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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn | Symbols


The Tree of Heaven

The titular tree reflects both symbolic and thematic elements in the novel. The hardy tree referred to in the title is both a specific tree in Francie Nolan's yard, and also one that grows in various places in Brooklyn. Called the Tree of Heaven, it only grows in tenement districts. You knew a neighborhood was headed for poverty if one of those trees managed to make its way out of a cement crack. "The tree knew," Smith writes; "It came there first."

The hardy little tree, whose lush green canopy "looked like a lot of open umbrellas" serves as a symbol of fortitude. Like the impoverished residents of Brooklyn, it strives and persists regardless of hardship. It survives, like the people it represents, because it's strong and scrappy. Life in Brooklyn may not be heaven, but the tree with that name is like a little oasis.

Tin-Can Bank

The tin-can bank that Katie nails in the darkest corner of the closet represents the struggles associated with being poor. Mary Rommely advises Katie to put five cents into the bank every day, so that in years to come, there will be enough money to buy property. When they're old enough to contribute, Francie and Neeley put in some of the money they earn from selling junk to Carney. Over the years, the amount should grow to be enough to buy land. But when Johnny dies, there's not even enough for a cemetery plot. She and the children have been saving for 14 years, and they've got little to show for it. After borrowing what she needs from her sister to pay for the plot, Katie realizes the can has served its use. After all, she now owns some land.

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