Skip over navigation

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Betty Smith

Chapter 13–14

Chapters 10–12

Chapters 15–17

Summary

Chapter 13

The Nolans like their new home, and Johnny and Katie keep up the janitorial work. As time goes on, however, Katie does more of the work, and Johnny does less. Katie also continues to read one page of the Bible and one of Shakespeare every night, though neither she nor the children understand it.

Francie has a hard time making friends, partly because she uses Shakespearean and Biblical jargon. Still, she enjoys life out on the street in her neighborhood. The narrator describes all the sing-song games the children play on the streets in Brooklyn. One game called Potsy involves putting a tin-can on the trolley track and then using the metal for hopscotch. Francie loves all the street musicians, especially the organ grinder with the monkey. Katie, however, puts a damper on Francie's reveries, saying that the people who come with the big organ are all Sicilians who kidnap little children. She also dismisses Francie's dream of being an organ grinder and owning a monkey. The narrator writes that although there was always music and dancing in their neighborhood, there was something sad lurking beneath it all, in the children who had to take care of themselves at such a young age, and in all the people who couldn't ever make a better life for themselves.

Chapter 14

The Nolans have to move from their house on Lorimer Street after being disgraced by a two incidents involving Sissy. First, Sissy finds a bright new tricycle on the street, and gives Francie and Neeley a ride. The tricycle belongs to a child in the neighborhood, whose mother is furious, and calls Sissy a robber. Instead of getting Sissy in trouble, the officer on duty is charmed by Sissy's sexy figure, and allows her to keep playing. All of the neighbors see the officer acting silly in his lust.

The second incident happens when Sissy comes over to spend time with Francie and Neeley on her day off. She brings a cigar box and tissue paper, and the three of them spend all afternoon decorating the box with a tissue-paper heart. The children are upset when she has to leave. Searching for a distraction, she gives them a box, telling them it is filled with cigarettes and not to open it. The children shake the box. Knowing there are no cigarettes inside, they argue over whether the contents are worms or snakes. When they find condoms inside (which the narrator calls "balloons" at the beginning of the chapter), they tie them together and hang the string out their window.

Katie and her sister, Evy decide that Sissy will not be allowed at either of their houses. The Nolans move to yet another apartment in Williamsburg, on Grand Street. It is not as nice as the old one, but because the Nolans have the top room, the roof is theirs. While Katie argues with the movers (who she pays $2 out of the $8 in the tin-can bank, before re-nailing it into the new closet), Johnny and Francie go up to the roof. Francie is taken by the view of the bridges and Manhattan. Johnny comforts her after she sees a boy on another rooftop trap a pigeon for his coop. Johnny reflects to himself that he's already been married seven years, and that this will be his last home.

Chapter 13–14

The Nolans have to move two times, first because Johnny brings disgrace to their family, and second because Sissy does. Both these incidents require that Katie give up some savings from the tin-can bank. These moves also reaffirm the significance of setting in this novel. The surveillance in Williamsburg is like that in a small town. What the neighbors think is important. Although Katie tells Francie to not mind what the neighbors say, Katie also refuses to live in a place where their family cannot feel proud.

These chapters show the negative side of Sissy, her dealings with men and sex that bring shame to her family. Still Sissy's weakness and Johnny's are different. Johnny is worn down by life, and uses alcohol as an escape from his responsibilities. Sissy, on the other hand, runs into trouble only out of selflessness. In both incidents that lead to the move, she is trying to entertain Francie and Neeley. The narrator writes that Sissy's failings are that she is a great lover and a great mother. These are examples of her great mothering getting her into trouble.

In Chapter 14, Katie's argument with the movers and Johnny's trip with Francie to the roof are symbolic of both parents' character developments. (After the first move, it is Katie who immediately goes to the grocery store to establish a credit account.) On the roof, outside the grubby apartment and closer to the sky, more dreams are possible. Francie sees how beautiful the skyline is, and hardly believes her father has actually traveled across the Williamsburg bridge. The roof is Johnny's domain, while the interior is Katie's. Katie's janitorial work requires her to be indoors nearly all the time; this is where hard work is accomplished and the practical needs for the Nolan's life are met. Despite Johnny's weakness, the narrator means for us to see the good in him. He has given Francie an appreciation for beautiful things, and allows her to wonder.

The conversation between Johnny and Francie on the roof is typical in that Johnny's attention shifts between his daughter and his troubles. He alternately pays close attention to his daughter's concerns, and talks to himself, saying things Francie shouldn't necessarily hear. This same type of conversation takes place in the beginning of the book, when Francie is ironing Johnny's tuxedo, and he thinks out loud about how he shouldn't have had a family. These conversations are representative of Francie's relationship with her father. He has the power to make Francie feel comforted and happy, and the power to hurt her with his neglect.

The animals mentioned in these chapters develop the characters of Katie and Johnny. Like any little girl, Francie is in awe of the monkey who rides with the organ grinder, and thinks she could be an organ grinder and keep the monkey as a pet. When she tells her mother, Katie scoffs at her silliness, and says that monkeys have fleas. When Francie sees the boy on the rooftop capture the pigeon, she begins to cry, and worries out loud that the bird is separated from its family. Johnny, instead of dismissing her imagination, entertains her idea, and reassures her that maybe the pigeon didn't like his relations, and he will be happier.

More Help

Previous Next
Character List

by jessiedude64, July 22, 2012

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

1 Comments

13 out of 33 people found this helpful

Follow Us