Please wait while we process your payment
If you don't see it, please check your spam folder. Sometimes it can end up there.
Don’t have an account?
Create Your Account
Sign up for your FREE 7-day trial
Already have an account? Log in
Choose Your Plan
$4.99/month + tax
$24.99/year + tax
Save over 50% with a SparkNotes PLUS Annual Plan!
for a group?
Get Annual Plans at a discount when you buy 2 or more!
$18.74 /subscription + tax
Subtotal $37.48 + tax
on 2-49 accounts
on 50-99 accounts
Want 100 or more?
for a customized plan.
You'll be billed after your free trial ends.
7-Day Free Trial
Renews October 7, 2023
September 30, 2023
Discounts (applied to next billing)
This is not a valid promo code.
(one code per order)
Annual Plan - Group Discount
SparkNotes Plus subscription is $4.99/month or $24.99/year as selected above. The free trial period is the first 7 days of your subscription. TO CANCEL YOUR SUBSCRIPTION AND AVOID BEING CHARGED, YOU MUST CANCEL BEFORE THE END OF THE FREE TRIAL PERIOD. You may cancel your subscription on your Subscription and Billing page or contact Customer Support at email@example.com. Your subscription will continue automatically once the free trial period is over. Free trial is available to new customers only.
For the next 7 days, you'll have access to awesome PLUS stuff like AP English test prep, No Fear Shakespeare translations and audio, a note-taking tool, personalized dashboard, & much more!
You’ve successfully purchased a group discount. Your group members can use the joining link below to redeem their group membership. You'll also receive an email with the link.
Members will be prompted to log in or create an account to redeem their group membership.
Thanks for creating a SparkNotes account! Continue to start your free trial.
Your PLUS subscription has expired
*See discount terms and conditions.
The Nolan's new apartment is made up of four railroad rooms—a kitchen, two bedrooms, and a front room. The house is a humble place, but Francie finds things to like about it. The kitchen looks out over a small, concrete yard where the Tree of Heaven grows. The bathtub in the new house is really just two washtubs, with a very uncomfortable bottom. The dingy airshaft outside of the bedrooms, which lets in only dank air, snow, and rain, reminds Francie of what Purgatory must be like. Francie loves the front room, which, once decorated, becomes a happy place. She loves the piano that the past renter couldn't afford to move out. Johnny can play just a few chords, and sings along with them. His playing touches Francie to the point of tears. Also in the front room was the conch shell that Francie and Neeley named "Tootsy." When Francie first saw the ocean, the only remarkable thing about it was that it sounded like the conch shell.
On the other side of the yard is the school, and one day Francie sees a girl clapping erasers together. Showing off, she comes closer to Francie to let her touch them, and then spits in Francie's face. Francie begins to dislike blackboard erasers, which before seemed like enchanting objects.
The narrator explains that neighborhood stores are an important part of city children's lives, and then details all the stores around the new apartment in Williamsburg. Francie's favorite is the pawnshop, because she loves the three golden balls that hang above it. There is a bakery and Gollender's Paint Shop. The most interesting store is an old-fashioned place owned by a cigar maker who refuses technology, and sometimes makes his cigars by candlelight. Another store sells only tea, coffee, and spices. It has a large grinder, but the Nolans grind their coffee at home. Francie especially loves the pair of scales in the tea man's shop. A Chinaman owns the store where Johnny gets his shirts cleaned. Francie thinks his self-heating iron a mystery of the Chinese race, and wishes she could be a Chinaman.
Katie agrees to trade Miss Lizzie Tynmore, a neighbor in their building, an hour of housecleaning for an hour of piano lessons. Katie instructs her children to listen quietly during the lesson, although Katie is officially the student. Francie is fascinated both by Miss Tynmore's hat, which has a red bird pierced by hat pins, and the metronome. At the end of the lesson, Miss Tynmore lets Katie know that she is teaching three for the price of one, but still allows it.
When Miss Tynmore does not leave, Katie finds out she expects tea. With no tea to offer, Katie goes to fix her coffee and a sweet roll. The narrator explains that Miss Tynmore needs the tea women serve her after lessons, since she does not have much money for food herself. In the meantime, Miss Tynmore asks Francie what she thinks about when she is sitting on the curb for hours. Francie answers that she tells herself stories, and Miss Tynmore commands that she will be a writer one day.
Johnny tries to one-up Katie by trading voice lessons for Francie from the other Tynmore sister in exchange for repairing a broken sash cord. He cannot fix it, and ends up breaking their window. Katie has to work extra hours for the sisters to make up for it.
The incident with the blackboard erasers in the schoolyard is a moment in which Francie begins to lose her innocence. Before she meets up with this unkind girl, Francie adores blackboard erasers. In the previous chapter, Francie has told her father that Katie will keep her out of school an extra year so that she may enter with Neeley, and they can protect each other from the other kids. Francie's extreme excitement over the erasers mirrors her extreme excitement about starting school. Francie's disappointment when the girl with the erasers spits in her face foreshadows how she may feel at school.
This novel often describes everyday objects in a new light. The piano is one such object. Like the huge quantity of dresses in Flossie Gladdis's closet, the piano is impressive mostly because of its size. The narrator explains the laborious process of getting it into an apartment room. Francie tries to wrap her arms around it. While an old stand-up piano may not be inherently impressive, we can appreciate the way size and quantity impress a little girl whose life is filled with scarcity. In fact, its size is nothing less than a "miracle," and the narrator goes on to devote an entire other chapter to the first piano lesson.
The piano is one example of how the set and scenery of the novel, are more than a backdrop for the story. They are the medium through which the story is told. That is, the characters' hopes, disappointments, and dreams are often symbolized by material objects in their geographical space. The tree is a symbol of hope; in Chapter 15 at least, the erasers symbolize shame and disappointment. Katie's dream of owning her own land is symbolized by the tin-can bank. Material things are sentimentalized because they are scarce. The author has a way of representing beauty more often in material objects, than in grandiose abstractions. In this book, the conch shell which has a lovely roar inside it, is much more remarkable than the sea. This idea is especially true through a child's eyes. The details of the neighborhood in Chapter 16 once again present a barrage of tiny treasures that make each individual place magical to Francie as a little girl.
The Chinaman contributes to the themes of the story since he represents other immigrant groups living in Brooklyn. Even though these groups may live side by side, their lives do not mix in any way, except in the transactions of goods and money. Francie exoticizes the Chinaman, thinking up stories about him akin to urban legends. Even Katie says he wears his hair the way he does so that they will let him back into China.
The Tynmore sisters remind us of the community of poor people in Williamsburg. Most of this novel is told through the events and lives of one family—the Nolans. In Chapter 17, the author breaks from this structure for a short time, to let the reader into the life of the Tynmore sisters. They actually complicate the story, providing a view of the whole micro-economy among the poor community. Not only must a poor family make rent and buy food, but they do so by depending on other poor families, hence Lizzie Tynmore's consternation when Katie doesn't serve her tea. It is important to note that Katie's responds with eager generosity; never stingy, she offers more than was asked, despite her meager rations.
Ace your assignments with our guide to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn!