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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Betty Smith

Chapters 55–56

Chapters 52–54

Important Quotations Explained

Summary

Chapter 55

Francie feels sentimental about leaving her teletyping job, but like her mother, she refuses displays of affection. Meanwhile, the family endures two more sad events: Mary Rommely dies and Willie Flittman leaves his family. Evy takes Willie's job at the factory. Francie wonders why so many sad things seem like dreams to her, and then thinks that maybe these things are real, and she is the dreamer. Life is going well for Francie. She has passed her college entrance exams with Ben's help and is going to University of Michegan in Ann Arbor. Ben has chosen this college for her. Francie knows she will always belong to Brooklyn.

Ben has given Francie a promise ring; he is not fickle and cruel like Lee. Still, Francie thinks again of Lee. When she leaves her office, the girls play the song that she and Lee danced to, "Till We Meet Again." Still, when she gets out of work, Ben is there to meet her, and she is happy to see him.

Chapter 56

On a Saturday in September, the Nolans move out of their apartment. The next day, Katie will marry Mr. McShane. Katie works on the last day in their apartment, even though Mr. McShane has given her $1000 as a wedding present. She writes a check to Evy for $200, the same amount of money Evy would have collected from Uncle Willie's death insurance.

That last Saturday, Francie goes down to Cheap Charlie's, pays $.50 and asks for all the prizes on the board. Early in the novel, the author describes the scene of kids at Cheap Charlie's. Children pay a penny, and Charlie draws a number. If they like the prize that matches the number, they can have it; otherwise, they can have candy instead. No one ever draws a good prize.) Now, Francie calls Charlie on his scam—kids always keep coming back, hoping for a nice toy they will never get. Charlie tells Francie he has to worry about his own family. She asks instead to buy a fifty-cent doll, and tells Charlie to let some kid win it.

Francie says goodbye to all her old neighborhood haunts—her school, McGarrity's saloon (which is now owned by someone else), and the library. For the first time, the bitter librarian looks up at Francie. Francie realizes that the librarian has never looked at the brown bowl with flora in it. Francie knows she will never return to her old neighborhood.

Packing her things, she comes across her diary, time capsule envelope, and four stories her teacher told her to burn. She decides that she might start writing again one day. Neeley bursts in the door, in a hurry to get to a show. Francie irons his shirt for him as they talk. Neeley calls Francie "Prima Donna" and starts to sing "Molly Malone." She asks him if he thinks she is good-looking. They say good-bye, since they will not have any more time alone before Francie leaves. He reminds her of Johnny.

Francie gets ready for her date with Ben, and wonders if some little girl is watching her get ready. Sure enough, ten-year-old Florry Wendy watches from a fire escape. Francie notices the tree in the yard for the last time.

Analysis

The last book in the novel is Francie's process of saying goodbye. By this time, Francie has a gained a good deal of self-knowledge and self-consciousness. She knows she will not come back to her neighborhood, and that she is visiting her old haunts for the last time. In Chapter 55, she has a passing thought that perhaps all of her experiences are not dreams, but that she is the dreamer. This philosophical self-consciousness shows that Francie is more aware of herself in her world; Francie seems to recognize that people's perceptions of the world are often more powerful than the world itself.

These two chapters also resolve Evy's circumstances. Once again, a strong Rommely woman takes the place of her weaker man. Just as Evy once learned to drive Drummer, now she takes Uncle Willie's place in the factory. When Katie writes Evy a check in the amount of Willie's death insurance, the narrator suggests that Katie thinks Willie is "as good as dead." If Willie's absence is a symbolic death, then it makes sense to compare Katie's and Evy's relationships with men. Both of their husbands are weak and worn out from lost dreams. Both women persevere, and find a way to provide for their families.

The last chapter tells of a Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn, just as the first Book begins on another Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn six years previously. Both the first Book and the last chapter take us on a virtual tour through Francie's neighborhood, and both discuss the tree in the yard. This writing technique produces an introduction and closure for the book. Of course, other than the setting, very little is the same: the reader experiences Brooklyn through the eyes of Francie at sixteen instead of Francie at 11.

Francie's stop at Cheap Charlie's dramatizes the differences quite well. Before, Francie would not even set foot inside. Now, she marches in and forces the owner to examine his conscience. Having become a woman, she sees the way Charlie deceives young children, and she also sees the reason that he has to do so—to take care of his own family. If Francie is no longer innocent, she has gained a tremendous amount of wisdom. Francie's stop at the library is a similar ritual: she lets the librarian know she has not paid her any attention in all the years she has come to take out books. Although these visits show that Francie has grown wiser and more assertive, they also are nostalgic moments. Wistfully, Francie gives Charlie $.50 to make one child happy, and she decides to keep her library card after visiting the old shabby building one last time.

The rest of the chapter continues to parallel the first Book. Just like Johnny rushes in to get ready for a gig in the first Book, Neeley comes home to get ready for the show. Francie irons her father's shirt in the first Book, and now irons Neeley's. When Neeley sings "Molly Malone" and calls Francie "Prima Donna" he symbolically replaces Johnny—he embodies Johnny's presence, and Johnny will continue to live through him. Francie again demonstrates her self-consciousness when she realizes that some little girl might be watching her just as she watched Flossie. She shows she is aware of time passing; younger girls are now living the life she once lived. This idea prompts the "good-bye Francie" that Francie says at the end of the book. "Francie," "Flossie," and "Florry" are all similar names. All three girls are connected by living a similar life—growing up in Brooklyn in the tenement district. Francie is not the only one growing up as a girl in a poor neighborhood. These three girls reassure that life will continue—that like the tree, there will always be little girls growing up like Francie, hopeful in times of hardship.

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by jessiedude64, July 22, 2012

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

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