A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by

Betty Smith

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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 States from Austria. When Sissy first appears in the novel, she is thirty-five and works at a rubber factory. She has “roving black eyes, black curling hair, and a high clear color.” Sissy never goes to school because Mary does not know realize free public education is available to poor immigrants, too. Though Sissy is uneducated, she makes up for it by being witty, clever, warmhearted, and vivacious. She also loves children. Sissy is also openly sexual from a young age, to the shock of her family and members of the community. At ten, she develops the body of a thirty-year-old woman. At twelve, she has a twenty-year-old boyfriend. At fourteen, she is dating Jim, a twenty-five-year-old firefighter. She marries Jim after he beats up her father in a physical challenge. Sissy gets pregnant one month after they marry and plans to name the baby Mary, if it is a girl, and John, if it is a boy, but gives birth to a stillborn baby on her fifteenth birthday. By the time she is twenty, she has had four more children, and all of them are stillborn. She leaves Jim, but never divorces him due to her Catholic faith. She marries a second time and has four more stillborn children before leaving this man, too. Sissy is perceived as naïve, though quite adept at getting what she wants, especially from men. She is also warm and protective, particularly of Francie. After her third marriage, she has given birth to ten stillborn children in all. When she illegally adopts Sarah from Lucia, Sissy settles into domestic life with her latest partner, Steve. She has a second child with Steve, a biological son named Stephen Aaron.

Aunt Sissy Quotes in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

The A Tree Grows in Brooklyn quotes below are all either spoken by Aunt Sissy or refer to Aunt Sissy . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harper Collins edition of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn published in 1943.
Chapter 30 Quotes

Most women had the one thing in common: they had great pain when they gave birth to their children. This should make a bond that held them all together; it should make them love and protect each other against the man-world. But it was not so. It seemed like their great birth pains shrank their hearts and their souls. They stuck together for only one thing: to trample on some other woman […] whether it was by throwing stones or by mean gossip. It was the only kind of loyalty they seemed to have. Men were different. They might hate each other but they stuck together against the world and against any woman who would ensnare one of them. “As long as I live, I will never have a woman for a friend. I will never trust any woman again, except maybe Mama and sometimes Aunt Evy and Aunt Sissy.”

Related Characters: Francie Nolan (speaker), Katie Nolan, Aunt Sissy , Aunt Evy, Joanna
Page Number: 237-238
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire A Tree Grows in Brooklyn LitChart as a printable PDF.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn PDF

Aunt Sissy Character Timeline in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

The timeline below shows where the character Aunt Sissy appears in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Class and Snobbery Theme Icon
When Francie returns home, she finds out that Katie has gone out with Aunt Sissy to see a matinee, and Neeley is heading to the lots to play baseball. Francie... (full context)
Chapter 2
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
...window shut. Francie feels sorry for Flossie because she is always running after men. Aunt Sissy runs after men, too, but the men run “to meet her halfway.” Flossie is starved... (full context)
Chapter 3
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Romanticism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
...asks where Katie is and Francie says that she went to a movie with Aunt Sissy. Johnny is happy because it is a beautiful day and he has a job. The... (full context)
Chapter 5
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Chapter 9
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
Sissy goes to Katie’s apartment after work. She declares Francie “the most beautiful baby in the... (full context)
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
...result, he drifts back into the singing-waiting business and never takes another job. Katie tells Sissy about her fears and worries regarding the future. She also tells her older sister about... (full context)
Education and the American Dream Theme Icon
Romanticism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Sissy starts the bank off by putting a nickel in. She then gets back into bed... (full context)
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Sissy gets “a worn-out copy” of Shakespeare from the files at the library. The librarian gives... (full context)
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
Charlie worries that Sissy is taking the Bible to reform him, in which case he’ll have to go back... (full context)
Chapter 10
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
...will flow “like the River Shannon.” Katie follows the instruction, but her milk doesn’t flow. Sissy tells Katie that her lack of milk comes from her being pregnant again. (full context)
Chapter 11
Romanticism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
...By the late afternoon, Katie can’t stand it any longer and goes over to visit Sissy at the rubber factory, with her two babies in a buggy. Sissy agrees to come... (full context)
Romanticism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Sissy consults with a gentleman friend who gives her instructions. She conceals a half pint of... (full context)
Romanticism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Whenever Johnny wakes up and becomes afraid, Sissy gives him a drink of whisky. Whenever he jerks away from her, she opens her... (full context)
Romanticism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
When Sissy goes back into the kitchen, Katie looks at her disordered clothing with “swollen and suspicious”... (full context)
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
Romanticism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Katie wonders aloud why she married Johnny. Sissy says that Katie married him because she wanted to sleep with Johnny but did not... (full context)
Chapter 14
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
...on Lorimer Street and the Nolans would have continued living there if it weren’t for Sissy’s business with the tricycle and the balloons, which later “ruined and disgraced the Nolans.” Sissy... (full context)
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
...for a job, and Katie fixes sandwiches and coffee for shopgirls at Gorling’s Department Store. Sissy knows that the children will be alone, so she goes to keep them company. She... (full context)
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
While Sissy looks through her purse, Francie sees a cigarette box. On the cover, there is a... (full context)
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
After Sissy leaves, Francie and Neeley stare at the picture. They shake the box and imagine that... (full context)
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
...Katie talks with Evy and they both agree that, for the sake of their daughters, Sissy has to stay away because she is “bad.” They also agree not to tell Mary... (full context)
Chapter 19
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Class and Snobbery Theme Icon
Aunt Sissy, who has not seen her niece and nephew in a long time and is lonesome... (full context)
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Class and Snobbery Theme Icon
The next morning, ten minutes before class starts, Sissy is confronting Miss Briggs. She presents herself as Francie’s mother and says that Francie has... (full context)
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
A few weeks later, Sissy asks one of her co-workers in the shop to write her a note for Katie.... (full context)
Chapter 30
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
...and will never trust a woman, except for Katie and “sometimes Aunt Evy and Aunt Sissy.” (full context)
Chapter 34
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
Francie hears Aunt Sissy tell Katie that she is going to get a baby. Sissy wants to adopt a... (full context)
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
Sissy takes good care of Lucia, taking her outside and feeding her while Lucia’s father is... (full context)
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
When Steve comes home that night, he asks Sissy, jokingly, if she has had her baby. She announces that she has. When she refuses... (full context)
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
Romanticism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Katie is the only person whom Sissy tells the truth about Sarah. As a result, Francie finds out, too. Katie also tells... (full context)
Chapter 36
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
...she gets eighteen dollars out of the tin can bank. She borrows the remainder from Sissy. Katie reads the deed carefully, remembering the story Mary Rommely once told her of how... (full context)
Chapter 38
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Education and the American Dream Theme Icon
When Katie consults with Sissy and Evy, Evy insists that Katie pull Francie out of school so that she can... (full context)
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
On the way home from Aunt Sissy’s house one afternoon, Francie tells Katie how Aunt Sissy doesn’t wear her strong, sweet perfume... (full context)
Chapter 40
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
...PM, he is to go over to Aunt Evy’s, because she lives closer than Aunt Sissy. Katie doesn’t think that men should be around during deliveries. Katie thinks of how some... (full context)
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
Evy arrives at 8:30 PM and says that Sissy will be along in half an hour. Evy asks Francie if Katie has prepared baby... (full context)
Chapter 42
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Education and the American Dream Theme Icon
Romanticism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
...on her desk, with a note from Johnny, who’s been dead for six months. Aunt Sissy tells her that, a year ago, Johnny gave her two dollars and the card, all... (full context)
Education and the American Dream Theme Icon
Aunt Sissy takes Francie into the girls’ restroom and instructs her to cry loud and hard to... (full context)
Education and the American Dream Theme Icon
...she doesn’t want to talk about it, but Katie doesn’t let the subject rest until Sissy orders her to. They all go out for ice cream. (full context)
Chapter 44
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
...though she’s only fourteen. She gets a reply two days later, asking for an interview. Sissy goes shopping with Francie to help her pick out a grown-up outfit for the interview.... (full context)
Chapter 47
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
...restless and, in March 1917, all anyone can talk about is the impending war. Then, Sissy creates a minor sensation in the family when everyone finds out that her first husband,... (full context)
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
As it turns out, Sissy did divorce her second husband. He tells her that he is well, obtained a divorce... (full context)
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
Steve gets a marriage license and marries Sissy all over again in a Methodist church. For the first time in their marriage, he... (full context)
Chapter 50
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
Aunt Sissy expects her baby in late November. Sissy says that she will have the baby at... (full context)