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 Characters

Francie Nolan

The main character from whose perspective the novel is based. Mary Frances Katherine “Francie” Nolan is the eldest child in the Nolan clan and, predictably, is given the most responsibility while growing up. When the… read analysis of Francie Nolan

Neeley Nolan

Francie’s younger brother and the second child of Katie and Johnny. Cornelius John “Neeley” Nolan is one year younger than Francie and is born one week after Francie’s first birthday. He is also… read analysis of Neeley Nolan

Johnny Nolan

The husband of Katie Nolan and the father of their three children, Francie, Neeley, and Laurie. Johnny is the son of Ruthie and Mickey, who were Irish immigrants. He had three… read analysis of Johnny Nolan

Katie Nolan

Francie, Neeley, and Laurie’s mother and Johnny Nolan’s wife. The youngest daughter of Mary Rommely and Thomas Rommely, immigrants from Austria, Katie also has three sisters, Evy, Elizaread analysis of Katie Nolan

Annie Laurie Nolan McShane

Born after Johnny’s death, she is the youngest child in the Nolan clan. Katie names her after a song that Johnny used to sing, called “Annie Laurie.” She has “a mass of soft black… read analysis of Annie Laurie Nolan McShane
Get the entire A Tree Grows in Brooklyn LitChart as a printable PDF.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn PDF

Aunt Sissy

Katie’s older sister, as well as the sister of Evy and Eliza and the eldest daughter of Thomas and Mary Rommely. Sissy is born three months after her parents arrive in the United… read analysis of Aunt Sissy

Aunt Evy

The third daughter of Mary and Thomas Rommely and the sister of Katie, Sissy, and Eliza. Francie adores her, just as she does Aunt Sissy, due to Evy’s great ability for storytelling… read analysis of Aunt Evy

Uncle Willie Flittman

Aunt Evy’s husband. He is a discontented man who delivers milk for a living in a horse-drawn wagon. Despite missing the middle finger from his right hand, he plays the guitar well. Aside from… read analysis of Uncle Willie Flittman

Aunt Eliza

Mary and Thomas Rommely’s second daughter and the sister of Katie, Sissy, and Evy. She is dull, plain, and rather indifferent to life. She enters a convent at the age of… read analysis of Aunt Eliza

Carney

The owner of the junk business where Francie and Neeley trade the junk they find in their building for cash. He hair, moustache, and eyes are all “rusty” colored, and Francie notes how Carney is… read analysis of Carney

Charlie

Owner of the penny candy store, Cheap Charlie’s, which is located next to Carney’s junk shop. Francie and Neeley go there for treats after they turn in junk for cash. Francie later realizes that… read analysis of Charlie

Mr. Sauerwein

The butcher from whom the Nolans buy cow’s tongue. Francie notes how he is sometimes disagreeable about selling them the end of the tongue for a nickel. Usually, he sells cow’s tongue to rich people… read analysis of Mr. Sauerwein

Mary Rommely

The mother of Katie, Evy, Eliza, and Sissy, the wife of Thomas Rommely, and the maternal grandmother of Francie and Neeley. She is an immigrant from Austria who arrived… read analysis of Mary Rommely

Thomas Rommely

The father of Katie, Evy, Eliza, and Sissy, the husband of Mary Rommely, and the maternal grandfather of Francie and Neeley. He is an immigrant from Austria. Thomas is… read analysis of Thomas Rommely

Ruthie Nolan

The mother of Johnny Nolan and his deceased brothers, Andy, Georgie, and Frankie. She is also the paternal grandmother of Francie and Neeley. A Catholic and an Irish immigrant, Ruthie migrated to… read analysis of Ruthie Nolan

Mickey

Ruthie Nolan’s husband, Johnny’s father, and the paternal grandfather of Francie and Neely. He emigrates from Ireland with Ruthie. They have three additional sons, Andy, Georgie, and Frankie. Each boy… read analysis of Mickey

Andy Nolan

Johnny’s brother who dies young from tuberculosis. Along with Johnny and his other two brothers, George and Frankie, he is a singing waiter and a member of the Nolan Quartette. He is engaged… read analysis of Andy Nolan

Flossie Gaddis

A young woman who lives below the Nolans at their third home on Grand Street in Williamsburg. She supports her mother and brother, Henny, by working as a turner in a kid-glove factory—that is… read analysis of Flossie Gaddis

Mr. Tomony

A pawnshop owner who is rich but stingy with money. He has in fact never set foot inside his pawn shop, which he inherited, along with “an efficient manager” who looks after the place for… read analysis of Mr. Tomony

The Librarian

A woman who stamps Francie’s card each time she borrows a book, then shoves it back at her without ever smiling or looking at her. Francie asks her if she can recommend a book… read analysis of The Librarian

