All the children had gone home. Miss Garnder and Francie were alone in the room with the big dictionary in it. Francie's last four compositions lay on Miss Garnder's desk. "What's happened to your writing, Frances?" asked Miss Garnder.
"I don't know."
"You were one of my best pupils. You wrote so prettily. I enjoyed your compositions. But these last ones..." she flicked at them contemptuously.
"I looked up the spelling and took pains with my penmanship and..."
"I'm referring to your subject matter."
"You said we could choose our own subjects."
"But poverty, starvation and drunkenness are ugly subjects to choose. We all admit these things exist. But one doesn't write about them."
"What does one write about?" Unconsciously, Francie picked up the teacher's phraseology.
"One delves into the imagination and finds beauty there. The writer, like the artist, must strive for beauty always."
"What is beauty?" asked the child.
"I can think of no better definition than Keats': 'Beauty is truth, and truth beauty.'"
Francie took her courage into her two hands and said, "Those stories are the truth."
"Nonsense!" exploded Miss Garnder. Then, softening her tone, she continued: "By truth, we mean things like the stars always being there and the sun always rising and the true nobility of man and mother-love and love for one's country," she ended anti-climactically.
"I see," said Francie...
Miss Garnder continued talking..."Drunkenness is neither truth nor beauty. It's a vice. Drunkards belong in jail, not in stories. And poverty. There is no excuse for that. There's work enough for all who want it. People are poor because they're too lazy to work. There's nothing beautiful about laziness...Hunger is not beautiful. It is also unnecessary. We have well-organized charities. No one need go hungry."
[Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn]
Dear Miss Garnder,
I believe you are correct in saying that truth is beauty and beauty is truth. Keats is a pretty eloquent guy. And I, too, find nothing beautiful about drunkenness or poverty, laziness or hunger.
But maybe beauty is not always aesthetic, polished, perfect - as you seem to suppose. Maybe beauty is and ought to be seen and searched for in reality unadulterated. Maybe there is beauty in brokenness. Maybe beauty hides in unlikely places. Maybe beauty sits with pain and lurks in dirty corners, crooked smiles, tearful eyes, sorrowful laughter. After all, aren't these these the things which are true?
Maybe beauty is beautiful because it makes the soul come alive and resonates with our inmost being. Maybe there is something painful in beauty because it touches our deepest longings and reminds us of the way the world should be, but isn't.
Maybe the choice of a child to engage with and paint a picture - a true picture - of the harsh world around her is beauty.