A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by

Betty Smith

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Chapter 36 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Johnny Nolan dies three days later. He goes to bed the night he returns home and Katie sits beside him until he goes to sleep. Then, she sleeps with Francie so as not to disturb him. Sometime during the night, he gets up and goes out. He does not return the next day and they go to look for him. On the second night, Sergeant McShane takes Katie to the Catholic Hospital and tells her, as gently as he can, that Johnny was found unconscious early that morning, huddled in a doorway. He takes her to the hospital, where Johnny is lying in a bed, breathing harshly and in a coma. Katie stays with him until he dies. She decides not to tell the children until the morning so that they can have “one more night of griefless sleep.”
Johnny’s prediction that his life would lead to tragedy comes true. He gets up and goes out in the middle of the night, probably to get drunk. Though the family has grown accustomed to his disappearances and his long silences, they become suspicious in this instance, due to his increasingly depressive behavior. Though Sergeant McShane rightly expected Johnny to die of alcoholism, he remains gentle and sympathetic toward the loss that Katie and the children will suffer.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Romanticism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
At dawn, Francie wakes up. When Katie notices, she tells her to get up and get dressed right away. Then, she shakes Neeley awake and goes out into the kitchen. The children come before Katie, who is sitting by the window. She announces that Johnny is dead. Francie stands there, numb. Katie says that they are not to cry because he is “out of it now” and maybe luckier than they are.
Francie’s numbness may come from her shock and disbelief in response to the news about her father. Though his behavior pointed to an imminent demise, Francie loved him too much to accept this reality. By saying that he’s “out of it now,” Katie indicates that Johnny is free from suffering.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Romanticism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Katie next handles Johnny’s burial with a greedy undertaker, but she doesn’t protest the way in which he does his business. She also arranges that it will be nowhere on the record that Johnny was a drunk. The cause of death is listed only as pneumonia, despite the complications of acute alcoholism. She then uses twenty-five dollars to buy mourning clothes for her and the children. The undertaker then comes back and demands twenty dollars for the deed to the plot to get the grave opened. Katie is annoyed, but she gets eighteen dollars out of the tin can bank. She borrows the remainder from Sissy. Katie reads the deed carefully, remembering the story Mary Rommely once told her of how she had been cheated out of land. When the undertaker insists that he would not want to cheat her, Katie is unconvinced. When she is satisfied with the paperwork, she hands over the money.
Katie doesn’t want Johnny’s death record to reveal his alcoholism because she doesn’t want to admit to his problem publicly. Though the community knew very well that Johnny had a drinking problem, for Katie, it’s a point of pride to keep the matter private. Katie doesn’t trust the undertaker because she knows that he’s trying to take advantage of her assumed grief. Contrary to expectation, Katie handles the funerary duties calmly and maintains a sharp business sense, not wanting to suffer the embarrassment that her mother endured when she was cheated out of money.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Jim McGarrity, the saloon keeper, sends over a wreath of artificial laurel leaves. Aunt Evy tells Katie to throw them out, but she refuses to blame McGarrity for Johnny’s death. Though Johnny had an outstanding debt of thirty-eight dollars at the bar, McGarrity says nothing about it and closes the debt.
Evy thinks that McGarrity is partly to blame for Johnny’s death. Her attitude resembles that of many women at the time who advocated for temperance, believing that saloons profited off of the poverty and hopelessness of many men.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
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At the mass, Francie kneels on one side of Katie and Neeley on the other. When the priest steps down and sprays holy water at the four corners of the coffin, a woman starts sobbing wildly. Katie turns around to see what woman would dare to weep for Johnny. When she sees that it is Hildy O’Dair, she softens. She notices that Hildy looks old for her age, though she is only a year older. She knows that Hildy loved Johnny and that she should cry for him, especially since Katie can’t cry.
Initially, Katie is outraged to hear a woman who isn’t Johnny’s mother weeping for him. Katie reveals herself to be a jealous type. However, when she sees that it’s Hildy, she must agree that Johnny’s previous girlfriend has as much right, if not more, to weep for Johnny. Perhaps Katie can’t cry because she was expecting Johnny’s demise.
Themes
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
Katie, Ruthie Nolan, Francie, and Neeley ride out to the cemetery in the first coach behind the hearse. The children sit with their backs to the hearse, which suits Francie because she doesn’t have to see or think about the coffin inside and Johnny’s dead body. After the burial, the coaches go in different directions. Ruthie goes off with some mourners who live near her. She does not speak to Katie or the children at all that day. Katie has the coach stop at the barber shop and sends Francie in to get Johnny’s cup. The barber takes a mug from a row off the shelf. Johnny’s is white and says “John Nolan” in “gold and fancy block letters.” When Francie returns to the coach, Katie says that Francie will keep the cup as a memento. Neeley will get Johnny’s signet ring.
The cup and the ring are the only heirlooms that Johnny can provide his children. The prominent gold lettering on the cup is reminiscent of Johnny’s grand image of himself. The reader can deduce that Ruthie doesn’t speak to Katie because she partially blames Katie for Johnny’s death. Earlier in the narrative, it is explained that Ruthie resented Katie for marrying him, due to her wish to keep Johnny close to her after her other sons died. She probably quietly believes that Katie did a poor job of looking after Johnny and is partially responsible for the loss of her last son.
Themes
Romanticism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon