In Betty Smith’s novels, the young female protagonists experience turning points in their lives, during which they are forced to sacrifice some part of themselves in order to preserve another. In choosing either the comfort or familiarity of home and personal relationships, or their greatest ambitions, these women make a choice that thereafter defines their identities. Set in the turn of twentieth-century New York City, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Maggie-Now, and Joy in the Morning all feature strong female figures that must suffer through many obstacles such as the pain of poverty, the judgments of society, unequal access to education, and unhappy marriages. One of Smith’s protagonists, Maggie, is unable to have children because her husband demands that she focus only on him and his search for identity as he tries to locate his biological father. She must sacrifice her dreams of becoming a mother in order to maintain a marriage that fulfills the typical image of the American Dream.
Many of Smith’s characters from Brooklyn are immigrants who left their home countries to seek a better life. When the North Vietnamese communist government took control of South Vietnam and ended the Vietnam War in 1975, their harsh rule and persecution of innocent people compelled many Vietnamese to immigrate to the United States, just as Smith’s characters did. Despite not knowing the challenges of the journey, the Vietnamese hoped to find better living conditions for themselves and their children. Most Vietnamese refugees set their destination as America because of its well-known opportunities. They endured the hardships of refugee camps, and, once released, they lived with American sponsors and endured separation from their families. The Vietnamese encountered resentment from some Americans who feared competition for jobs. The refugees faced many other obstacles, such as not being able to speak English, leaving all their possessions behind, and finding new homes and new jobs Their endurance, capacity for hard work and sense of community enabled the refugees to thrive in their new country, which they came to call home.
Major Works Consulted:
Smith, Betty. Joy in the Morning. New York: Harper & Row, 2010.
Photo Credit: Smith, Betty.Maggie-Now. New York: Harper & Row, 2012.
--. Maggie-Now. New York: Harper & Row, 2012.
Sonneborn, Liz. Vietnamese Americans. New York: Chelsea House, 2007.
Springstubb, Tricia. The Vietnamese Americans. San Diego: Lucent, 2002.