A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Francie keeps track of the year by holidays, beginning with the fourth of July. She especially loves Election Day. In Brooklyn, the Oyster House is an old building where Big Chief Tammany hung around over one hundred years before, and where City Hall politicians used to meet in secret meetings to decide who would be elected. The children still sing a song about Tammany in the streets; the word "Tammany" is used to describe the town's political party system in general.
Johnny and Katie argue over politics, as Johnny is a staunch supporter of the Democratic party. Katie has no political allegiance, but is critical of the party. Katie says when women vote, they will kick all the crooked politicians out. Johnny says she will go to the polls with him, and vote like he wants her to.
The Mattie Mahoney Association, representing the Democrats, holds an excursion especially to lure in women and children, who will one day be voters. At the event, Francie learns a lesson in gambling when she loses a hotdog and ride tickets to a game of marbles. A kind Sergeant McShane gives her extras, and notices how pretty Katie is. Katie, likewise, notices him, and covers her chafed hands with her gloves. The reader then finds out that McShane married a troubled pregnant girl as a kind gesture to her family, who had taken him in. After having fourteen children, ten of whom have died, the woman is in bad health. Katie tells Johnny she hopes the woman dies, so McShane can marry again. This comment makes Johnny sadly surprised.
Although Mattie Mahoney's name and face is everywhere, Francie can't ever find the man himself. Although most election festivities end in November, in January, Katie splurges every year by going to the Ladies' Day at the Democratic Headquarters.
The narrator explains that Johnny is sentimental and gleeful when he is sober and quietly thoughtful when drunk. After his drinking binges, he feels like he needs to be a better father. Like Mary Rommely, he wants to see his children get more education than he did. Sometimes he takes them to Bushwick Avenue, the boulevard in old Brooklyn to teach them civics, geography, and sociology. He and Francie get talking about the carriages, and he explains to Francie that anyone in America can ride in a carriage—provided they have the money. Francie does not understand why it's a free country if you have to pay. Johnny explains simply that otherwise they would have Socialism. Before they leave, he also shows Francie the mayor's house.
Francie remembers another time on this same avenue, when there was a parade with many roses, to celebrate Dr. Cook, a Brooklynite who'd made it all the way to the North Pole with the American flag.
Still tracking the year through holidays, the narrator tells about Thanksgiving in Brooklyn, when all the children dress in costume and beg for goodies at the neighborhood shops. The shops which depend on children for their sales are certain to give treats. That Thanksgiving, Francie wears a Chinaman's mask.
Francie begins to write after an incident at school. When a girl brings in a small pumpkin pie to school to symbolize the holiday, Francie's teacher asks who will take it home. Francie says she will take it to a poor family, but instead eats it herself. (It tastes terrible.) The next day, she gets carried away in her story, and the teacher knows that Francie has eaten the pie. The teacher kindly tells her she won't be punished for "having an imagination," and explains the difference between a story and a lie. At home, Katie has been fed up with Francie's whoppers. Now, Francie tells stories just like they happened, but writes down what should have happened.
The details in Chapter 24 about Election Day further develop the themes of American identity and gender in the novel. Mattie Mahoney never appears in the book because he is more important as an idea than as a person. In fact, as the narrator says, it is possible that he doesn't even exist. But he provides something for the community to rally behind. Johnny the visionary puts his trust in the Party with all his heart. He is certain that the Party will fix any problem that comes along, and that it is the answer to social ill. Katie, the hard-working realist, believes the Party is full of corruption.
The theme of gender develops when Francie loses her tickets in the marble game. Sergeant McShane tells her that it is "seldom the girls are the losin' ones"—that usually girls hold tight to their possessions. This incident could be thought of in terms of Katie's and Johnny's opinions about politics. Johnny is willing to gamble on a corrupt politician, while Katie trusts only herself, and the women who will put the politicians behind bars. It is, of course, Katie who scolds Francie for losing her tickets.
The gendered nature of Election Day in Brooklyn is seen most directly in the dialogue between Johnny and Katie. Katie broaches the subject of the woman's vote, demonstrating a consciousness about her political constraints. She is aware that she has no say in who is chosen to govern, and she believes that women voting will make difference in the system. She seems to recognize the entire political process as a foolish male game, a game of empty power. The idea that the woman's vote would change things is a progressive perspective, and suggests that Francie may one day share these values.
Indeed, Johnny Nolan's American identity is closely related to his male identity. The nationalist sentiments surrounding Election Day are totally gendered; the expression of a national identity is inseparable from masculine identity. Johnny exclaims that women don't know anything about politics when Katie makes an argument he can't refute. Johnny suggests that he will take Katie to the polls, when women can vote, and she will vote as he does.
At this last remark, Francie notices that Katie smiles a sideways smile, like that of the Mona Lisa. This simile makes an interesting statement about Katie by comparing her to the woman in the painting. The Mona Lisa has a countenance that makes the viewer of the painting feel like he or she is being watched. While usually a person gazes at a painting, in this case, the painting gazes back. Like artwork, women historically have been the object of the male gaze. By comparing Katie to the woman in the painting, the author conveys that Katie is pushing back at a male dominant world. By reversing the gaze, Katie gains power and control for herself. This small detail shows that Katie has a feminist consciousness, and that Francie is noticing, and learning.
The exchange with Sergeant McShane foreshadows Francie's growing concern about the relationship between her father and mother. When Katie calls him a "good man," Johnny understands that she thinks that Johnny does not fit this category. Also, Katie makes the strong statement that she hopes to see his wife, who has placed her troubles on the Sergeant, dead. This statement also alludes to Johnny's troubled life. Johnny has put his troubles on Katie. When Francie goes to her father, she shows she understands these statements to be hurtful. Katie's own attraction to the Sergeant is another reason Johnny is saddened by the situation. Their marriage persists out of loyalty and obligation, but not necessarily romantic love.
Johnny's interest in educating his children further develops the theme of the importance of education. Despite the problems between the adults in this novel, they all agree that they want their children to be well-educated, and out of the slums. Johnny in this chapter is compared to Mary Rommely, who believes that her children will live a better life than she did because they can read and write. Indeed, Chapter 26 hints that not only will Francie learn to write, but that she will also grow up to be a writer.