A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn


Betty Smith

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Chapter 55 Summary & Analysis

Uncle Willie leaves his family in favor of roaming the streets of Brooklyn as a one-man band and collecting pennies. He decides this after winning first prize in an amateur competition at a movie house. Aunt Evy says that he’ll come back home when it starts snowing again, but Francie isn’t so sure. Evy takes over Willie’s job in the munitions factory. She gets along fine financially, but, like all of the Rommely women, she finds it hard to live without a man.
Uncle Willie finally discovers what makes him happy. Evy, like Katie, fell in love with a man who loved to make music and was discontented when he was forced into another line of work to support his family. Willie and Johnny both serve as examples of men who privilege their art over financial stability.
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Francie, meanwhile, is making plans to go to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Thanks to Ben’s help with cramming, she passes the regents’ college entrance exams. She originally wanted to go to school in New York, perhaps to Columbia, but Ben insists that part of an education is adjusting to a new environment. Ben is twenty now and in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at his college. He graduated from high school in January 1918.
Ben serves as a kind of informal mentor to Francie. Not only does he help her with her studies and help her navigate the world of higher education, which is unfamiliar to anyone else she knows, but he is her first close friend. He also convinces her to leave Brooklyn so that she can develop a more expansive world view.
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Francie likes Ben and is proud to have his friendship, but she still thinks of Lee. She wonders if he is now lying dead in France “under a plain white cross.” She cannot ask Anita, who left the Communications Corporation months ago and didn’t leave an address.
Francie thinks of Lee because she’s holding on to the dream of a union with someone she could never really have. The possibility that he’s dead heightens her romantic attraction.
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