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 39 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Francie and Neeley are confirmed in May. With confirmation over, Francie has time to work on her novel. She is writing to prove to Miss Garnder, the new English teacher, that she does know something about beauty. Since Johnny’s death, Francie stops writing stories about birds and trees and writes about her father. Three of her stories get a “C” instead of her usual “A.” Miss Garnder explains to her one day after school that drunkenness is “neither truth nor beauty,” but a vice and not something to write about. Hunger, too, is not beautiful and is also unnecessary, Miss Garnder says, due to all of the charities. Miss Garnder notes that she is not a snob because her family also struggled with money and sometimes could not afford a maid. Still, she insists that she would be rather dull if all she wrote about was hunger and poverty.
Francie decides to stop writing compositions about simple and pleasant subjects, like the change of the seasons and her future dreams, in favor of communicating something about her life and all that she’s endured over the years. To Francie, these stories are as valid as those about the beautiful things that she loves. When Miss Gardner gives her a bad grade because Francie has supposedly abandoned beauty in favor of writing about vice, it amounts to an unwillingness to accept the validity of Francie’s experiences. Miss Gardner also reinforces the notion that people are at fault for their suffering.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Education and the American Dream Theme Icon
Class and Snobbery Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Miss Garnder goes on to say that the school cannot put on Francie’s play for the same reason why she is getting C’s in composition. She instructs Francie to stop writing “sordid” stories. When Francie asks what the word means, Miss Garnder directs her to a dictionary. When Francie reads the definition, she is outraged that Miss Garnder would apply the word to her family, and especially to her impeccably neat father. She turns in fury toward Miss Garnder and tells her never to use that word about “us.” Miss Garnder is confused and shocked by Francie’s impertinence. Francie apologizes. Miss Garnder accepts that Francie may not like her anymore but believes that she told Francie the truth and that, one day, Francie will thank her for it. Francie wishes adults would stop saying that. Miss Garnder instructs Francie to burn the stories.
Miss Garnder won’t allow Francie to put on her play because that piece also explores what Miss Garnder would consider a “sordid” subject. Francie is offended by the word when she discovers what it means. She regards it as an insult to be associated with dirt when she thinks about how hard Katie worked to keep her and Neeley from getting sick or infested with lice, how she makes her living from maintaining a clean tenement, and how Johnny always made a point to wear a clean undershirt and dickey and went to the barber several times per week. Miss Garnder is mischaracterizing her family.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Education and the American Dream Theme Icon
Class and Snobbery Theme Icon
Francie starts a novel that day about a girl named Sherry Nola, who is brought up in luxury. Francie thinks that, when it’s finished, she’ll ask Steve, or “Aunt Sissy’s John,” to publish it. Then, she’ll present the book to Miss Garnder who will find the book wonderful and be sorry for how she spoke to Francie. Francie writes about her character discussing dinner with her maid. Francie realizes from this that she is hungry. She is annoyed, however, that she is writing about hunger in “a roundabout silly way.” She tears up her novel and then burns all of the compositions for which she earned A’s. She surmises that she got good grades on them because she was a good liar.
Francie wants to write a book about a little girl who lives in luxury because she wants Miss Garnder to see that she knows about a lot of things. However, in the process of writing, Francie discovers that she can’t forget about her own experiences. She ends up writing in a way that is inauthentic. Similarly, all of her compositions for English class were inauthentic because she was trying to distract herself from the facts about her own life.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Education and the American Dream Theme Icon
Class and Snobbery Theme Icon
Francie then thinks about how much she misses Johnny and how she knows that Katie loves Neeley more than her. She worries suddenly about Katie dying and no one being there to love and care for her. She calls out for her mother who is on the third floor, cleaning. Francie offers to finish the hall, but Katie refuses. She doesn’t want Francie’s hands to look as worn as her own. Francie offers instead to sit on the stairs and watch her. Katie asks if Francie doesn’t have any girl friends to play with. Francie says that she doesn’t like women. Katie says that she doesn’t like them either and that they are alike in this way. She then asks Francie to help her at home, requesting that Francie to stay close to her and saying that she’ll be counting on her to help when the baby comes. Francie realizes that maybe her mother doesn’t love her as much as Neeley, but Katie needs her.
Despite feeling insufficiently loved by her mother, Francie also fears the possibility of losing her. Her offer to help Katie scrub the floor is Francie’s excuse to spend time with her mother. Katie, on the other hand, doesn’t want Francie performing her work; she scrubs floors so that Francie doesn’t have to. The only topic over which mother and daughter can bond is their mutual dislike of other women. This tendency to dislike and undervalue women also partly explains their difficulty in forming a closer bond. Francie finds it easier to resent her mother and Katie, though she needs Francie, she values her son more because he’s male.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
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