A Tree Grows in Brooklyn | Study Guide

Betty Smith

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn | Book 3, Chapters 37–38 | Summary



Chapter 37

Francie tells Neeley she no longer believes in God, which frightens her younger brother. In a rare display of tenderness, Katie hugs them, and gives them each a kiss. She tells them she is now both their mother and father.

Chapter 38

Katie, heavily pregnant, finds it hard to do her work. The women for whom she cleans end up doing most of the cleaning themselves, and many let Katie go. The family is in dire straits when Katie learns that she can cash in the children's insurance policies to help them get by through April. She wouldn't have known she could do this if the insurance collector, who was a friend of the Rommelys, hadn't told her.

Then McGarrity, the lonely owner of the saloon where Johnny drank, pays a visit. He offers both Francie and Neeley jobs that will bring in enough money so both can remain in school. He wants to do more—offers more—but Katie politely but firmly declines. She will not take handouts.

Katie and Francie visit Aunt Sissy and Granma Mary Rommely, who now lives with her. Francie holds Sissy's baby—a first time for her—and realizes she loves them.


In these chapters, we see Katie's character in stark relief. With Johnny no longer in the picture as a sort of counterpoint to her personality, some of her vulnerabilities show through—there was clearly a chink in her emotional armor when she broke down in Chapter 37. She may be strong, but, as the insurance policy scene demonstrates, she—like other poor and mostly uneducated people—can be taken advantage of by those with more power.

The exchanges between McGarrity and Katie reveal both her tenderness and propriety. Desperately lonely, despite being married with children, or perhaps because of it, he seems clearly to want to be part of the Nolan family. McGarrity always loved the way Johnny talked about his family, and he wished they were his own. With Johnny's death, Katie could easily accept his largesse, but she refuses; she also refuses his overtures to continue visiting.

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