."
    - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 9
     
  • "I am going to love this boy more than the girl but I mustn't ever let her know. It is wrong to love one child more than the other but this is something that I cannot help."
    - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 10
     
  • "Francie didn't notice that he said my last home instead of our last home."
    - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 14
     
  • "Francie sat on a chair and was surprised that it felt the same as it had in Lorimer Street. She felt different. Why didn't the chair feel different?"
    - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 15
     
  • "Besides, she said to her conscience, it's a hard and bitter world. They've got to live in it. Let them get hardened young to take care of themselves."
    - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 18
     
  • "She had become accustomed to being lonely. She was used to walking alone and to being considered 'different.' She did not suffer too much."
    - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 20
     
  • "From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood."
    - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 22
     
  • "On the day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived."
    - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 22
     
  • "In the future, when something comes up, you tell exactly how it happened but write down for yourself the way you think it should have happened. Tell the truth and write the story. Then you won't get mixed up. It was the best advice Francie every got."
    - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 26
     
    • "That's what Mary Rommely, her mother had been telling her all those years. Only her mother did not have the one clear word: education!"
      - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 27

    • "Growing up spoiled a lot of things."
      - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 28

    • "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 on some other woman."
      - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 29

    • "She'll be my wife, someday, God and she willin."
      - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 33

    • "Frances stood numb. There was no feeling of surprise or grief. There was no feeling of anything. What mama just said had no meaning."
      - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 36

    • "From now on I am your mother and your father."
      - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 37

    • "Francie wished adults would stop telling her that. Already the load of thanks in the future was weighing her down. She figured she'd have to spend the best years of her womanhood hunting up people to tell them that they were right and to thank them."
      - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 39

    • "'Maybe,' thought Francie, 'she doesn't love me as much as she loves Neeley. But she needs me more than she needs him and I guess being needed is almost as good as being loved. Maybe better."
      - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 39

    • "And Francie, pausing in her sweeping to listen, tried to put everything together and tried to understand a world spinning in confusion. And it seemed to her that the whole world changed in between the time that Laurie was born and graduation day."
      - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 41

    • "'This could be a whole life,' she thought. 'You work eight hours a day covering wires to earn money to buy food and to pay for a place to sleep that you can keep living to come back to cover more wires. Some people are born and kept living just to come to this."
      - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 43

    • "May be she'd never have more education than she had at that moment. Maybe all her life she'd have to cover wires."
      - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 41

    • "'We're too much alike to understand each other because we don't even understand our own selves. Papa and I were two different persons and we understood each other. Mama understands Neeley because he's different from her."
      - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 44

    • "Let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry...have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere-be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost."
      - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 48

    • "And he asked for her whole life as simply as he'd ask for a date. And she promised away her whole life as simply as she'd offer a hand in greeting or farewell."
      - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 52

    • "Then one sunny day, they walk out in all innocence and they walk right into the grief that you'd give your life to spare them."
      - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 53

    • "But, then, so many things seemed like dreams to her. That man in the hallway that day: Surely that had been a dream! The way McShane had been waiting for mother all those years - a dream. Papa dead. For a long time that had been a dream but now papa was like someone who had never been. The way Laurie seemed to come out of a dream - born the living child of a father five months dead. Brooklyn was a dream. All the things that happened there just couldn't happen. It was all dream stuff. Or was it all real and true and was it that she, Francie, was the dreamer?"
      - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 55

    • "So like papa...so like papa, she thought. But he had more strength in his face than papa had had."
      - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 56

    • "A new tree had grown from the stump and its trunk had grown along the ground until it reached a place where there were no wash lines above it. Then it had started to grow towards the sky again. Annie, the fir tree, that the Nolans had cherished with waterings and manurings, had long since sickened and died. But this tree in the yard--this tree that men chopped down...this tree that they built a bonfire around, trying to burn up its stump--this tree had lived!"
      - Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 56