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 20, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Tree-Grows-in-Brooklyn/.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn | Book 3, Chapters 33–34 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 33

When Francie starts getting curious about sex, Mama doesn't blink. Unlike other neighborhood parents who don't talk about it because they lack the vocabulary for what they did with each other, Katie "told her simply and plainly all that she herself knew." If she doesn't have the proper words, she uses the dirty ones, but only because she wants to be forthright with her daughter. Katie Nolan is fearless—well, almost.

There is something that scares everyone, including Katie: a molester on the loose. There is one in Williamsburg the next year, when Francie turns fourteen. Even if people don't talk about sex, they talk nonstop about this criminal. They're scared out of their wits when a little seven-year-old girl on Francie's block is murdered. Everyone closes ranks until the child rapist and murderer is caught.

Sergeant McShane devises a plan to trap the murderer. He arrests the dead girl's brother in the hope this will draw the killer out, thinking it's safe to attack another child.

Johnny borrows a revolver to protect his family, but it is Katie who ends up shooting the murderer in his crotch, leaving blood where his "worm-white" member had been. He had been lurking in shadows of the apartment hall when Francie came home from school. Katie, who was coming downstairs to meet her, sees the horrible man grabbing hold of an utterly paralyzed Francie. She goes back up the stairs to get the gun, which Johnny had put under the bed pillow. Her only mistake, she thinks, was that she didn't shoot him dead.

Chapter 34

Sissy devises a way to get a baby that she can pass off as her own—and she succeeds. A Sicilian girl, Lucia, is pregnant. Her father has locked her in her room, planning to starve her and her unborn baby to death by giving her only small amounts of bread and water. Aunt Sissy, shocked by what she hears, proposes taking care of Lucia until the baby is born, at which time she'll adopt it.

Unbeknownst to Lucia's father, her family agrees to Sissy's plan, allowing her out of her room to be with Sissy when he leaves for work, and locking her back up before he comes home. Meanwhile, Sissy arranges a midwife for Lucia, gets Francie to write a birth certificate with Sissy and John's name on it, and tells her John that she she's been pregnant, despite a very flat stomach. When Lucia gives birth, Sissy finally has a daughter, Sarah, whom everyone calls Little Sissy. John is talked into thinking the baby might be his, but nobody else is fooled.

That night Johnny worries that Katie might have similarly duped him. She gets the out of bed and stands Francie and Neeley before him. There is no doubt they are his children. Then she whispers something in his ear.

Analysis

Sex is another thing that changes Francie, as it changes everyone. Although her initial direct experience with it is negative, she has already had a lifetime around Sissy's uninhibited sexuality, which, combined with her own mother's forthrightness about it, puts sex in a less nefarious light.

Sissy continues to show herself as a smart, resourceful, imaginative person, and an immensely caring woman. But the fact that Sissy has to trick her husband, and Lucia and her mother have to trick the head of their household, shows the difficult position women are in. The alliance between the three women, moreover, provides another antidote to—or perhaps explanation of—the cruelty women often demonstrate toward each other.

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