A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn


Betty Smith

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Chapter 46 Summary & Analysis

It is New Year’s Eve 1917. The Nolans talk about how their landlord is planning to rip out the old wood stoves in favor of steam heating. When the new year comes in, someone begins to sing “Auld Lang Syne.” A group of Germans join in but sing in German. The Irish retaliate with a parody of their lyrics. Francie says that she doesn’t like Germans because they’re too insistent on having their way. Someone with a thick Irish brogue yells out “Happy New Year!” to the Nolans and Neeley responds with the same, but jokingly calls the well-wisher “a dirty Irish mick.” Katie and Francie laugh. Then, they all decide to drink a toast to their Irishness. McGarrity gave them a bottle of fine brandy for Christmas. Neeley pours his out, while Francie drinks hers. Katie worries momentarily that Francie could be like her father, but thinks that her own characteristics are stronger in Francie.
Francie’s expressed dislike of Germans inadvertently mimics her grandfather Thomas Rommely’s professed hatred of Germans. The ethnic rivalry that results over singing “Auld Lang Syne” humorously illustrates the diversity of New York and how ethnic groups contend with one another for dominance, even over small things. Ethnicity, too, evokes signs of class. Neeley jokes and calls the Irish well-wishers “dirty micks,” despite being Irish himself, because he’s making fun of the reputation of the Irish as a lower-class ethnic group. He pokes fun, too, at the tension within his own family between an Austrian and an Irishman.
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Francie and Neeley go to the roof and stand in the cold night air. Francie is drunk and thinks about how much she needs someone to love in a way that’s different from how she loves her family. It isn’t about sex, but rather understanding. She looks out over Brooklyn and says that it’s “magical,” while Neeley thinks it’s like any other place. He says that it’s only Francie’s imagination that makes it different. His saying this reminds Francie of their mother. She thinks that he’s so much of both of their parents. She wants to hug him, but, like their mother, he hates demonstrations of affection. They shake hands solemnly instead and wish each other “Happy New Year!”
For Francie, part of becoming a young woman is about experiencing her first love. The thought of finding the man she’ll one day love, somewhere out in the city, makes the skyline appear suddenly appear “magical” to her. Neeley isn’t having the same thought, so the city looks the same as ever to him. Neeley has his mother’s practical way of looking at things, while Francie is dreamy like her father.
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