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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Betty Smith

Chapters 52–54

Chapters 49–51

Chapters 55–56

Summary

Chapter 52

Francie's friend, Anita, needs a favor. Anita wants Francie to entertain her beau's friend, so that she and her beau may spend some time together alone. When Francie saw the friend's charming smile, she decided she would like to help. Anita takes off with her sweetheart, leaving Lee Rynor and Francie alone together. They go out for chop suey, and Lee asks if Francie will pretend that she is his "best girl" just for the evening, even though he is engaged to be married to someone else. They talk for hours, and at the end of the night he kisses her. The next day, Francie knows he will be waiting for her after work. They go out to eat, and then to dance, where Francie has the same thought that Katie had dancing with Johnny almost twenty years before—that she would sacrifice anything to spend her life with this man. "Till We Meet Again" plays, will be the song that always reminds Francie of Lee.

Lee is leaving the next morning to go home and spend time with his mother before going off to fight the war in France. He tells Francie he loves her and he will not marry the woman to whom he is engaged. Then he asks if she will get a room with him for the night. He keeps telling her he is afraid he will never see her again. Francie says no, but promises to write him a letter that night, reaffirming her feelings for him. She goes home and writes out all of her love for him.

Chapter 53

Francie waits for a letter from Lee. Finally, two days later, she receives a letter from his new wife. They had been married in those two days. The new wife thanks Francie for entertaining Lee while he was in New York, and sends his apologies for "'[pretending] to be in love with [Francie].'" Francie is heartbroken, and calls for Katie. Katie realizes she can no longer protect her child from the hurt of the world. Then, Francie asks her mother if she should have slept with Lee, and Katie tells her "two truths." As a mother, Katie believes Francie should not have risked ruining her life by sleeping with Lee—someone she knew for only forty-eight hours. As a woman, Katie believes it would have been a "beautiful thing" since that kind of love only happens once. Francie cries for hours, and thinks of writing Ben Blake, but does not.

Chapter 54

Sergeant McShane whose wife has died, pays a visit to the Nolan house. The Nolan children impress him, especially in their good health. Francie remembers that most of his fourteen children were born sickly and died. In front of the children, he asks Katie to marry him. Katie says she will marry him, not because of his public position or wealth, but because he is a "good man." He knows that Francie and Neeley already have a father, but asks if he can adopt Laurie and she can carry his name. Everyone consents. Neeley and Francie put Laurie to bed, and muse that she will have an easy life, but will never have the fun her siblings had.

Analysis

Lee Rynor gives Francie her first experience with romantic love, and the heartbreak that follows. Unlike Ben Blake, Lee is not particularly successful or outstanding in any conventional way. His personality is more closely aligned with Johnny's, which perhaps explains at least part of Francie's affection for him. Their dancing excursion is reminiscent of Katie and Johnny's early dates. Just like her mother, Francie realizes while she is dancing with Lee that she would sacrifice anything to spend her life with him. Although her love is shattered, perhaps an ending in which Francie married Lee would be equally unsatisfying, if not more so. Francie, with more education and resources than her mother had, has the opportunity to live a fuller life; having a husband who could not take care of himself or his family would set her back all over again. Although we do not know much about Lee—whether or not he would be as weak as Johnny—Francie does meet him in the same circumstances as her mother and father met, which suggests a similar situation to Katie's might follow.

Katie's suggestion that having sex with Lee would have been a "beautiful thing" reveals that Katie, practical and detached, still remembers what it feels like to fall in love. This conversation also shows her addressing Francie in a different way—no longer as if she were her little girl, but instead, as a woman. Katie notes that her daughter calls her "mother" instead of "Mama" signifying that Francie is no longer a child. Katie also realizes that no mother can protect her child from this kind of suffering. This heartache marks Francie's last major fall from innocence in the book.

Sergeant McShane's visit to the Nolans marks a huge turning point for their family. Francie's and Neeley's positive reaction to his entry into their family suggests that they have resolved their grief over Johnny's death. (Of course, Francie never forgets things—she still has a twinge of pain when she sees him in Johnny's chair.) McShane demonstrates his goodness when he responds so happily to news of the children. He also is sensitive enough to say that he will not be a father to Francie and Neeley, and ask permission to adopt Laurie.

McShane's proposal to Katie is the climax of the novel—everything that follows this event is resolution. McShane will be good to Katie. He also will provide enough financial resources to the family to ensure that Francie and Neeley can go to college. He is a sign that Francie and Neeley have made it through the most difficult times of their lives, and that the new child will not encounter such hardship. The last lines of the chapter, when Neeley and Francie pity Laurie, suggest that the two older children lived a happy childhood despite material scarcity. The book in general finishes on this same positive note—that there is more good in the world than evil.

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by jessiedude64, July 22, 2012

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

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