A Tree Grows in Brooklyn | Study Guide

Betty Smith

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Course Hero. "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Study Guide." August 3, 2017. Accessed September 25, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Tree-Grows-in-Brooklyn/.

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Course Hero, "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Study Guide," August 3, 2017, accessed September 25, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Tree-Grows-in-Brooklyn/.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn | Book 3, Chapters 15–16 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 15

Book 3, the largest section of the novel, resumes the story begun in Book 1. The reader is returned to 1912, following Francie from age seven to 14. When the Nolans first move into the four-room flat on Grand Street, Francie can look down on the Tree of Heaven from her window. It reaches only up to the second story.

In what seems like a wonderful stroke of luck, the Nolan home is adjacent to the neighborhood school. What Francie wants more than anything is to go to school. An iron mesh fence separates the school's small yard from hers. When the boy who lives on the ground floor hasn't commandeered it for his own purposes, Francie plays there during the school's recess. She observes the children—a good 300—stuffed onto the cement in this tiny space, where they do nothing but mill around and shriek until the end-of-recess bell rings.

This odd sight is replaced one day by something utterly wonderful. A little girl emerges alone to clap chalk dust from erasers. Francie is fascinated, and isn't deterred, even though her Mama has told her that clapping erasers is for "teachers' pets." When she's old enough to go to school, she's willing to bark, meow, and chirp in order to be a pet. The clapper girl walks up to the mesh fence and asks Francie if she'd like to see the erasers up close. But instead of showing them to her, the girl spits in Francie's face: "It was the first of many disillusionments that were to come as her capacity to feel things grew." That ended her love of blackboard erasers.

At least the house had something wonderful: a piano in the parlor. It had been left when the previous tenants couldn't afford to pay to have it moved. They were going to send for it but never did.

Chapter 16

Francie learns about her new neighborhood. Its shops and streets create its atmosphere, and this one is exciting to Francie. She is especially taken with the pawnshop because of the three large golden balls hanging out front. They gleam in the sun, and "sway languorously" in the wind "like heavy golden apples."

Analysis

Francie's first experience with another child's cruelty awakens her to what lies ahead in her education. Her mother's comment about teachers' pets, and being told by Mama (in Chapter 14) that she will wait a year to start school so she and Neeley can go together for better protection, foreshadow events when Francie enters school. There, she will learn that the great equalizer, education, is not equally dispensed.

Although not much happens in these chapters, the detailed descriptions of the neighborhood and the things she observes—for example, how a piano is moved—are often told through Francie's six-year-old thoughts. They reveal how influential her surroundings are on Francie's life. The reader can see the emotional and intellectual architecture of Francie's mind developing in each of these moments, large and small. These become the touchstones for her later years—years the reader won't know about, since the book will have finished long before. Her strength of character can be anticipated, however, in those moments revealed throughout the book, moments when a little girl learns an important lesson about cruelty, even if she does not yet understand it.

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