A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by

Betty Smith

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Chapter 49 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Francie is excited by her classes in chemistry and Restoration drama, but she struggles with beginner’s-level French—that is, until Ben Blake intervenes. Ben helps Francie with all of her homework and she dreads the end of the summer because she’ll no longer be seeing Ben every day. On the eve of her French exam, Ben invites her to study so that they can cram for the French exam. They meet at a Broadway theater where he works as an usher on Saturday nights. He creates a master exam paper, made up of frequently asked questions and those seldom asked. He also helps her memorize a page from Molière’s Tartuffe. When she encounters the one question from the exam that she will be unable to answer, she is to offer the passage that she has memorized instead. He assures her that this tactic will help her pass the exam, and it works. Francie gets a passing grade. She also does very well on her exams in chemistry and drama.
Ben becomes a wonderful friend and companion for Francie because he shares her love of learning and her ambition. For the first time in her life, Francie knows someone who can identify with her need learn as well as her curiosity of the world beyond New York. She struggles with French because, though it is a beginner’s-level course, it’s taught with the assumption that the students have had some previous exposure. It’s also possible that Francie struggles with it because it represents a foreign world that Francie can’t trick herself into understanding. Her love of theater, on the other hand, makes Restoration drama somewhat familiar.
Themes
Education and the American Dream Theme Icon
A week later, Francie and Ben go out for chocolate sodas. Ben confesses that he likes Francie a lot, though he has no time for girls. They part, promising to see each other the following summer. Francie enjoys summer school so much that she tries to attend the same college again in the fall, but she doesn’t have the tuition money. She finds a women’s college that is free for residents, but they refuse to accept her without a high school diploma. There is an alternative, however: if she passes the regents’ examination, she can enroll regardless of high school credits. Francie takes the exam and flunks every subject but chemistry. She promises to study and take the exam again next year. She thinks of Ben and wonders if she should write him, then she decides against it, figuring that he wouldn’t have time to see her anyway.
Though it is an interest in education that has brought Francie and Ben together, it is also this very thing that is keeping them apart. Ben is extremely ambitious and driven and seems to have his life figured out in a way that Francie does not at this point. She’s still trying to navigate through the world of higher education, figuring out how to get to college without a diploma, which proves tricky. At the same time, she also wants a boyfriend and can’t stop thinking of Ben, who seems so suitable for her, while he’s also less concerned than she is about falling in love.
Themes
Education and the American Dream Theme Icon
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon