A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by

Betty Smith

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Chapter 37 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Katie stays in bed the day after the funeral, and Francie and Neeley wander around bewildered. They walk up Graham Avenue towards Broadway. Christmas passes unnoticed because Johnny died on Christmas day. Neeley’s birthday also gets lost somewhere in the last few days. Francie wonders why Johnny had to die. Neeley thinks that maybe God wanted to punish him. This makes Francie angry. She wonders why God would make Johnny the way he was, and then dare him to try to do anything about it. She wonders why God never helps people like them. Finally, Francie says that, though she would never tell anyone but Neeley, she doesn’t believe in God.
Francie wishes for an answer or some explanation for Johnny’s death. Neeley offers the only practical answer that he can give—that Johnny’s death was a matter of divine will. However, Neeley’s depiction of God’s will as wrathful and vengeful angers Francie. In her mind, it seems that God set her father up to fail and then delighted in watching his descent. This conceptualization of God seems cruel and contemptuous of humanity, which is why Francie no longer believes.
Themes
Romanticism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
When Katie lets Francie and Neeley in the apartment, she notices that their faces look tired but peaceful. She figures they have overcome their grief. She surprises them with hot chocolate. She then tells Neeley that she is giving him the bedroom and that she and Francie will share what Katie identifies as Francie’s room. Still, Francie wishes that she had her own room. Knowing Francie’s thought, Katie says that, when it gets warm again, Francie can have the front room. They’ll put a cot in there and cover it during the day so that it will seem like a nice sitting room.
Katie looks for ways to help the children settle into a life without Johnny. Neeley is getting too old to share a room with Francie. Francie may understand Katie’s reasoning but still envies Neeley’s ability to have his own room. Both of the children need their own personal space. Katie tries to provide Francie with her own, too, despite the limitations of their apartment. The sitting room is a nice compromise because it could also be a reading space.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Katie says that the Nolans will resume their evening readings. She first goes to the Bible and skips to the part about the birth of baby Jesus. She feels her unborn child move inside of her. Katie, Francie, and Neeley take turns reading from the book. As they read about the birth of Christ, they think of Johnny dying. When the children go to bed, Katie goes against character by holding the children close to her and declaring herself their mother and father.
Katie is eager to reestablish normalcy in the children’s lives. Her announcement that she will now fulfill the roles of both parents means that the children will have to depend on her for all of their parental needs. This change doesn’t make Katie any more nurturing or flexible than she was before. Johnny’s absence will still be felt.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon