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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Betty Smith

Chapters 37–39

Chapters 34–36

Chapters 40–42

Summary

Chapter 37

Katie sends her children on a walk the day after the funeral. When the children see an announcement for a "Sweet Singer" they cry out their grief for the first time. Francie says bad things about God which frighten Neeley. She ends by saying she no longer believes in Him. At home, their mama has made them hot chocolate. Like her children, Katie has also been crying. That night, the read the Christmas story, and Katie wonders if Johnny stopped drinking because he was trying to be better for the coming child. In an unusual gesture, she kisses her children and tells them she is their mother and their father now.

Chapter 38

Katie's baby is due in May, and she is not well enough to work as hard as usual. When she cannot pay her insurance, the agent, who has been like a friend to their family, advises her to cash in her children's policies, which earns her some money. Still she is in dire straits financially. Her sisters say that Francie must work, but Katie wants her to finish school. She prays to God and the Virgin Mary without an answer before praying to Johnny.

McGarrity, who owns the saloon Johnny frequented, has much money and misses Johnny dearly. He lived out his dreams vicariously through Johnny. He wished for a family like Johnny's, and used to pretend Johnny's wife and kids were his own. His wife Mae is a saloon lady, not someone he can have meaningful conversation with. McGarrity comes over to the Nolan's house to offer Francie and Neeley after-school jobs, hoping that they will talk to him the way Johnny used to do. He ends up talking to Katie for a long time about the Johnny he knew and loved. Francie and Neeley end up working hard for McGarrity but do not talk to him the way he wishes.

Katie and Francie go to visit Mary Rommely who lives with Sissy now. Sissy has grown stouter and no longer wears perfume. On the way home, Francie laughs for the first time since Johnny died.

Chapter 39

Francie and Neeley are confirmed, and Francie takes her mother's name. Francie is writing a novel to prove to her teacher she can write about beautiful things. Ever since Johnny died, she has gotten poor scores on her compositions because of their "ugly" subjects. Miss Garnder believes Francie to be a good writer, but thinks she should write about beautiful things. By beautiful, the teacher really means positive and flowery; poverty and drunkenness are considered ugly and dull subjects. The teacher cannot use Francie's play at graduation and tells Francie to go home and burn all her "sordid" compositions.

Francie's novel tells of a rich girl who lives in a beautiful house and bosses around her cooks. Francie daydreams a conversation in which she shows Miss Garnder the novel and the teacher is overcome with praise. But as Francie continues writing, she realizes the novel and all of her "A" compositions are written about things she knows nothing about. She burns them all, keeping only the compositions that earned her poor marks.

Lonely, Francie goes to find Katie, praying that God will not let her die, like papa. She watches Katie scrub. On the way home Katie tells Francie how much she needs her now that the baby is coming.

Analysis

Johnny's death leaves Francie lonely partly because she knows that Neeley is Katie's favorite. Francie and her father naturally bonded, and now she is left without his lavish displays of affection and warmth. All the same, Francie is terrified that Katie will die. Katie begins to fill in some of the affection she once received from Johnny, especially when Katie offers her children an uncustomary good-night kiss. By the end of Chapter 39, Francie realizes how much Katie needs Francie's help in the days leading to the childbirth, and feels that being needed is just as important as being loved.

Johnny's death is another fall from innocence for Francie. When she and Neeley go out for a walk, Francie even asserts that she no longer believes in God. The author develops a religious theme in the book through the consciousness of the young girl. The separation from God signifies a fall from innocence. Francie begins to puzzle over the big questions: if God brought Johnny into the world, did not that mean that God wanted him alive? Why is God punishing Johnny? Although Francie has questioned God's means before, she never says she doesn't believe in Him until her father dies.

One way that Francie recovers a sense of faith is through McGarrity. As Mary Rommely says, pieces of human beings pass through the souls of the people they have touched. Johnny passed through McGarrity's soul when he came to offer work to the Nolan children, and tell them all about how he knew and loved Johnny. Although Johnny's life was filled with empty dreams, Johnny's life was also the dream that McGarrity never could have. While others saw Johnny as a no-good drunk, McGarrity would have given anything to have Johnny's family. McGarrity thus offers a comforting way for the family to think of Johnny's life.

The children do not grieve for their father until they read a sign on the street, showing how knowledge affects their coming-of-age process. The narrator points out that the children read everything they see, and knowledge—knowing how to read—functions as another kind of fall from innocence. In this case, when the children see the vaudeville sign, they must confront their fathers' death. The idea of reading, in this case, carries extra weight because of how the Nolan family views education. Johnny knows how important education is for his children; upon his death, they not only can read words, but the words have such intense meaning that the children begin to weep. This emotion shows an attachment to words beyond utilitarian usages. The children are spurred to grief through their ability to read.

This scene is relevant to Francie's new journal compositions. The stories that Francie used to write earned her "A's" but had no meaning for her. In fact, they told of things she had never seen with her own eyes. Now, she uses words to communicate emotion, and not just to concoct empty characters or descriptions. Francie recognizes education as a fall from innocence, especially in Chapter 39. She worries that having an education will make her ashamed of her background; writing such novels as her teacher likes would undoubtedly encourage this shame. Her teacher essentially asks her to separate herself from her background when she steers her toward flowery, perfect stories about happy, unreal things. Francie refuses this separation when she burns all her old stories. One has the impression that Francie's uneasiness about her writing still must resolve itself.

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by jessiedude64, July 22, 2012

Mr. Seigler
-owns a cheap, dry-goods store

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