Mrs. Gindler

The elderly midwife who delivers Francie. She is an Irish immigrant and highly superstitious. She accuses a local woman of drying up Katie’s milk when Katie is unable to nurse Francie. After… read analysis of Mrs. Gindler

The Teacher’s Pet

A little girl who is a student at a school near Francie’s tenement building. Francie’s yard faces onto the schoolyard where the little girl goes in the afternoons to clap together a pair of… read analysis of The Teacher’s Pet

The Doctor

The physician who gives Francie her smallpox shot. He attended Harvard and has plans to join “a smart practice” in Boston when his internship is over. He currently has to put in a few hours… read analysis of The Doctor

The Nurse

The daughter of poor Polish immigrants who spent her days working in a sweatshop and her nights going to school. The doctor with whom she works looks at Francie’s arm, dirtied from making mud… read analysis of The Nurse

Miss Briggs

Francie’s first schoolteacher. Miss Briggs is an arrogant woman who dislikes poor children but favors the children of prosperous shopkeepers. Her voice is “gentle” when she speaks to these “fortune-favored few” and “snarling” when… read analysis of Miss Briggs

Hildy O’Dair

Katie’s former best friend and Johnny’s girlfriend before he meets Katie. Hildy is a “bold” young woman of Irish descent, who knows all of the latest songs and is a good dancer. She… read analysis of Hildy O’Dair

Jim

Aunt Sissy’s first husband, or “John,” whom she agrees to marry after he wins a fist-fight with her father Thomas Rommely. A fireman who later dies in a blaze, a newspaper report identifies… read analysis of Jim

Aunt Sissy’s second husband

The actual name of this husband is never revealed. He and Sissy are married for four years and have four stillborn children. This second “John” is not hurt when Sissy leaves him departure. Though he… read analysis of Aunt Sissy’s second husband

Steve

Aunt Sissy’s third husband, whom she calls “John,” as she did with all of her other husbands and lovers. The family, in turn, calls him “The John,” “Uncle John,” or “Sissy’s John.” With Steve… read analysis of Steve

Sergeant Michael McShane

A local police officer to whom Katie is attracted and eventually marries following Johnny’s death. An Irish immigrant, McShane stayed with a family shortly after his arrival whose daughter got pregnant by a man… read analysis of Sergeant Michael McShane

Jim McGarrity

The owner of a Brooklyn bar carrying his name, which Johnny frequents. He is a lonely man, and when Johnny dies, McGarrity quietly forgives his thirty-eight-dollar debt. McGarrity had liked Johnny because he was a… read analysis of Jim McGarrity

Mae McGarrity

Jim McGarrity’s wife and the mother of their children, Irene and Jim. Mae helps McGarrity in the bar. Jim recalls that he married her when she was “a curvy, sensuous girl with dark red… read analysis of Mae McGarrity

Professor Allegretto

A music instructor whom Evy hires to teach her children, Paul Jones and Blossom, how to play the fiddle. She discontinues Blossom’s lessons when she finds out about how the instructor makes Blossom take her… read analysis of Professor Allegretto

Frankie Nolan

One of Johnny Nolan’s brothers, along with Andy and Georgie, and the son of Ruthie and Mickey Nolan. He dies after being pierced in the stomach by a spike on a makeshift fence… read analysis of Frankie Nolan

The Tynmores

A pair of music teachers. Miss Lizzie teaches piano and Miss Maggie cultivates the voice. Katie does one hour of housework for the Tynmores in exchange for a one-hour piano lesson from Miss Lizzie. Katie… read analysis of The Tynmores

Mr. Morton

The music teacher who comes to Francie’s first school for thirty minutes each week. He also teaches at her second school, due to his employment being dependent on his willingness to travel around the… read analysis of Mr. Morton

Miss Bernstone

The drawing teacher at Francie’s first school. The children like her nearly as much as Mr. Morton. Miss Bernstone sympathizes with and loves the poor children more than the privileged ones. The female… read analysis of Miss Bernstone

Mattie Mahoney

A local Democratic politician who throws a boat excursion and picnic on the Hudson River for families in which the husband is a registered Democrat. Mahoney provides Francie with her first experience of politics. When… read analysis of Mattie Mahoney

Mr. Jenson

A janitor at Francie’s second school who is described as “a ruddy white-haired man.” He is friends with the principal and has an unusual degree of authority at the school. It is rumored that… read analysis of Mr. Jenson

Gussie

A six-year-old boy in Francie’s neighborhood. He is known for suckling on his mother’s breast until the age of four, depriving his younger sister, Little Tilly, of their mother’s milk. He continues to… read analysis of Gussie

Little Tilly

Gussie’s three-year-old sister. Johnny one day takes her, Francie, and Neeley to Canarsie to go fishing. Johnny feels sorry for Tilly, due to her being the younger sister of a boy whom he… read analysis of Little Tilly

Joanna

A young woman who works at a factory. She has an adorable but illegitimate child who was born as the result of a romance with a neighborhood boy. Katie describes Joanna as “bad” and holds… read analysis of Joanna

Burt

The night watchman at a bank on the corner. He is a friend of Johnny’s and lends him the gun that Katie uses to protect Francie from the child molester when she finds him… read analysis of Burt

The Child Molester

A “thin and undersized” man whom Francie encounters near the cellar of her building. The predator has already killed a seven-year-old girl from Francie’s neighborhood. He wears “a shabby dark suit” and has “thick bushy… read analysis of The Child Molester

Lucia

A beautiful sixteen-year-old neighborhood girl who is the daughter of Sicilian immigrants. She gets pregnant as the result of an affair with a married man and becomes such a source of shame that her father… read analysis of Lucia

Sarah

A baby girl, born to Lucia, whom Aunt Sissy illegally adopts. The little girl eventually becomes known as “Little Sissy.” While Sarah is still in the womb, Sissy gets the idea of feeding her… read analysis of Sarah

Miss Garnder

Francie’s English teacher. She starts to give Francie C’s in English composition, though Francie normally gets A’s, because she disapproves of Francie writing about unpleasant aspects of life, such as poverty and alcoholism. She… read analysis of Miss Garnder

Miss Irma Armstrong

The special city reader at the Model Press Clipping Bureau, where Francie works as a file clerk. Miss Armstrong is the highest paid file clerk. She is also kind and tries to befriend Francie, who… read analysis of Miss Irma Armstrong

The Boss at Model Press Clipping Bureau

Francie’s supervisor who later marries Miss Armstrong. He then promotes Francie to Miss Armstrong’s former position as the city reader. He pays Francie much less than his other employees but gives her a… read analysis of The Boss at Model Press Clipping Bureau

Ben Blake

A handsome, well-dressed nineteen-year-old and paramour of Francie’s. Ben befriends Francie in the college bookstore when he advises her on how to save money on books. He is very ambitious, serving as the editor… read analysis of Ben Blake

Anita

A young woman who works with Francie at the Communications Corporation, where she operates a teletype machine in Francie’s row. She asks Francie to entertain her boyfriend Joey’s friend, Lee, so that the… read analysis of Anita

Corporal Leo “Lee” Rhynor

A “tall and gangling” twenty-two-year old from a small town in Pennsylvania who does not strike Francie as handsome but whose “shy smile” attracts her nonetheless. He is friends with Joey. On their first… read analysis of Corporal Leo “Lee” Rhynor

Florry Wendy

A little girl who lives in a building across from Francie. While Francie gets ready for her date with Ben, she wonders if anyone is watching her, just as she used to watch… read analysis of Florry Wendy
Minor Characters
Gimpy
Owner of a candy store across the street from Charlie’s. He gets his name from the fact that he is lame. People in the neighborhood view him as a gentle, harmless man until he molests a little girl in the back room of his store.
Maude Donovan
A friend of Francie’s who is described as her “once-in-a-while girlfriend.” She is an orphan who lives with two unmarried aunts who work at home as seamstresses.
Frank
The driver of a horse-drawn wagon. He is a “nice” and handsome young man “with rosy cheeks,” and girls like to flirt with him. He later marries Flossie Gaddis to avoid being conscripted into the First World War, which he rightfully senses will soon involve the United States.
Henny Gaddis
Flossie Gaddis’s brother. He is nineteen years old and looks healthy, but has tuberculosis and knows that he will soon die. Despite this, he is “avid for life” and does not understand why he is “doomed.”
Francie Melaney
Andy Nolan’s fiancée and Francie’s namesake. The elder Francie postpones her marriage to Andy, hoping that he will recover from tuberculosis, though he never does. Francie then makes a vow never to marry.
Dr. Aaron Aaronstein
The doctor who delivers Aunt Sissy’s first live baby, Stephen Aaron. Sissy’s son is named after Dr. Aaronstein, whom she credits for reviving the baby when he emerged from her womb looking blue. Sissy takes Dr. Aaronstein’s hands and covers them with kisses, in gratitude for her son’s survival.
Stephen Aaron
Aunt Sissy’s second child and the first live baby among the eleven to whom she has given birth. He is named after her third husband and the boy’s father, Steve, and the doctor who delivered and revived him, Dr. Aaron Aaronstein.
Joey
Anita’s boyfriend. He is a soldier who will soon enter the First World War. He is friends with Lee. When Francie first sees him, she notices a “short” and “stubby” young man who is “beaming” and holding Anita’s arm “possessively.”