A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by

Betty Smith

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on A Tree Grows in Brooklyn can help.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The library is “a little old shabby place.” Francie thinks that all of the world’s books are in the library and she plans to read all of the world’s books. Francie enters and closes the door quietly behind her, as one should in the library. She looks at the little brown bowl at the end of the librarian’s desk. It is holding multi-colored nasturtiums. Francie decides that, when she gets her own home, she’ll have a desk like the librarian’s. It’ll hold pencils, “always sharpened for writing,” a brown bowl “with a flower or some leaves or berries always in it,” and plenty of books.
Despite the unimpressive appearance of the library, it contains, for Francie, the entire world. The books reinforce her awareness that the world is much bigger than her Brooklyn neighborhood. The contents of the brown bowl offer some contact with natural beauty.
Themes
Education and the American Dream Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Francie is working her way through the alphabet and is in the B’s. She takes a book to the librarian and asks her if she can recommend a book for an eleven-year-old girl. Francie asks the librarian the same question each week and the librarian never looks up. All of the names on the library cards are the same to her. A smile or a friendly comment from this woman would mean a lot to Francie. The librarian only recommends two books each time Francie asks the question: If I Were King by McCarthy and Beverly of Graustark. Francie takes her books and goes home.
The library is a place that expands Francie’s awareness of humanity, and that includes her experience of the librarian’s callous indifference. The librarian’s attitude suggests classism—the children who attend the library are poor—but it could also be the result of her irritation with the city’s overcrowding and her own dislike of children.
Themes
Education and the American Dream Theme Icon
Class and Snobbery Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Francie reads and feels at peace with the world, alone in the apartment with a small bowl of candy to eat. By 4:00 PM, tenements across from Francie’s yard come to life with women returning from their shopping, children returning home, and young women preparing for dates. Francie focuses on the young women, watching them wash at their kitchen sinks because none of the tenement flats have bathrooms.
Francie’s actions in the apartment foreshadow the end of the novel, when a little girl with a bag of candy will be watching her prepare for a date. The closeness of living in tenements opens people’s private lives up to spectatorship. Francie learns as much from these scenes as she does from her books.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Education and the American Dream Theme Icon
Francie stops reading when Fraber’s horse and wagon return with their driver, Frank. The horse is beautiful and its stable is finer than any house in Brooklyn. Fraber is a local dentist. Frank dons an apron while he washies the horse, Bob. Bob makes her think of Uncle Willie Flittman’s horse, Drummer, who pulls a milk wagon. However, Willie and Drummer have a hostile relationship, whereas Bob and Frank are friends. To hear Uncle Willie describe it, the horse stays awake at nights thinking of ways to torment Willie.
Smith points out the beauty of the stable in contrast to the houses in Brooklyn to suggest that the animals that belong to the well-to-do are sometimes better treated and better kept than human beings. The contrast in the men’s relationships to their horses reveals something about their relationships to the world. Willie is suspicious and contentious due to his depression.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Get the entire A Tree Grows in Brooklyn LitChart as a printable PDF.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn PDF
On the street, half a dozen boys loiter and cling to the stable’s iron gate, watching Frank wash the horse. They make up stories about the gentle animal being a fearsome creature. One of them picks up a stone and throws it at Bob. The boys wait for the horse to lose its temper. Instead, Frank speaks to them gently, warning them not to do it again; otherwise, he’ll “break a couple of [their] asses.” Frank then scoops down and picks up a cobblestone as though to throw it. The larger boys leave, but the smaller ones remain because they want to see Frank feed Bob his oats.
Having only seen and experienced brutality, the children project that onto Bob. When Frank threatens them to protect Bob, he is speaking to them in the only language they understand. The poverty and violence of their community makes it difficult for them to grasp how Frank could express such tenderness toward an animal.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
After Frank hangs Bob’s feed bag on his neck, he gets to work washing the wagon. He whistles “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” while he works, which draws the attention of Flossie Gaddis. She sticks her head out the window and greets Frank, who is indifferent to her presence. She invites him to the Shamrock Club, but he makes a lazy excuse to get out of the date. Flossie tells him to “go to hell” and slams the window shut. Francie feels sorry for Flossie because she is always running after men. Aunt Sissy runs after men, too, but the men run “to meet her halfway.” Flossie is starved for men, while Sissy has a healthy appetite, and this makes a big difference.
Flossie’s feeling that she has to run after men comes as a result of her disfigured arm, which she knows makes her less appealing than other women. Flossie is “starved for men” because she is lonely and worries that she will not experience the love and romantic attention that are normal aspects of most women’s lives. She chases after men out of a fear that she will miss out on the companionship that she desires.
Themes
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon