A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by

Betty Smith

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Chapter 35 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Christmas is a week away. Francie’s fourteenth birthday has passed. Johnny hasn’t spoken to the family in more than two weeks. Yesterday, he came in during supper, looked at them as though to say something, then went into the bedroom. He comes and goes at odd hours. When he’s home, he lies on the bed, fully clothed, with his eyes shut. Katie goes “white and quiet,” as though she’s “carrying a tragedy within herself.” She takes on an extra job in the week before Christmas, selling coffee and sandwiches to shopgirls at Gorling’s Department Store.
Katie’s pregnancy drives Johnny further into drink. His inability to accept that Katie is expecting another child creates a sense of foreboding in the household. Smith equates Katie’s pregnancy with a “tragedy” to prepare the reader for the fact that the arrival of the baby will also coincide with a great loss in the family. Still, Katie carries on, even taking a second job.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Romanticism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Katie goes home that night with a bundle of wood blocks, condensed milk, and three bananas. She tells Francie and Neeley that they’ll have oatmeal again for dinner. With the bananas it’s not so bad. Then, Francie asks Katie to play something on the piano so that it will feel like they are in a restaurant. The children are “almost happy.” The kitchen is warm, they are fed, and their mother’s piano playing makes them feel “safe and comfortable.” While they’re talking, someone pounds on the door. Francie knows it’s Johnny. They then hear his voice, demanding to be let in.
The three of them make the best out of an unsavory situation. Francie initially registers disgust with having oatmeal for dinner, but she and Neeley focus instead on the savory bananas they can eat with it. To forget about the misery that Johnny is creating in their lives, the children encourage Katie to play the piano. This scene reflects their ability to persevere through a dire situation by focusing on the best things, no matter how small.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Johnny lunges inside. His tuxedo is dirty and his children have never seen it look so. It looks as though he’s been lying in the gutter. His cold, red hands are trembling and his derby hat is bashed in. He says that he isn’t drunk. He also says that he’s been thrown out of the Waiter’s Union. He says that they call him “a drunk and a bum” and that people laugh at him when he sings. Johnny sobs as though he can’t stop and Francie edges the door, wanting to run to the bedroom and hide her head under the pillow. Katie orders her to stay. She then says that she will stay with Johnny for a while and that the children should go back to whatever they were doing, such as talking. Neeley asks Francie if she wants to talk about olden times; she says “no.”
Not since Johnny came home with delirium tremens have the children seen him in such a dire state. The difference is that now they’re old enough to understand what’s wrong with him. Johnny’s dismissal from the Waiter’s Union is, for him, the ultimate failure. Knowing that he isn’t much of a father or a provider, he was always able to hold on to his union membership as an indication that he belonged somewhere, despite his inability to succeed in any other aspect of his life or to fit into any other social model.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Romanticism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon