A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by

Betty Smith

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Chapter 42 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On the last night in June 1916, Francie graduates. When she watches the graduation play, her eyes burn “with unshed tears.” She thinks that her play would’ve been better. When Francie picks up her report card, she sees four “A’s” and one “C minus.” The latter is her English grade. Francie suddenly hates the school and its teachers, especially Miss Garnder. She returns to the classroom with the other girls, who are expecting bouquets of flowers on their desks. Francie knows that hers will be without flowers, but she’s surprised when she sees red roses on her desk, with a note from Johnny, who’s been dead for six months. Aunt Sissy tells her that, a year ago, Johnny gave her two dollars and the card, all written out, asking Sissy to send the flowers on Francie’s graduation day, in case he forgot. Francie cries.
Francie’s eyes “burn” when she watches the play because she knows that Miss Garnder’s reason for refusing to stage it was unjust. She also feels that her composition grade is unfair. If nothing else, Francie’s experience with Miss Garnder provides her with her first lesson on the ways in which people can thoroughly misunderstand others. The lesson is helpful for Francie to learn, given that she wants to be a writer and must be prepared for others to dislike her work and misunderstand her intentions. The surprise bouquet reminds her of the only person who loved her unconditionally—her father.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Education and the American Dream Theme Icon
Romanticism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Aunt Sissy takes Francie into the girls’ restroom and instructs her to cry loud and hard to get all of her feelings out. When Francie comes out, she feels better. She says goodbye to teachers and other students, whom she realizes liked her much more than she thought. Francie goes to Miss Garnder’s room. The teacher looks eagerly toward Francie and asks why Francie stopped handing work in. Francie doesn’t reply but holds her hand out for Miss Garnder to shake and says “goodbye.” Miss Garnder insists that Francie will see that she was right. Francie no longer hates Miss Garnder but feels sorry for her. Mr. Jenson shakes hands with everyone and says “goodbye.” To Francie, he instructs her to be good, work hard, and be a credit to her school. She promises that she will.
Francie needs to cry because she’s spent months suppressing her grief about her father’s death so that she would be strong enough to help Katie at home. After she cries, she releases feelings of both sadness and anger and feels less hostile than she did moments ago. She becomes sympathetic toward Miss Garnder, whom she realizes doesn’t understand much about the world but is fixated on a need to be right and to convince others that her point of view about the world is the only proper one. The experience reveals that teachers are as flawed and complicated as anyone else.
Themes
Education and the American Dream Theme Icon
At home, Francie and Neeley’s diplomas are admired. Francie’s is especially admired, due to Mr. Jenson’s fine handwriting. Neeley turns in a report card of two B’s and C’s in his other subjects. Katie registers surprise at Francie’s “C” in English composition. Francie says that she doesn’t want to talk about it, but Katie doesn’t let the subject rest until Sissy orders her to. They all go out for ice cream.
Though Francie outperforms her brother in school, Katie is harsher on Francie for the blemish on her school record. Sissy orders Katie to stop talking about it because she recognizes that Katie is using the grade as an opportunity judge when it’s a day for her to express pride in her daughter.
Themes
Education and the American Dream Theme Icon
When it’s time to pay, Katie lets the waiter keep twenty cents in change. Evy protests, but Katie insists they are celebrating. When Albie Seedmore, the son of a prosperous grocer, asks Francie out for a movie, Francie agrees after getting her mother’s nodded consent. Aunt Evy prompts Francie to make a wish on the occasion of her first date. Francie wishes that she can always wear a white dress, hold red roses, and throw money around.
For once, Katie abandons her tight-fisted tendency with money to celebrate the prospect of a better future, as a result of Francie’s graduating from primary school. For Francie, her graduation day makes her feel exceptionally important, as though she’s living up to her father’s nickname—prima donna.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Romanticism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
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