The fictional novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is set in the first two decades of the 20th century in Willamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. The plot focuses on a family struggling to make a decent living. The stories emerge through the eyes of the very young daughter and continues through the different stages of her becoming a young woman during this era. Throughout, the author is able to bring in stories that surround her parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents; the author deftly moves from the child’s perspective to the adult's perspective.
Class and poverty are the central themes that illustrates how the family perseveres through enormous hardships; the reader is confronted with the many injustices, tragedies and illnesses that this extended family endures during the span of this young daughter’s growth to womanhood; they trust in the American dream and strongly believe that education is a way out of the poverty cycle. Through the stories, the author explores issues of gender that include the lack of women’s right to vote.
The tree in the title is the symbol of perseverance and hope; this tree grows in a district that lacks the regular care such as water or light; yet it is constantly visible in the eyes of the daughter throughout the novel.