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 15, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Tree-Grows-in-Brooklyn/.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn | Book 3, Chapters 35–36 | Summary



Chapter 35

Christmas is almost here again. Johnny hasn't been "sick" in a while, but he is acting strangely. Then one day he comes home in hysterics. The Waiters Union has kicked him out and wants its pin back. Meanwhile, the family is so hard up for money, they eat oatmeal for dinner.

Chapter 36

Johnny's death was foreshadowed earlier (Chapter 35), and comes to pass now. After disappearing for several days, he is found unconscious in a doorway. Sergeant McShane recognizes him at the hospital, and brings Katie to the hospital. She sits with Johnny, who is dying from pneumonia and never wakes up.

When she is taken to see the doctor for the death certificate, Katie insists he leave off alcoholism as the cause of death. Pneumonia can stay.

A life insurance policy pays for the funeral. Katie uses the last of the tin-can money to pay for the burial plot. She won't need it anymore, she tells Francie, since now they own a bit of land, just as Granma Mary Rommely advised her (Chapter 9).

At the wake, Francie notices how young her father looks. He's just 34. She, her mother, and Neeley hardly notice the number of people present to pay their respects. Johnny was loved by many. After the funeral, where Johnny's old girlfriend Hildy O'Dair cries the loudest and Katie cannot shed a tear, the family stops at the barbershop for Francie to retrieve Johnny's shaving cup. Katie gives Neeley Johnny's signet ring.

Back at home, Katie breaks down in uncontrollable weeping. Sissy tells her not to cry, since it will make her unborn child sad. Now the exchange between Katie and Johnny where she whispered something in his ear, which precipitated Johnny's breakdown, is clear—Katie is pregnant.


Katie makes sure that Johnny won't be officially remembered as a drunk. She also puts on a proper wake. She has been solid as a rock through it all. But her breakdown the night after the funeral reveals her as a sensitive person. She's just never had the luxury of displaying her feelings. With a third child on the way, she'll have even less time for such riches.

Johnny's early death is not surprising; Smith has foreshadowed it for some time, both in the narration and in some of Francie's diary entries. It is, nonetheless, a shocking turning point for his family. At 14 and 13, respectively, Francie and Neeley no longer have a father. The reader wonders what effect the absence of his emotional availability will have on them. It also solidifies Katie in her position as head of the household. Here, the reader wonders if this new situation will further detach her from Francie. Fortunately, however, Smith allows Katie to be vulnerable and emotional.

Another turning point occurs here as well. With the tin-can bank no longer needed, the reader understands Katie's clear-eyed view of her life. While it's true that, in owning the cemetery plot in which Johnny is buried means she owns property, Katie now knows that she will not achieve the purpose of the can.

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