A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by

Betty Smith

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Chapter 47 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After New Year’s, things revert back to the old routine. Francie’s evenings are lonely. The family is only together at supper time. Spring comes early and the warm nights make her restless and, in March 1917, all anyone can talk about is the impending war. Then, Sissy creates a minor sensation in the family when everyone finds out that her first husband, Jim, died in a blaze. The newspaper declares Sissy his widow and she gets his pension. Steve protests that, when he married Sissy, she said she was divorced. Sissy never thought she had to get divorced because she wasn’t married in a church. Steve says that, now that she’s widowed from Jim, she can get divorced from the second husband. He then demands that everyone stop calling him “John.”
The announcement about Sissy’s first husband confronts her, for the first time in a long time, with her complicated past. In her naivete, Sissy didn’t think that a marriage that occurred outside of church counted as legal. Despite her promiscuity, she doesn’t believe in divorce, due to being Catholic. In keeping with her value of doing only what feels good, Sissy is selective with church doctrine. She refuses to accept any aspect of it that denies her sexual freedom, while accepting the part that makes her marriages void for being non-religious.
Themes
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
As it turns out, Sissy did divorce her second husband. He tells her that he is well, obtained a divorce in Wisconsin seven years ago, and married shortly thereafter. He writes, “in belligerently underlines words,” that he is “very happy” with his wife, good job, and three children and intends to stay that way. Sissy tells Francie to write back that she, too, is very happy and has a beautiful baby girl. Francie says that it might seem funny that Sissy got a baby so soon when Steve’s letter to her ex-husband said that they were planning to marry. Sissy insists on Francie writing the letter as she is dictating it. She also insists on telling him that she got a divorce before him but forgot about it.
Sissy feels suddenly competitive with her second husband. Though they parted on good terms, Sissy seems jealous of the fact that he was able to find happiness very soon after leaving her. She may be especially jealous of the fact that her second husband was able to have three healthy children without her, while Sissy delivered four stillborn children. Her assertion of her own happiness and expectant pregnancy reinforces her feeling of not being a failure as a wife and mother.
Themes
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
Steve gets a marriage license and marries Sissy all over again in a Methodist church. For the first time in their marriage, he feels “happy, secure, and masterful” and Sissy is “madly in love with him.” One evening, Sissy comes over and tells Katie that she’s pregnant again. Katie worries because Sissy is thirty-seven and too old to get over another heartbreak. Sissy insists that this child will live. She then marvels at how much Sarah looks like Steve. After another moment, she tells Katie that it was Steve who told her where Lucia lived and that she was pregnant. They are both quiet for a long time, then Katie describes the incident as “accidental.” She then tries to correct herself and say that it is “less than accidental.” As she gropes for the word, Francie, who has been listening in, offers “coincidental.” A shocked silence comes from the bedroom. The sisters continue talking in whispers.  
For Sissy, this is the only one of her marriages that counts because it’s a religious marriage. The renewal of wedding vows has symbolic importance for her and Steve and rekindles the romance between them, while also solidifying their bond, which seemed more tenuous before due to Sissy’s unpredictability. We also learn here that Steve was probably the married man with whom Lucia had an affair. To protect her pride, or to avoid feeling the hurt of betrayal, Sissy refuses to admit to this outright.
Themes
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon