A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by

Betty Smith

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Katie decides to provide the family with piano lessons. She gets the idea from a white card that was left in a flat window below. She calls the ladies, the Tynmores, who put up the announcement. Miss Lizzie teaches piano and Miss Maggie cultivates voice. They charge a quarter per lesson. Katie bargains instead to do one hour of cleaning at the ladies’ apartment in exchange for one hour of lessons. Miss Lizzie initially resists, arguing that her time is more valuable than Katie’s time. Katie insists that time is time and she gets Miss Lizzie to agree.
Though Lizzie Tynmore and her sister, Maggie, are just as poor as Katie, they have the benefit of being more cultivated women. This, in Lizzie’s view, places them in a higher class that has nothing to do with money. Therefore, Lizzie gets the idea that her time is more valuable than Katie’s. Katie insists that all working people value their time.
Themes
Education and the American Dream Theme Icon
Class and Snobbery Theme Icon
Miss Lizzie Tynmore arrives for the first lesson at exactly 5:00 PM. She brings a metronome. She removes her kid gloves and blows into each finger, then smoothing and folding the gloves. After limbering her fingers and looking at the clock, she starts the metronome, takes her seat, and begins the lesson. Francie is so fascinated by the metronome that she is paying little attention to how Miss Tynmore places Katie’s hands on the keys. The “soothing monotonous clicking” causes Neeley to fall asleep.
Katie and the children see that there is care and preparation that goes into playing the piano. It is not as simple as someone sitting down to play a tune. The hypnotic sound and movement of the metronome seems to hypnotize Katie, while it puts Neeley to sleep. Katie’s intention was to get them to watch the lesson so that they could learn, too, but it doesn’t work out this time.
Themes
Education and the American Dream Theme Icon
When the lesson ends, Katie expresses her gratitude for Miss Tynmore’s excellent instruction. Miss Tynmore is pleased by the flattery but makes Katie aware of the fact that she knows that she is seeking instruction for three for the price of one. However, Miss Tynmore agrees not to charge for the children. Katie thanks her, but Miss Tynmore stands up and waits. Katie thinks it is about the agreed upon time for doing the Tynmores’ housework, but Miss Tynmore timidly explains that, when she gives lessons, her customers usually offer her tea or coffee. Katie brings her coffee and a sugar bun. The Tynmores survive on these offers of snacks and beverages, though most of their customers offer them no more than soda crackers due to not wanting to pay a quarter and providing lunch, too. So, Lizzie Tynmore looks forward to afternoons at the Nolans, where there is a bun or a bologna sandwich to sustain her.
The Tynmores are good teachers, but they rely on the patronage of a community that can barely afford to pay them. As a result, they live in poverty and depend also on donations of food. The Nolans are more generous than other parents in the neighborhood, though they have as little to spare. The Tynmores are similar to Johnny, in that they, too, are artists who get by on very little money, though the Tynmores are far more reliable. As the sisters age, they will find it harder to sustain their work schedules and will rely more on charity, particularly from the Nolans. 
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Education and the American Dream Theme Icon
After each lesson, Katie shows Francie and Neeley what she has learned and makes them practice for thirty minutes each day. Over time, all three of them learn to play the piano. When Johnny hears about Maggie Tynmore’s voice lessons, he offers to repair a broken sash cord in one of their windows in exchange for two voice lessons for Francie. However, Johnny doesn’t know how to repair a sash cord. He takes the whole window frame out of the case and doesn’t know what to do with the broken cord. As he tries to get the window back in, he breaks a pane of glass. The Tynmores have to call a window repairman and Katie must do two hours of cleaning to pay for it. The hope for Francie’s voice lessons is abandoned forever.
Katie has found an ingenious way to get all three of them piano lessons without spending any additional time or money. She uses the children’s instruction as an opportunity to review her lesson with Miss Tynmore. Johnny’s plan to get Francie voice lessons unravels due to his lack of competence. He convinces himself that he has the ability to repair a window, despite lacking the skill, because he wants to be able to provide something for Francie.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Romanticism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
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