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 November 13, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Tree-Grows-in-Brooklyn/.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn | Book 3, Chapters 27–28 | Summary



Chapter 27

Christmas is special, not only for religious reasons, but for its various rituals. One such ritual involves tree chucking. Tree sellers would throw unsold trees at children, starting with the biggest trees. If a child was still standing after the throw, they got to take the tree home for free. Only ten and nine at the time, Francie and Neeley are still small, but Katie relents and agrees to let them have their first try. Francie has picked out the biggest tree of all. Feeling a brief twinge of guilt at chucking such a large tree at such small children, the owner nevertheless rejects the fleeting thought of simply giving the kids the tree. Against the odds, Francie and Neeley are still standing when the tree is pulled off them. They drag that tree "inch by inch" all the way home, to neighbors' cheers and congratulations, and then Johnny helps them get it up the narrow staircase.

It is Katie who sees through the joy to the truth: "They can't see that we live on a dirty street in a dirty house among people who aren't much good." She realizes their education will get them out, away from the dirt and grime and hardship. At the same time, she knows this will take Francie further away from her than she already is, both physically and emotionally, but she is determined. She has to be, as she also realizes her Johnny, whom she had loved so much, won't be with them too much longer because of his alcoholism.

This Christmas involves another incident in which Francie tells a whopper of a lie, only she doesn't realize that she has actually told the truth. After the family celebrates Christmas, Francie and Neeley attend a party for poor kids. Mary, a rich child, is giving away a doll—a lovely doll that is a whole foot tall, with "real yellow hair and blue eyes that opened and shut, with real eyelashes." She wants to give the doll away to a poor little girl also named Mary. None of the girls named Mary—and there were plenty in the audience—speak up. They are too proud, and too ashamed of being called poor. But Francie does. The doll fits perfectly in her arms, but she feels guilty about her lie when she walks back to her seat as the hissing of "beggar, beggar, beggar" follows her. Later, she learns that, in fact, her name is Mary—Mary Frances—and her guilt dissipates.

Chapter 28

Francie starts to worry that the world is changing all around her. Between ages eleven and twelve, she notices the future seems to happen faster; Henny Gaddis dies, which contributes to the worry she starts to feel. Then she thinks that she's the one changing; everything else is the same—things like practicing piano every day, putting pennies in the tin-can bank, reading a page of the Bible and Shakespeare every night. Papa diagnoses her with a case of growing up—and she feels that "growing up spoiled a lot of things." She now begins to see through the devices her mother uses to distract her and Neeley from their hunger and poverty. When food ran low, Katie would have them pretend they were explorers at the North Pole, trapped in a cave during a blizzard. The game was to make what little food they had last until they were rescued. Then, when she got some money, Katie would buy a little cake with the groceries to celebrate. One day, Francie asks her mother the point of being hungry. She can understand the suffering endured by explorers; it was for a reason, so they could discover the North Pole. "But," she asks, "what big things comes out of us being hungry like that?" A suddenly tired-looking Katie responds, "You found the catch in it."

Growing up spoils the theater for Francie, too. She thought she might want to be an actress, she'd loved the theater so. She even followed handsome leading man, Clarence Harold, home after the Saturday matinees. But she begins thinking about all the what ifs—what if the long-lost lover hadn't returned in time to pay the mortgage? What if the heroine married the villain? She finds herself rewriting the third act of a play, finding dialogue easy to write. That decides it for her: she'll write plays.


Francie is entering an inevitable impasse, in which her ability to reflect on and evaluate her world leads her to some unsettling conclusions. What she decides to do about them will determine who she becomes. She understands better her mother's aversion to charity, which she sees, mostly correctly, as an opportunity for those who give to make themselves feel and look good at the expense of those they are meant to help. Mostly, Francie begins to see that life is not fair, and how she responds to that fact will shape her life. Katie sees this realization as an opportunity to learn how difficult the world is, while Johnny shrinks back in its face. What will Francie do?

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