A Tree Grows in Brooklyn | Study Guide

Betty Smith

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn | Book 4, Chapters 49–50 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 49

Francie's lifelong devotion to reading and writing has resulted in skills that make it possible for her to take summer college classes. She works at night, after all, and can fit in some classes during the day. A helpful boy named Ben Blake guides Francie through the book-buying process, and soon becomes her "guardian angel." A high school student who's been taking summer college courses for three years, Ben will graduate having already completed more than a year of college.

The studious and focused Ben is an inspiration. At 19 years old, he has his future planned out, right through to the best place to start a political career. With his help and encouragement Francie decides to take the college's entrance exams. She also falls in love with Ben, but he's too busy with his life's plan to have a relationship. He's going back to school in the fall, but he says he'll write if he has time.

When her job moves to daytime, Francie's evenings are lonely once again. She also fails all but one of her entrance exams, but she is undaunted. She will try again.

Chapter 50

Sissy prepares for her baby's birth with a plan no Rommely woman had ever even dreamed of: she will have it in the hospital with a doctor's help—and a Jewish doctor at that. No midwife or neighbor or mother involved. Childbirth, once the sole domain of women, is suddenly allowing men. Despite her sisters' protests that she should at least have a Christian doctor attend the birth, Sissy is adamant. Steve is adamant, too. He wants his wife to have the best medical technology around. Sissy has her usual easy childbirth, but the baby appears to be stillborn, once again, until the doctor revives him with oxygen. And so Sarah has a little brother, Stephen, two years younger than she.

Analysis

Francie's initial attraction to, and success with, chemistry suggests a tension between faith and reason. Indeed, Francie thinks it would be swell if there were a religion based on the principles in chemistry. Although she has professed a religious devotion once again, she is not confined to its version of knowledge. Here, the reader finds another set of interesting contrasts. Raised in a devout Catholic family, it is intensely religious Mary Rommely who initially pressed the importance of education (Chapter 9). Moreover, Francie's introductions to formal education were entirely negative (Chapter 15 and Chapter 19).

Sissy's dream is finally realized. The birth of her son is the culmination of a life searching for, and giving, love. And as Sissy's love is being fulfilled, Francie is finding it for the first time. It is not a coincidence, in addition, that Ben is quite the opposite of her beloved father: organized, perhaps to a fault, ambitious, and driven to succeed.

Sissy's hospital delivery is another signal to the reader that much in society is changing. The technology that allows Sissy's baby to live may be offset, however, in terms of its intrusion into what was once an intimate, women-only event.

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