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The protagonist of the novel. Francie is the daughter of second-generation Americans living in Brooklyn, New York in the early twentieth century. She is named after her father's dead brother's fiancée. Francie is poor, but bright, observant, and taken by the wonders of the world. She is a combination of her hard-working, practical mother and her imaginative, dreaming father. She has a great capacity to see beauty amidst material hardship. Growing up without luxury, and sometimes without friends, she loves to read, and creates new worlds through her writing.
Read an in-depth analysis of Francie Nolan.
Francie's mother. Katie comes from a family of strong women, and epitomizes this type. She is hard and detached ever since she had her two children and realized she could not depend on Johnny, her husband to support her family. Ever since he was born, she has loved Neeley more than her daughter, although she strives to treat them equally. She is extremely hard-working, she saves money as best she can, and will do anything so that her children can live a better quality life than she. Extremely proud, she vows that life isn't worth living once one gives in to charity.
Read an in-depth analysis of Katie Nolan.
Francie's father. Johnny is a young Irish singer-waiter as talented as he is weak. He is a dreamer without the resources or abilities to make his dreams reality. He loves his children, but is an alcoholic who can not always be a good father in a conventional way. Francie dreads his drunkenness, Johnny is loved by Francie more than Katie is. Like Katie and Mary Rommely, Johnny knows that an education will allow his children to live a better life than he has. He lives in a drunken dream world, where most of what he knows of life comes from the song lyrics he sings.
Read an in-depth analysis of Johnny Nolan.
Francie's younger brother by one year. Growing up, he and Francie experience life together and grow to be close friends. He is both a loving brother and a typical boy. He looks just like his father, and his mother thinks of him as someone she can be like Johnny, without Johnny's faults. Indeed, he is musical, but hard-working, and does not like alcohol.
Katie's oldest sister. The first of Mary Rommely's daughters, she is the only daughter who has not learned to read and write. Her two failings are that she is a great lover and a great mother (even before she has a child of her own). Taken to an extreme, these qualities get her into trouble. These qualities also ensure that she is constantly giving, and never taking. Her charm with men means that she can convince them to believe or do almost anything. She has a reputation as an easy woman, but everyone who knows her knows that she is a good person. Her sisters always end up forgiving her foibles. Francie absolutely adores her.
Read an in-depth analysis of Aunt Sissy.
Katie's older sister. Hard-working and practical, she does not understand Katie's few bursts of wastefulness. She married Willie Flittman and works at his jobs when he no longer can. She does fantastic imitations, especially when poking fun at her husband.
Francie's maternal grandmother, who came to America from Poland. She believes in the supernatural, tells ghost and fairy tales, and is a devout Catholic. She has hope for her family because America makes dreams possible, and the in this country, the education is free. She is sure that Katie will have a better life than she did because Katie can read and write, and that Francie's life will be better than Katie's because she will go to school longer. Among other things, she advises Katie to save money so one day she can buy her own land, and read to her children every night.
The saloon keeper in the bar where Johnny hangs out and gets drunk. He is a dreamer. Wishing he had a family like Johnny's, he lives vicariously through Johnny, and misses him enough to help out the family after he dies. He represents a means by which the Nolans feel Johnny's presence after his life.
The girl who lives downstairs from the Nolans in their house on Grand Street, Flossie is a teenager when Francie is a young girl. She is crazy about boys, and keeps a whole closet filled with costumes for Saturday night extravaganzas. Her favorite boy is Frank, who she ends up marrying. Henny is her younger brother who dies of consumption.
A young boy who rides the dentists' wagon and takes care of his horse. Flossie gives him more attention than he would like.
Uncle Willie is Evy's husband and Drummer is his horse. They have a mutual hatred for each other. Willie feels he is a failure and often is the subject of Evy's best imitations and jokes.
Sissy's third and last husband. The reader does not learn his real name (Steve) until very late in the book, since Sissy calls all of her husbands and lovers "John." Steve, like all Sissy's men, goes along with her wishes almost all the time. By the end of the book, though, he stands up for himself.
Johnny and Katie's third child. She is born five months after Johnny dies, when Francie is fourteen. She is named after a song Johnny used to sing, and will carry Mr. McShane's name.
Katie's second husband, who she is about to marry when the book ends. He is a successful public figure, and so will support Katie and her children well. He is also a good man, faithful till the end to his sickly, troubled wife. He enters the book at the Mattie Mahoney Association excursion.
A very bright, successful young man who Francie meets in summer college classes. He will attend a Midwestern college, and then law school. He makes Francie happy, keeps her from feeling lonely and knows what he wants.
A soldier about to leave for France when Francie meets him through her friend, Anita. Passionate and sweet, he knocks Francie off her feet and in turn professes his love for her, too. Two days later, he marries his fiancée from his hometown. He is the source of all of Francie's heartbreak.
Francie's eighth grade English teacher. Self-righteous in her convictions, she believes that writing should only be about "beauty" not ugly things like poverty and drunkenness. Not only does she insult Francie about her background, but she also gives her poor marks on the compositions she wrote after Johnny's death, and does not allow Francie to write the graduation play.
The janitor at Francie's new school. He is loved and respected by the students and faculty even more than the principal. He represents the kindness that pervades this school, even for poor kids.
A gruff but warmhearted man, he feels bad chucking the tree at Francie and Neeley. Like many characters in Brooklyn, his rough speech and curses are meant to be taken kindly. Like many proprietors in Francie's neighborhood, he reluctantly takes advantage of kids in order to feed his own.
A young unmarried woman with a baby, who is the object of the neighborhood women's cruelty. She represents one stage in Francie's fall from innocence.
Katie's best friend when she was a young girl. She dated Johnny before Katie and Johnny fell in love.
Poor piano instructor who lives with her sister in the Nolan's building. She is proper and punctual, and never has quite enough to eat.
Two medical workers who administer vaccinations in Brooklyn. The doctor, who went to Harvard is cruel in his assumptions about the poor in Brooklyn. The nurse grew up in Williamsburg and tries to hide her poor background.
Children in the Nolan's neighborhood. Gussie is famous for never being able to wean from his mother's breast, stealing all of Tilly's milk. Johnny, in his pity for Tilly, takes the three-year-old on the comical fishing trip to Canarsie.
The junkie in Williamsburg, he collects scraps the children collect and gives them pennies in exchange. He likes girls better than boys.
Owns the penny candy store in Williamsburg. He is the ultimate recipient of Carney's pennies, and lures kids in by making them think they might earn a nice prize.
A Sicilian woman who becomes illegitimately pregnant. She is ill-treated by her father and family until Sissy offers to take her baby, and befriends and cares for her.
Ten-year-old girl at the end of the novel. She sits on her fire escape and watches Francie get ready for her date.
Ace your assignments with our guide to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn!