A Tree Grows in Brooklyn | Study Guide

Betty Smith

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn | Book 2, Chapters 11–12 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 11

Johnny celebrates his 21st birthday with a three-day drinking binge. When he finally comes home, Katie locks him in the bedroom. He is a miserable creature, screaming and wailing, but initially, Katie won't relent. The neighbors tell her to do something for him, but she thinks the suffering will harden him up and stop him from drinking. Finally, she puts the babies in a buggy and goes to Sissy's factory to bring her home.

Sissy tells her sister she can help, and goes to sit with Johnny. Unbeknownst to Katie, she gives him sips of whiskey. Throughout the night, she "let him talk, she let him weep." Most importantly, she held him as his mother should have done when he was a child.

The next morning, Sissy tells a distraught Katie not to "nag" her husband. In response to Katie's protestation that Johnny is a drunk, she declares, "Well, everybody's something."

Chapter 12

Katie Nolan is a proud young woman, but she is ashamed at her husband's behavior, and she wants to leave the neighborhood where they live. She finds a new place to live rent-free in exchange for cleaning, and packs up the family's belongings. They don't amount to much, and can easily fit in the ice wagon.

Upon arriving at the new apartment on Lorimer Street, Katie nails the tin-can bank in the closet, and Mary sprinkles holy water in the rooms, before Francie manages to spill it all over herself. By suppertime, they were moved in, after which Katie read the babies to sleep.

Analysis

Sissy's mothering nature comes to the fore in Chapter 11, when she takes care of Johnny. Her loving nature, which is said to be one of her flaws, also reveals a profound view of human nature. In contrast to the belief in, and expectation that, the American dream is achieved through hard work, grit, and resilience, there is the reality that, in many ways, we are not free. The thread of inherited traits presented in Chapter 7 and Chapter 8 is pulled through in Chapter 12, with Sissy's argument that Katie accept her husband's alcoholism as his specific weakness, since each of us is weak in some way. Acceptance, rather than putting one's shoulder into pushing it out, is rather unusual. It is not that Sissy is resigned to life's conditions, but instead that she embraces them.

Katie's shame at her husband's public drunkenness highlights her view of the world. She is a proud woman who is not ashamed of where she comes from or of being poor. She also knows her husband is a dreamer, while she's a fighter. She can accept that the family depends almost entirely on her to survive. What she can't accept is Johnny's self-destructive behavior.

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