A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by

Betty Smith

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Johnny comes home at 5:00 PM. He asks where Katie is and Francie says that she went to a movie with Aunt Sissy. Johnny is happy because it is a beautiful day and he has a job. The day feels like “a present” to him. Francie also gives him a slice of rye bread. Johnny is pleased to see that it was prepared by union bakers.
Johnny’s romantic outlook on life brings him comfort from the family’s poverty as well as his feeling of impotence in both being unable to change their circumstances and forcing the family to rely on Katie to stay afloat.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Romanticism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Francie once visited the Union Headquarters to bring Johnny an apron and carfare to get to a job. He was wearing the tuxedo that he wore all the time because it was his only suit. He introduced her to the other men, who looked at “the thin child in her ragged dress” and exchanged glances. Unlike Johnny, they all had regular jobs and only worked as singing waiters for extra money. Johnny spoke proudly of his wife and children, but Francie overheard a short man talking about how Johnny takes his wages home to Katie but spends his tips at McGarrity’s bar. Francie was hurt to hear this, but she figured that the short man and the man to whom he was talking are exceptions; everyone loves her father.
It disappoints Francie to hear someone speak negatively of her father who she admires to the point of idealization. Her love and sense of protectiveness make her feel as though she has been insulted by what the short man says. However, she also needs to view his attitude toward Johnny as “an exception” in order to remain in denial about the fact that her father is a lousy provider. The men can see that, despite his pride for Francie, he is unable to keep her properly fed. His instability offends their sense of responsibility.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Romanticism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Francie pulls her thoughts away from that memory and listens to her father, who is reminiscing with her. Johnny smokes a cigar and recalls that he was never able to hold a job for long. He describes how he started working in restaurants and saloons, singing and waiting on tables. What he really wanted was to become a professional singer. He admits that he’s not a hard worker and never really wanted a family, which is why he drinks. He figures that he’ll never really make it in life. However, he married Katie because he fell in love with her and because she’s a good woman.
Johnny speaks to Francie frankly about the circumstances of his life, despite the possibility that some of what he says (never wanting a family) might hurt her. He is a creative personality who is frustrated by his inability to fulfill his ambition, due to familial responsibilities. He clings to his art by focusing on the singing-waiting business.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Romanticism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Johnny throws his “half-smoked cigar” out of the window and tells Francie that, if he gets a lot in tips, he’ll use the money to bet on a good horse. He imagines winning as much as five hundred dollars! He knows that this is just a fantasy, but he enjoys talking about it. He tells Francie that they—just the two of them—will take a trip “way down south” with the money. Francie loves her father for telling this story. She then takes seven cents to go out and buy him a dickey and a paper collar.
Johnny endures his poverty by imagining the possibility of being very rich. For him, money comes as the result of luck, whereas for Katie, it comes only through hard work. Katie would despise her husband’s suggestion of gambling as a legitimate means of earning income. His idea of going down South suggests a wish to escape New York.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Romanticism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
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When Francie returns, she helps her father get dressed then walks with him to the trolley car. She sees women smiling at Johnny until they notice Francie by his side. They pass Gabriel’s Hardware Store and look at a pair of roller skates—something that Katie would never make time to do. Johnny talks as though he’ll buy Francie a pair of skates one day. Then, the Graham Avenue trolley comes and Johnny swings himself up onto the platform. He holds on to the bar and leans way out to wave at Francie, who imagines that there is no man as gallant as her father.
There is something sentimental or wistful about the relationship between Johnny and Francie. They share many special moments alone together throughout the book. Johnny enhances Francie’s capacity to dream and to think that the things that the family cannot afford could become attainable through a mixture of faith and good luck. Johnny talks about getting these skates in the same way that Francie imagines winning the ones at Charlie’s.
Themes
Romanticism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon