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 34 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Francie hears Aunt Sissy tell Katie that she is going to get a baby. Sissy wants to adopt a child, but Steve, her third “John,” will not raise “another man’s bastard.” Sissy finds out that a beautiful sixteen-year-old girl in Maspeth has gotten pregnant by a married man. Her name is Lucia. When Sissy hears that her father is starving her to punish her, Sissy goes to their house. She carries a badge and demands to be let in. The mother opens the door, worried that Sissy is from immigration. However, the woman cannot read and does not see that the badge says “Chicken Inspector.” Sissy takes charge and threatens to take the mother to jail if she doesn’t treat Lucia better. The three of them talk all day, mostly through hand signals. By the end of their conversation, it is understood that Sissy will take the baby after it is born. The mother is grateful and, from that day on, Sissy becomes an adored member of the family.
Lucia’s story mirrors that of Joanna, with the difference being that Lucia’s father is deeply ashamed of her and treats her like a criminal in her own household—imprisoning her in her bedroom and feeding her only bread and water—to atone for what he perceives as his daughter’s sin. Sissy comes up with an ingenious way to get into the family home, and she ingratiates herself with them by providing them with some assurance that Lucia will not have to keep the baby and, therefore, will not endure a fate like that of Joanna.
Themes
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
Sissy takes good care of Lucia, taking her outside and feeding her while Lucia’s father is at work. The family learns a bit of English from Sissy and she learns a bit of Italian from them. Sissy then announces to friends and family that she will have another baby and tells everyone that she is pregnant. She becomes so convinced herself that she starts simulating morning sickness. No one believes, however, that Sissy is pregnant. Then, Lucia gives birth just an hour after her father leaves for work. Sissy is happy to have a beautiful baby girl. She tells Lucia that she will have to nurse the baby for ten days, then Sissy will take it.
Sissy’s wish to fake pregnancy is both a way to avoid exposing the fact of Lucia’s pregnancy to the community, which is a source of shame to her family, and it’s a way to live out her dream of giving birth to a healthy child. Though she knows that she’s not pregnant, if she can convince others that she is by presenting them with a healthy baby at the end of her “term,” then, in her mind, the story remains valid.
Themes
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
When Lucia’s father comes home and finds her with a healthy baby sleeping at her side, he’s amazed. Lucia and her mother say that the diet of bread and water formed the perfect baby. He thinks a miracle has occurred. He tries to be nice to Lucia, but the family will not permit him to show any kindness to his daughter, due to his earlier cruelty.
The family refuses the father’s kindness because they know that it’s only the result of his belief that God is protecting Lucia, which implies that God may punish him for being so cruel to his daughter.
Themes
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
When Steve comes home that night, he asks Sissy, jokingly, if she has had her baby. She announces that she has. When she refuses to admit otherwise, he gives up. Ten days later, Sissy comes home with a baby. The Italian family returns to Italy. Everyone knows that Sissy did not really have a baby, but she remains committed to her story. Sissy christens the child Sarah, but everyone calls her “Little Sissy.”
While the Italian family returns to Italy, due to their inability to make a better life for themselves in the U.S., Sissy completes the construction of the domestic life that she’s always wanted by having a child. The collapse of the Italian family’s dream results in the completion of Sissy’s.
Themes
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
Get the entire A Tree Grows in Brooklyn LitChart as a printable PDF.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn PDF
Katie is the only person whom Sissy tells the truth about Sarah. As a result, Francie finds out, too. Katie also tells Johnny, who then uses it as an opportunity to question his own paternity until he sees how Francie has his eyes and Neeley is his mirror image. When Johnny announces that he is going out, Katie pulls his head down and whispers something in his hear. Johnny registers surprise. She then asks him not to come home drunk. Johnny promises he won’t. He then kisses her and goes out.
For a moment, the news of Sissy’s child brings Katie and Johnny closer. His joke about possibly not being the father of Francie and Neeley may also reveal the truth of Johnny not entirely feeling like a father. When Katie whispers to him that she’s pregnant again, the announcement reinforces the role and further enmeshes Johnny in it, despite his lack of suitability.
Themes
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
Romanticism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Johnny returns late, singing “Molly Malone” at the door, as is his routine. He expects Katie to open the door before he finishes the song, in keeping with their game, but Francie opens the door instead. He sits in a chair by the window. When Francie asks if he is “sick,” Johnny confirms that he isn’t drunk. He then tells her to go back to bed. Francie goes to bed and buries her face in the pillow. She weeps, though she doesn’t know why.
Katie doesn’t open the door because she suspects Johnny is returning home drunk. She likely suspects this because when he returns home late singing this song, he’s usually drunk. Francie cannot explain why she is weeping, but she can intuit the eventual end of her parents’ marriage.
Themes
Romanticism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon