A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Book 1 Discussion 3

One last straggler question from Book 1.  (Chapter 5)  

Now remember:

Sissy worked in a rubber factory and was very wild as far as men were concerned. p. 42

and

The factory madea few fubber toys as a blind.  It made its big profits from other rubber articles which were bought in whispers. p. 42-43

From an essay on A Tree Grows in Brooklyn that I think is fantastic…

Censorship and Condoms

One of the major sections of the book that they had to change touched on human sexuality. Lawrence wrote to Smith:

all the salesmen have had a chance to read the manuscript and have had their enthusiasm confirmed. There is one thing, however, which disturbs them from a sales point of view. That is the episode of the balloons. Everyone is amused by it, but experience tells them that it is likely to offend the Catholic market. Its inclusion might mean a considerable loss of sales in this quarter 3.

However, Lawrence admitted that the “balloon episode” was essential to the plot. Consequently, she asked Smith to just tone it down and “free it from any connection with the Catholic church” 4.

Unfortunately this caused some loss of detail in the novel. It is likely that condoms had not yet been described in a novel, and Smith had the description all ready to go. They were disguised in a cigarette box: “There was six dull yellow articles, folded and rolled to look like cigarettes. The color was muted by a film of fine white dust. Francie unfolded them, shook them out and blew off the powder. Now they looked like unblown balloons” 5. The children then blew them up and hung them out the window, disappointed with the results. Unfortunately, Smith had to tone this down. The published version reads merely that the “contents [of the box] were very uninteresting” (91). But Lawrence was right; even this excision was not enough to placate certain religious readers.

Smith had also originally written a long section on the reaction of the Catholic community to the blown-up condoms hanging out the apartment window. In her original manuscript, the Nolans were verbally condemned by their priest in a sermon so vehemently anti-contraception that the neighborhood birth-rate increased by a third. Smith also removed a description of the childhood of this priest whose parents, since he had been “promised” to the church, allowed his siblings to die of malnutrition in order to pay for his education. All of this is omitted from the published version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Do you think anything was lost by these changes?  Do you think it would have been better included or do you think it was better to not be included?  How do you think the audience of Smith’s time would have reacted if it hadn’t been changed?

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