A Tree Grows in Brooklyn | Study Guide

Betty Smith

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn | Book 4, Chapters 47–48 | Summary



Chapter 47

Neeley, who has inherited some of his father's artistic talent, sometimes plays piano at the neighborhood ice cream saloon. He is great at ragtime, and is getting better and better at jazz. Francie hasn't practiced the piano in months. Otherwise, after New Year's, the Nolans return to their routine. It's a bit lonely for Francie, who doesn't get to see her family together except for dinnertime.

In spring, the discussion of war intensifies. It is now looming in the background of everyone's thoughts. There is one good bit of news: Sissy is going to marry Steve in a church, and at his insistence. Sissy's previous husband, Jim the fireman, had died in the line of duty, and because they never got divorced, Sissy gets the notification. That does it for Steve, who wants everything out in the open and done right. Sissy is to get a proper divorce so she can marry Steve (whom she still calls "John") properly. He's done with "John," too. It also looks like he's already figured out that his baby girl likely isn't actually his, so there aren't anymore masks, tricks, and stories.

Sissy is pregnant, again, too. What should be wonderful news is met by Katie with alarm. After all, her beloved sister has had ten stillborn children. How could she take yet one more? But Sissy is determined that she and Steve will be parents (again).

Chapter 48

The newspaper headline on April 6, 1917, says it all: WAR. Francie knows this is an important date, and she marks it by collecting items for a time capsule.

Francie has to find a new job when the clipping office closes. One of its biggest clients, it turns out, is a German spy. Francie lands another job, which doesn't pay as well. The family stays afloat, nevertheless, and settles into a routine that suits Francie. Katie thinks Francie's schedule is well-suited to a return to school, and she proposes that Francie attend high school. She's almost 16, however, and Francie no longer wants to go to high school, sitting "with a bunch of baby kids [to] listen to an old maid teacher drool away about this and that." She knows she's too well-read, too accomplished a writer for all that. But talking to her mother gives her an idea. She'll take summer college courses during the day, and work at night. Francie is going to be a college student!


These two chapters reflect the tension between change and stability. Francie had predicted on New Year's Eve that important things would happen, and they are. Sissy's marriage is finally legitimate, and Steve knows about Sarah's real origins. Francie is going to be the first in her family to attend college—more than the fruition of Granma Mary Rommely's dream for her grandchildren. But the country is also going to war, and there's plenty of worry over Sissy's being pregnant again.

Next to Francie, Sissy develops the most over the course of the novel. She's no longer interested in other men, but rather is totally devoted to Steve. A proper church marriage, along with his dropping "John" for "Steve," signals this development.

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