A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by

Betty Smith

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Chapter 48 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On April 6, 1917, the United States goes to war. Francie makes a little time capsule of this moment by sealing a lock of her hair in a square of paper, which bear the marks of her fingerprints and lipstick, in an envelope. She prays to God for every moment of her life to matter. Francie puts her head down on her desk and weeps. One of the other readers asks her if she has a brother or a sweetheart. When she confirms that she has a brother, the reader offers her sympathies. That evening, Francie tells Katie and Neeley how a German spy was caught in her office. Business is also spoiled by houses holding off on important publications and research workers canceling their accounts in anticipation of being drafted. The government, anticipating a man shortage, opens the civil service to women and many of the file clerks apply and are accepted.
It isn’t entirely clear why Francie begins to cry. Neeley is too young to go to war, so it’s unlikely that she’s thinking of him when her co-worker talks about a brother of hers going to war. It’s possible that the prospect of war makes her think that it’ll be that much more difficult for her to find “a sweetheart,” as her co-worker puts it. To avoid explaining this longing for romantic companionship, she lets her co-worker think that the truth lies somewhere between. In a way, it does, because Francie wants both friendship with a man (so far, she only has this with her actual brother) and someone to love romantically.
Themes
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
Soon, Francie, Miss Armstrong, and the boss are the only ones reading papers. Then, Francie is laid off when the boss decides to close the Bureau. The boss promises Francie her last week’s salary, but she doesn’t expect to receive it. Her next job is at the Communications Corporation in downtown New York, working as a teletype operator. Despite Francie having another job, Katie begins to worry. The war has sent the prices of goods skyrocketing. The family’s dependence on Francie’s wages will prevent her from going to college. However, Francie likes her work, and the household adjusts itself to her new schedule. She leaves home at four in the afternoon and gets home a little before two in the morning. She sleeps until 11:00 AM. Francie works Sunday nights, but she has Wednesdays off. The arrangement cures her of her lonely evenings. It also gives her a few hours to spend in the park with Laurie.
Francie’s lack of expectation regarding her final salary indicates that she’s had some idea that her boss has been dishonest with her regarding her pay. Francie expresses no sense of mourning about losing her job at the Bureau, though she seems to have thoroughly enjoyed it. Her ability to continue on, despite setbacks, mirrors Katie’s stoicism and perseverance over the years in response to losing jobs and enduring Johnny’s bouts of drunkenness. Francie quickly adjusts to her new schedule and doesn’t seem to be dismayed by the slight decline in her pay. As usual, she looks on the bright side: she’ll have more time to spend with Laurie.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
When the subject of high school comes up, Francie says that she refuses to go. Now, Katie protests, but Francie fears that she’ll be too old when she finally graduates and gets through college. Then, Francie has the idea of taking some college courses during the day. She signs up for three afternoon classes with Brooklyn’s “oldest and most reputable college.” Francie figures she can take the classes as a non-degree seeking student. Her plan works and the cashier accepts her money for tuition. When it is time to buy her books, she balks at the choice between new and secondhand texts until a “tall and good-looking” young man behind her suggests that she buy them second-hand to save money. She thanks him and watches him leave. On the way home, she clutches her books, hardly able to believe that she is in college.
Roles are reversed in that it’s now Katie who wants Francie to go back to school, while Francie balks at the prospect. She fears being outcast due to being so much older than the other students. Furthermore, Francie has gained a fair amount of work and life experience that would also make her seem out of place in high school. Her decision to skip ahead to college seems more suitable and also opens up the prospect of meeting a possible boyfriend.
Themes
Education and the American Dream Theme Icon
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon