A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
At thirteen, Francie sees her name in print for the first time when her composition is printed in the school magazine. On her way back from buying it she sees Joanna on the street, walking her baby. The neighborhood knows that Joanna's baby is illegitimate—they call it a bastard. She is a beautiful baby, and Joanna takes good care of her. Nonetheless, when Joanna smiles at Francie, Francie does not smile back, feeling like she should not be friendly to girls like Joanna.
A group of gossips have gathered around Joanna, and finally they start taunting her, then stoning her. One stone hits the baby, and draws blood, and Joanna finally goes inside. Francie, out of pity, sacrifices her one magazine, leaving it as a gift for Joanna in the baby carriage. Francie feels so hurt that she goes down to the cellar to recover. There, she discovers that she has had her period for the first time. Katie tells her to "remember Joanna" as she can now have babies. Francie wonders how women can be so cruel to one another.
Uncle Willie Flittman's horse, Drummer, hates Uncle Willie and often urinates on Willie while he's washing the horse. The horse loves Aunt Evy Katie's sister and Uncle Willie's wife. One day, the horse kicks Willie in the head, knocking him unconscious. While Willie is in the hospital, Evy teaches herself to drive the horse so she can take over Willie's milk delivery route. Evy is the first woman to deliver milk on the route; the men love her. She gives Drummer all kinds of treats. When Willie comes back, they give him a new horse, and give an effeminate young man Drummer. Even so, Drummer must visit Evy every day.
Francie had started a diary in December, on her thirteenth birthday. Now, nearly a year later, she is reading it. The diary entries take up most of the chapter. Most of them tell that Papa is "sick" again—Katie's way of saying that he is drunk. Other entries mention the "North Pole" game, which the author has explained in earlier chapters. The Nolans play this game when they do not have enough food, pretending they are explorers in the Arctic, waiting for rescue to arrive. Also, the diary tells that Flossie Gaddis and Frank are going to be married, and that Francie is curious about sex.
People in Francie's neighborhood do not know how to tell their children about sex, mostly because they do not know the correct words. Katie, on the other hand, was determined to answer Francie's questions as best she could. The neighborhood parents did not shy away from telling their children about sexual violence when they heard that a prowler had killed a seven-year-old girl. McShane investigates the case, and arrests the girl's brother, hoping to deceive the real killer into thinking he was safe to commit another crime. This time, McShane would be waiting for him.
Worried the rapist could attack Francie, Johnny borrows his friend Burt's gun. Burt is a night watchman, and sometimes Johnny covers his shift for him so that Burt may run home to make sure his wife is not cheating on him. After a while, most of the neighborhood feels more secure, but Katie still keeps her guard up. One day, she comes home from the house she is cleaning to make sure that Francie is home from school on time. When Francie opens the door at the bottom of the apartment building, she is attacked. Katie comes down the stairs, sees her, and goes back to get the gun. The prowler's penis touches Francie's leg, but that is all he can do before Katie shoots him in the stomach. Katie drags Francie up the stairs, and throws the gun in the wash basin. The police come by, and find out that Johnny's gun is unregistered; he will be charged five dollars. They also say that Katie did not kill the boy, but suggest he will be executed. A careless news reporter gets the details of the story wrong, and Katie is protected from public criticism. Sergeant McShane tries to give Katie money for her good deed, but she refuses it. He thinks that he would like to marry Katie one day.
These chapters further develop the motif of falling from innocence. In just a few pages, Francie learns about sex from many different sources. First, there is the cruelty directed at a woman who became pregnant without a husband. Francie starts to mensturate, and finds out she too could get pregnant; finally, she herself is the victim of sexual violence. These chapters also explore the idea of gender. In each, one woman is the central character for the chapter: first Joanna, out in the street; then Evy, who the horse loves; then Francie pouring over her diary; and last, Katie, shooting the rapist.
Joanna's situation confuses Francie because of the numerous contradictions involved. Joanna is kind to Francie, but Francie feels that she shouldn't be kind to Joanna. Joanna is a good mother, but mothers far inferior criticize and stone her. Francie remembers how happy and pretty Joanna used to look standing next to her boyfriend, and can't understand how that innocent happiness ended in shame. Through Francie's childlike perspective, the author demonstrates the hypocrisy inherent in shaming a woman who had a child without getting married. The stone-throwing ritual is an obvious allusion to the Biblical passage, in which Jesus encounters a group of people about to throw stones at a prostitute. He declares the one who has never sinned should cast the first stone. No one throws stones because none can say he hasn't sinned. In this book, Joanna plays the part of the prostitute. The hypocrisy of the women throwing stones is obvious when Francie mentions that one of them was six months pregnant before she got married.
Francie's observations about women turning on each other show that she is conscious of gender relations. Francie has a feminist instinct that women ought to "love and protect each other against the man-world." She notices that men always defend other men, but women only criticize other women. This camaraderie gives men a power that women do not have. The strong women in Francie's family never exhibit cruelty toward other women. In fact, Aunt Evy and Katie both take part in activities in these chapters that could make them the object of cruel gossip. As the first woman on the milk route, Aunt Evy is entering a male realm. Evy's strength comes not only from her willingness to act like a man, but also her motherly instinct. The reader remembers that she is able to drive Drummer because he loves her so much, and he loves her because she has treated him in a kind and gentle way. Maternal values win out over masculine force. Uncle Willie has tried to make the horse cooperate by punching him in the belly, for instance. Evy's kind care—traditionally thought to be a woman's trait—is in fact what propels her into the male domain, and is the source of her success with the horse.
Katie faces sex in all its forms head on. At the beginning of Chapter 33, the narrator describes the way Katie confronts the sex conversation with Francie head on. This detail foreshadows her ability to confront the rapist by the end of the chapter. The narrator has mentioned earlier that the prowler is on the loose, partly because when he attacks a young girl, no one says anything, in fear of tainting their daughters' reputations. Katie represents the opposite extreme; she is so unfearful, she catches him herself. The narrator writes that Katie is the subject of gossip after the shooting.
The Nolan women live in a realm on the other side of the gossip circles, more often becoming the subject of gossip themselves. The Nolan women defy traditional stereotypes of women. Francie is not shamed, but was tainted by sexual violence. Both Katie and Evy defy the stereotype of a good mother by taking matters into their own hands. Sissy of course is considered by some to be a stereotypical whore, but she is so good that no one who knows her thinks ill of her. When Francie writes that the only women she wants as friends are her mothers and aunts, she is choosing strong women as role models instead of cowardly gossips.