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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Betty Smith

Chapters 43–45

Chapters 40–42

Chapters 46–48

Summary

Chapter 43

Francie begins working at a factory, where she makes tissue paper flowers all day. The other girls make fun of her, until she laughs at the serious utility boy and gains their respect. At the end of the day, Francie and Neeley meet to turn in their week's pay for brand new bills. They will present the new bills to Mama. At the bank, the teller remembers giving his first pay to his mother, and watching as "tears stood in her eyes." When Katie sees the money, and goes into the bedroom, Francie knows she is crying. Francie suggests that they start a new tin-can bank without telling Mama.

Chapter 44

When the layoff comes at the factory, Francie decides she will try a different kind of job. She gets a job as a file clerk in Manhattan, after buying new clothes so that she looks sixteen. The Williamsburg Bridge is not as thrilling as Francie once thought it would be. Francie gets a job working as a reader at the clippings bureau. She reads faster than any of the women there, and receives the least pay. Francie finds many things disappointing—the bridge, the buildings in New York, and the city itself. She worries she is growing cynical and will never find anything thrilling, even if she travels the entire country. One day, a man on the El Train gropes her, which Sissy finds thrilling, but Katie and Francie do not. One day Francie's boss offers her the city reader job, the most coveted job in the office. He will pay $20 a week.

Francie does not tell Katie about the raise, out of fear that Katie will not want her to go back to high school. Katie decides independently that Neeley will go back to high school and Francie will not. They cannot afford to have both go to school, and Neeley does not want to go, while Francie does. Katie reasons that if Francie really wants to go to school, she will find a way to do it, while Neeley would not without her making him. This decision sparks a big fight among the three of them, especially between Katie and Francie. Francie notices that Katie "fumbles" while picking up a cracked cup, and Francie likens their family to a cup, once strong and now cracked.

Chapter 45

Christmas comes and the Nolans have money with which to buy presents. The four of them bargain for a new hat for Mama and buy Laurie a new sweater suit. Then Francie and Neeley buy gifts for each other—spats (ornamental stirrups worn over the shoes) for Neeley and lingerie for Francie. They also buy a real, growing tree, only two feet high. After Christmas, they will leave it on the fire escape. Katie says Francie and Neeley will collect horse manure for it, and Francie says they are rich enough to have things done for them. Francie notices she's starting to remember Papa* {Johnny}* with tenderness instead of pain. At church Christmas morning, Francie is proud of her grandfather's carvings on the alter, and in her thoughts, reaffirms her Catholic identity. They all say a prayer for the repose of Johnny's soul.

Analysis

Francie's and Neeley's first real jobs signal that they have entered the adult world. As Francie says, even if she is only fourteen, she has to pretend she is sixteen, and doing so actually makes her into an older person. When she tells her mother "years have gotten into us," she shows that she no longer feels like a little girl. Entering the adult world also means leaving behind a childlike wonder for the world. One thinks back to Johnny and Francie on the roof at their apartment on move-in day. Francie dreamed of what it would be like over the Williamsburg bridge. Now, the bridge is her first disappointment, with its streets just like those in Brooklyn. The bridge symbolizes the transition from childhood to adulthood; once Francie travels across it once, she sees the world differently.

Although work brings a host of new realities for the Nolan children, Francie is not lured by the world of money and luxury. She knows that taking her new promotion would mean that her mother could quit her job, and all the Nolans could live a much easier, more luxurious life. Knowing the temptation of this life, Francie still wants to go back to school. She anticipates astutely how many more choices she would have with a high school or college education. At one point in the factory, Francie begins to think about what it would be like to live one's whole life working in a factory, just so one could have food, so that one could return to work the next day. Katie thinks it would be terrible to live one's life getting food from charity, only so one could eat enough to have enough energy to go back for more. Not only do these moments demonstrate how similar mother and daughter have become, but they also show that Francie will have more opportunity in life than her mother did. For Katie, the worst scenario would be to take money from charity; Francie's worst scenario—working in a factory—is still better. Francie never thinks she might not be able to work.

The scene at the bank teller develops the American dream motif of the novel. This scene dramatizes the bond among American workers. First the teller begins a story of taking home his first pay, then the next man in line. Francie imagines that everyone there has a similar story. She says that all workers "have this one thing together"; just like the pain of childbirth bonds all women together, taking home their first pay bonds all workers. The American dream—the possibility that a son or daughter can do better in life than his or her parents—is symbolized in this act. The mothers cry out of joy that their children can make a better life for themselves.

The fight between Francie and Katie further develops the fall from innocence motif. The cracked cup in this chapter symbolizes the imperfection of the family. When Francie was little, their family seemed strong, like a whole cup. Part of growing up means realizing that parents are not perfect. When Katie "fumbles" trying to pick up the cup, Francie loses an assuredness that her mother will always be strong and do what is right.

As Francie grows older, she becomes more like Katie. This development is the very reason that they can never feel as intimate as Francie and her father. The fight results because both women are certain they are right, and as Francie says, fighting for what she thinks is right is exactly what Katie has taught her to do. Francie also reasons that mother and daughter do not understand one another because they do not understand themselves. Neeley is more loved by her mother because Katie does not see all of her own shortcomings in someone so different from herself.

Since the time of their father's sickness and death, Neeley and Francie seem to have grown closer. As they grow older, they share more experiences and more memories. By the end of the Chapter 45, Francie has also made her peace with God. Now, a whole year after Johnny died, Francie can remember him with tenderness, without losing her religious faith.

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by jessiedude64, July 22, 2012

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

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