A Tree Grows in Brooklyn | Study Guide

Betty Smith

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn | Book 3, Chapters 39–40 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 39

In May 1916 Francie and Neeley are confirmed, but there is no joy in it for Francie. Meanwhile, her grades slide, and she begins writing about topics her teacher, Miss Garnder, finds "sordid." She wants Francie to write about beautiful things, and instructs her to burn what she's written when she gets home: "As the flames rise, keep saying: 'I am burning ugliness.'" After the encounter, Francie tries to understand Miss Garnder's meaning, which leads her to ponder what might become a chasm between her life and her art. As she becomes more educated, will she be ashamed of her past? Her family? An emphatic no is her answer. If she has to choose, she will choose her family.

The time has also come for Francie to realize what Katie always knew would come out. The baby is due and Katie wants her close by. Francie, though heartbroken at being bereft of the sort of love her Papa had shown her, understands that Mama loves Neeley more than her, but thinks this might be okay: "she needs me more than she needs him and I guess being needed is almost as good as being loved. Maybe better."

Chapter 40

Anne Laurie is born later that month. During labor, Katie sends Francie away to shield her from the agony and blood, but this distresses Francie. The 14-year-old had felt important to her mother, being by her side leading up to the momentous event. During labor, Katie's screams are heard through the walls of the tenement. The narrator describes the characters' various responses.

Analysis

Francie makes an important transition in these chapters. She learns that education is partly a process of adapting to her environment, as is her father's death and her little sister's birth. When one is a very small child, the world feels as if things have forever been the way one finds them. Most experiences are brand new, and the child is outward directed, assimilating to the world without yet reflecting on its influences. In some sense, the child and world are one and the same.

Francie is now making conscious choices about how she wants to react to the world. She is becoming her own person as she reflects on what is happening. So, for example, she still feels the pang of hurt knowing her mother prefers Neeley to her, but she also understands better how her mother views her. Unlike Neeley, who needs encouragement from the "outside," Francie is driven from within. She is strong like the Rommely women.

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