A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by

Betty Smith

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on A Tree Grows in Brooklyn can help.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Katie comes home at 6:00 PM with Aunt Sissy. Francie is glad to see Sissy, who is her favorite aunt. Katie is wearing a jade green hat, which complements her creamy skin and she hides her workworn hands in white cotton gloves. Sissy brought Francie a corncob pipe, one of the rubber toys produced by her factory. Francie hopes that Sissy will stay for dinner, but she insists that she has to go home to make sure that “her husband still [loves] her.” Katie and Francie laugh, but Francie does not understand what she means. Before she leaves, Sissy promises that she’ll return on the first of the month with some pulp magazines from her husband Steve’s publishing house. Francie reads the detective stories, love stories, wild west stories, and supernatural stories avidly then sells them to the neighborhood stationary store at half-price. The money goes into Katie’s tin-can bank.
Having already demonstrated Francie’s closeness to her brother and her father, Smith elucidates how Francie relates to the women in her family. Though her mother is a menial laborer, she retains some ability to enjoy her youth and beauty by wearing the jade green hat. When Francie laughs at her aunt’s joke, despite not understanding it, this is her attempt to bring herself closer to her aunt and her mother by identifying with their humor. Smith also alerts the reader to Francie’s wide-ranging tastes in literature and her business acumen. This is the first time that she finds a way to make money out of her love of reading.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
For Saturday supper, Katie makes a meal out of stale bread. She pours boiling water over a loaf, makes a paste, seasons it, then adds minced onion and an egg (when eggs are cheap). She bakes it, then covers it in a sauce made from ketchup, two cups of boiling water, seasoning, a bit of strong coffee, and flour to thicken it. What is left over is fried the next day in bacon fat. Katie also makes bread pudding from slices of stale bread, using cinnamon, sugar, and “a penny apple sliced thin.” Sometimes she made Weg Geschnissen, which was made from the bits of bread that would normally be thrown out. Katie, instead, dips them in batter and fries them. Francie buys a penny’s worth of brown rock candy, which is crushed with a rolling pin and sprinkled on top just before eating. The Nolans live mostly on stale bread.
Katie’s ingenuity with the bread results from having to stretch it into several meals. Creativity in cuisine often results from poverty. Katie creates a dish that is not only nourishing (e.g., onion, egg) but flavorful with the additions of coffee and ketchup. Katie calls the bits of bread Weg Geschnissen, which is a modified form of the German verb ‘weggeschmissen,’ which means “to throw away.” Though Katie encourages her children to waste coffee from time to time, they can’t afford to do so with bread, which is costly for them and an important source of nourishment.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Sometimes, especially at the end of “a long cold dark winter,” Francie craves only a pickle. She goes to a store on Moore Street owned by a Jewish patriarch with “a long white beard, black skull cap and toothless gums.” Francie asks for a “sheeny” pickle. The merchant hates this word, though he doesn’t know why. He calls her “Goyem.” Francie heard a rumor that the merchant only sells to Gentiles out of one vat and that he spits in it, or does worse. Francie doesn’t believe this. He stirs in the vat, muttering curses. He is thrown into “a hysterical passion” when Francie asks for a pickle from the bottom of the vat. Eventually, he pulls out “a fine fat pickle, greenish yellow and hard at the ends.” Francie nibbles and sucks the pickle all day. When the Nolans have bread and potatoes too many times at home, Francie eats a pickle and finds that the repetitive meal tastes good all over again.
The word “sheeny” is an ethnic slur against Jews, though Francie doesn’t know it. She only says it because everyone else does. The merchant also doesn’t exactly understand the word’s meaning, though he knows that people say it to insult him. The pickle breaks up the monotony of the meals in the Nolan home. The sour pickle is a novelty item, which not only tastes very different from what Francie normally eats but also requires her to go into a different section of her neighborhood to obtain it. Thus, the experience of the pickle breaks up the long, depressing winter by providing Francie with a novel experience that she can afford.
Themes
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon