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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Betty Smith

Chapters 40–42

Chapters 37–39

Chapters 43–45

Summary

Chapter 40

Francie takes care of Katie the days and hours before she goes into labor. The evening of the birth, Francie sends Neeley for Evy and tells tells her mama straightforwardly that Neeley would know better how to comfort her. Katie goes into a monologue about how men should not assist in births, that women always insist they stand beside them. The narrator suggests that she misses Johnny terribly, and is trying to rationalize his absence. Katie then says that she needs Francie, not Neeley. Katie suddenly feels guilty that she has not read any of Francie's compositions, and to comfort her, Francie recites Shakespeare to Katie as they wait.

Evy and Sissy kick Francie out of the room once they arrive, leaving Francie hurt and alone. They decide not to call the midwife. When the baby is about to be born, they send Francie for food, on Katie's demand; Katie wants to spare Francie some of the agony of childbirth. Neighbors everywhere hear Katie screaming, and the women suffer vicariously, sharing the pain that brings women together. Katie lets Francie write the birth of Annie Laurie (who is named after a song Johnny used to sing) in the family's Bible.

Chapter 41

McGarrity needs Francie and Neeley to stay on even after the birth, though he had planned to let them go. His saloon is busy now that the world is changing. The chapter provides snippets from many anonymous conversations at the "poor man's club," the corner saloon. They talk of the dawn of prohibition, the possibility of the woman's vote, whether or not President Wilson will keep them out of war, whether or not they will go if there is a war, and new technologies.

Chapter 42

Graduation night comes shortly after the baby, Laurie, is born. Katie goes to Neeley's graduation since Francie decided to go to school farther away. Francie is a little hurt, but Sissy accompanies her. Girls are usually presented with flowers after the ceremony, but Francie does not tell her mother, knowing there is no money for flowers. Although her C- in English is hurtful, Francie feels better when she sees that there are two dozen red roses on her desk. With them is a note, addressed to her, and signed "Love from Papa." Sissy explains that he wrote the card a year ago, and gave it to her with $2 to buy roses. The girls are nice to Francie when they are saying their good-byes. Francie then says good-bye to Miss Garnder, who Francie no longer hates, but feels sorry for.

At home, Katie tells Neeley his "B" and "C's" are good before concentrating on Francie's "C-." Sissy stops Katie's scolding, and Katie, Francie, Neeley and Evy go out for ice cream. Katie floats into a reverie while they eat about her children's future; she would give anything to see them through high school, but knows it is impossible with a new baby. She thinks also of Sergeant McShane. When the bill comes, Katie leaves a $.20 tip, so that they can all feel like they have plenty of money, just for a night.

Analysis

Since Johnny's death, Katie is more aware of the way she treats both of her children. In the midst of her labor, she bemoans out loud to Francie that she has not read her compositions, even though Francie is such a good writer. Now that Francie has burned them, it is too late. Francie obviously does not want Katie to know about the compositions written after Johnny's death.

The mother and daughter bond in the days leading up to Laurie's birth. The author reaffirms that the pain of childbirth is what connects all women to each other when the neighborhood women hear Katie's screams. Francie will enter this community of women one day. For now, Katie, preserving Francie's innocence, sends her daughter for food when the baby is delivered. When Francie sees her mother afterward, she comments that they were like strangers. The distance is the result of Francie's absence during this vicarious experience of suffering.

Chapter 41 makes use of the omniscent point of view by presenting the voices of an entire community of men. The snippets of conversation in McGarrity's provide a cross-section of the voices, opinions, and emotions of a localized group. Because no names are given, we hear only voices, as in a crowd scene. The narrator communicates the conventional wisdom surrounding political and technological issues, not individualized opinions. This technique also allows the author to give historical context to the novel, without upstaging the main characters. The chapter flashes by like a list of newspaper headlines, or radio clips, providing the political and social tenor of the time.

The imminence of war is an underlying fear throughout these chapters. It surfaces first in the conversation in the bar, then in the song the children sing at graduation, I Didn't Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier. The principal alludes to it in his speech, and Katie thinks of it in terms of Neeley and the draft.

Francie's graduation provides her a chance to come to peace with Johnny's death. When she first sees her roses, she thinks that maybe Johnny's death was all a dream. When Sissy brings her back to reality, she has another opportunity to grieve not only for Johnny. The narrator explains that she cries not only for her father, but also because she is exhausted from worrying about Katie and for her disappointing end in her English class. These additional reasons still relate back to Johnny's death. Presumably, without his death, she would not have worried over her mother, and her stories would still be rose-tinted enough to please her teacher. Francie's hardness breaks all at once in her gust of tears. These hardships, however, signify that she is losing more of her innocence, and growing into a woman.

The preoccupation with money surfaces again at the ice cream parlor when everyone waits to see if Katie will leave a tip. Five cents is the custom, so Katie's action is extremely extravagant. Like throwing out a daily cup of coffee, leaving a huge tip makes Katie and her children feel richer, like they can waste something.

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by jessiedude64, July 22, 2012

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

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