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 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Francie likes school, despite “all the meanness, cruelty, and unhappiness.” There are some bright moments, such as when Mr. Morton comes to teach music. The teachers adore him. When he arrives, Miss Briggs wears her best dress and is less mean. Sometimes, she curls her hair and wears perfume. He teaches them sophisticated pieces as simple songs.
Mr. Morton’s presence brightens the grim and competitive atmosphere of the school. He also introduces the children to high culture without their being aware of it, due to his knack for teaching complex compositions in ways that children can understand.
Themes
Education and the American Dream Theme Icon
Miss Bernstone is as admired as Mr. Morton, though not as well-loved. She teaches drawing. The teachers do not like her. They fawn over her when she speaks to them and glower at her behind her back. She is warm, effervescent, and “richly feminine.” The other teachers envy her attractiveness and know that she doesn’t sleep alone at night. She is adept with pieces of chalk and charcoal. On rainy days, she sketches “the poorest, meanest kid in the room.” Yet, when she is finished, all that one sees of him is innocence “and the poignancy of a baby growing up too soon.”
Miss Bernstone is disliked by the other teachers due to their internalized misogyny, which has instructed them to perceive her as a threat because they believe that she has access to men while they do not. They know nothing about Miss Bernstone’s private life but make assumptions about her based on her looks. Miss Bernstone, on the other hand, seems able to see the best in others, while her colleagues envision the worst.
Themes
Education and the American Dream Theme Icon
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon