A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by

Betty Smith

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Neeley Nolan Character Analysis

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 the child whom Katie favors the most. Though her mother does her best to disguise this, Francie senses it. Unlike Francie, Neeley is born strong, healthy, and handsome and grows up to look almost identical to their father. When they are children, Neeley assists Francie when they go rag-picking in the building where their mother works. Unlike his sister, Neeley is only an average student. Nevertheless, Katie is more insistent with him than with Francie about his finishing high school. The family hopes that he will become a doctor because his name seems befitting of one. Neeley, however, has little interest in studying and is eager to work and help the family financially as he approaches his teen years. He works first in McGarrity’s, peeling boiled eggs and cutting hunks of cheese, as part of the bar’s offer of free lunch to its patrons. He claims to have an ambition to become a stock broker, though this is only due to the allure of what looks like fast and easy income. He inherits his father’s looks and, later, also becomes a singer and a piano player. When they are teenagers, Francie notices that he wears a union label in his shirt, just as their father did, and calls her “Prima Donna.”

Neeley Nolan Quotes in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

The A Tree Grows in Brooklyn quotes below are all either spoken by Neeley Nolan or refer to Neeley Nolan. 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 10 Quotes

Life was going too swiftly for Johnny. He had a wife and two babies before

he was old enough to vote. His life was finished before it had a chance to begin. He was doomed and no one knew it better than Johnny Nolan. Katie had the same hardships as Johnny and she was nineteen, two years younger. It might be said that she, too, was doomed. Her life, too, was over before it began. But there the similarity ended. Johnny knew he was doomed and accepted it. Katie wouldn't accept it. She started a new life where her old one left off. She exchanged her tenderness for capability. She gave up her dreams

and took over hard realities in their place. Katie had a fierce desire for survival which made her a fighter. Johnny had a hankering after immortality which made him a useless dreamer. And that was the great difference between these two who loved each other so well.

Related Characters: Neeley Nolan, Johnny Nolan, Katie Nolan
Page Number: 96-97
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

A person who pulls himself up from a low environment via the bootstrap

route has two choices. Having risen above his environment, he can

forget it; or, he can rise above it and never forget it and keep compassion

and understanding in his heart for those he has left behind him in the

cruel upclimb. The nurse had chosen the forgetting way. Yet, as she stood there, she knew that years later she would be haunted by the sorrow in

the face of that starveling child and that she would wish bitterly that she

had said a comforting word then and done something towards the saving

of her immortal soul. She had the knowledge that she was small but she

lacked the courage to be otherwise.

Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 56 Quotes

He buttoned up his coat jauntily and Francie saw that he wore their father's signet ring. It was true then—what Granma had said: that the Rommely women had the gift of seeing the ghosts of their beloved dead. Francie saw her

father.

Page Number: 490
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire A Tree Grows in Brooklyn LitChart as a printable PDF.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn PDF

Neeley Nolan Character Timeline in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

The timeline below shows where the character Neeley Nolan 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
...for the rest of the day with free consciences. On Saturdays, Francie and her brother, Neeley, go to the junkie. Like many other Brooklyn kids, they collect rags, paper, metal, and... (full context)
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
...him when he pinches her cheek. He gives her sixteen cents for the junk, which Neeley divides. Francie allows Neeley to handle the money because he is the boy. He puts... (full context)
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Francie and Neeley then head to Cheap Charlie’s candy store. It is a penny candy store that caters... (full context)
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...for dinner. Usually, he spends Saturdays at the Union Headquarters, waiting for a job. Francie, Neeley, and Katie have a nice dinner without him. They slice up the rye bread and... (full context)
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...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 follows him there, though Neeley does... (full context)
Chapter 6
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When Neeley comes home, he and Francie go to buy meat. Katie instructs them to get “a... (full context)
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Francie and Neeley then go to Hassler’s for the soup bone. Hassler is a good butcher for bones... (full context)
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After dinner, which includes fried meat, potatoes, smashed pie, and coffee, Neeley goes out to play with his friends. Maudie Donovan then comes around to go with... (full context)
Education and the American Dream Theme Icon
Romanticism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Before bed, Francie and Neeley have to read a page from Shakespeare and from the Bible, as rule. On Saturday... (full context)
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Francie and Neeley get out of bed and everyone gathers at the table while Johnny pulls out the... (full context)
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Neeley goes back to bed and falls asleep immediately. Francie goes back to sitting by the... (full context)
Chapter 10
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...an actor portray on stage. As the boy grows up, he adopts the Brooklynese nickname Neeley. Neeley becomes Katie’s entire world, with Johnny taking second place and Francie going somewhere in... (full context)
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...love with him. She loves Francie because she feels sorry for her. By the time Neeley is a year old, she stops depending on Johnny. He drinks heavily and only works... (full context)
Chapter 13
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...the only children in the building. Francie is nearly four and already responsible for watching Neeley, who is nearly three, while their parents work. (full context)
Chapter 14
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...Sissy is laid off from work and, that day, decides to go see Francie and Neeley while Katie is working. She suddenly sees “a handsome tricycle.” It’s unattended and Sissy wastes... (full context)
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After Sissy leaves, Francie and Neeley stare at the picture. They shake the box and imagine that there are snakes or... (full context)
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...that Katie said that Francie must wait a year for school so that she and Neeley can start together and protect each other against bullies. Johnny muses at how he and... (full context)
Chapter 17
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After each lesson, Katie shows Francie and Neeley what she has learned and makes them practice for thirty minutes each day. Over time,... (full context)
Chapter 18
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Education and the American Dream Theme Icon
...goes after them for keeping the children out of school. Francie is now seven and Neeley is six. On a Saturday in August, she instructs them to wash themselves and then... (full context)
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Francie and Neeley spend the morning making mud pies and nearly forget about the time until their neighbor,... (full context)
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...nurse ties a strip of gauze to her arm, she speaks up and says that Neeley is coming in next, and that they shouldn’t be surprised to see that his arm... (full context)
Chapter 19
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...sees them on a November day shortly after she is laid off. She first sees Neeley, who has his cap snatched off and trampled by a bigger boy. Neeley then goes... (full context)
Chapter 20
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When an epidemic of mumps breaks out, Katie makes Francie and Neeley go to school with buds of garlic sewn into flannel bags worn around their necks.... (full context)
Chapter 23
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...each day to get to school, but she loves the walk. She leaves earlier than Neeley and comes back later. Katie refuses to let her carry a lunch, worried that she’ll... (full context)
Chapter 24
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...of winning fifty strips. However, Francie is a poor marble player and loses her tickets. Neeley has three left and Francie asks for one. Katie, instead, uses the occasion to lecture... (full context)
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...becomes the head of the local Democratic Party. On the way home, it is dusk. Neeley falls asleep in Katie’s lap. (full context)
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On Election night, Francie and Neeley participate in the neighborhood bonfire, contributing the wood they have collected. By the end of... (full context)
Chapter 25
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...he stops drinking, he teaches his children things and works harder. He takes Francie and Neeley to wealthy Bushwick Avenue, for instance, and teaches them about the different parts of the... (full context)
Chapter 26
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...and asked for candy. Francie wears “a yellow Chinaman [mask] with sleazy rope mandarin mustache.” Neeley wears “a chalk-white death head with grinning black teeth.” He combines this mask with one... (full context)
Chapter 27
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...impact, he can keep the tree. On the Christmas Eve when Francie is ten and Neeley is nine, Katie consents to letting them have their first try in this ritual. (full context)
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Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
...derisively while others snicker and guffaw. He tells Francie that she’s too little. She pulls Neeley forward and says that, together, they are not too little. Punky protests and the tree... (full context)
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
...wavering lane. At one end is the tree man and, at the other, Francie and Neeley stand waiting. The vendor agonizes over throwing the tree at the small children and wonders... (full context)
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When some of the older boys pull the tree away and find Francie and Neeley standing and holding hands. Blood trickles from scratches on Neeley’s face. The siblings, however, are... (full context)
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It’s difficult to pull the tree home. When Francie and Neeley get to their building, they call Johnny to help them get the tree up the... (full context)
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Education and the American Dream Theme Icon
Gender, Sexuality, and Vulnerability Theme Icon
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...result of education. She knows that Francie does not love her in the way that Neeley does. She fears that Francie will be ashamed of her or try to make her... (full context)
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...demurs because the family is Catholic. Evy urges tolerance and Katie finally allows Francie and Neeley to go to the party. In the large auditorium, girls sit on one side and... (full context)
Poverty and Perseverance Theme Icon
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...and would throw it away if she knew the truth of how Francie got it. Neeley doesn’t tell. That afternoon, she writes a story about a little girl who wants a... (full context)
Chapter 28
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...seems to come along faster. The death of Henny Gaddis has something to with it. Neeley also grows to be a foot taller. Maudie Donovan moves away and, when she returns... (full context)
Chapter 29
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The next Sunday, the three children set out for Canarsie. Francie is eleven, Neeley is ten, and Tilly is three years old. Johnny wears a tuxedo, a derby hat,... (full context)
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...warns them not to laugh. Francie doesn’t, but her desire to makes her ribs hurt. Neeley is afraid to look at her, afraid that he will laugh. Johnny climbs in. He... (full context)
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Horrified, Francie, Neeley, and Tilly watch Johnny impale an earthworm on a hook. The sun grows bright and... (full context)
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After lunch, Johnny rows Francie, Neeley, and Tilly back out to sea. He sings as he rows. Eventually, his hands get... (full context)
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...them to lie, but just “not to be too fussy about the truth.” Francie and Neeley understand. The four of them board a trolley. They look strange—Johnny with his “green wrinkled... (full context)
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...the trolley and it gets crowded, but no one will sit next to Johnny, Francie, Neeley, or Little Tilly. Finally, the fish falls out of “the sodden newspaper” and to the... (full context)
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...cost a dollar to clean and will never return to its original state. Francie and Neeley are suffering from fever, chills, and sunburn. However, they go to bed laughing hysterically at... (full context)
Chapter 32
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...it’s better to be cremated or buried. Johnny also gets sick that month. By March, Neeley has taken pussy willows from a park to give to a girl he likes, though... (full context)
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...her privacy in the future. Meanwhile, Miss Tynmore continues to teach the family compositions and Neeley can soon play Alexander’s Ragtime Band without notes. He also announces that he has a... (full context)
Chapter 33
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When Johnny takes the gun home, he tells Francie and Neeley not to touch it. Francie thinks that the revolver looks “like a grotesque beckoning finger.”... (full context)
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Neeley is in the street when he hears the shot. He goes home and hears people... (full context)
Chapter 34
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...opportunity to question his own paternity until he sees how Francie has his eyes and Neeley is his mirror image. When Johnny announces that he is going out, Katie pulls his... (full context)
Chapter 35
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...with a bundle of wood blocks, condensed milk, and three bananas. She tells Francie and Neeley that they’ll have oatmeal again for dinner. With the bananas it’s not so bad. Then,... (full context)
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...and that the children should go back to whatever they were doing, such as talking. Neeley asks Francie if she wants to talk about olden times; she says “no.” (full context)
Chapter 36
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...notices, she tells her to get up and get dressed right away. Then, she shakes Neeley awake and goes out into the kitchen. The children come before Katie, who is sitting... (full context)
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At the mass, Francie kneels on one side of Katie and Neeley on the other. When the priest steps down and sprays holy water at the four... (full context)
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Katie, Ruthie Nolan, Francie, and Neeley ride out to the cemetery in the first coach behind the hearse. The children sit... (full context)
Chapter 37
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Katie stays in bed the day after the funeral, and Francie and Neeley wander around bewildered. They walk up Graham Avenue towards Broadway. Christmas passes unnoticed because Johnny... (full context)
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When Katie lets Francie and Neeley in the apartment, she notices that their faces look tired but peaceful. She figures they... (full context)
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...of baby Jesus. She feels her unborn child move inside of her. Katie, Francie, and Neeley take turns reading from the book. As they read about the birth of Christ, they... (full context)
Chapter 38
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...insists that she stay in school and graduate. She also insists that both Francie and Neeley go to high school in the fall. She tells Francie that the family will manage... (full context)
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...Nolan apartment and offers to employ Francie as a dishwasher and bedmaker and says that Neeley can help him prepare the free lunch by peeling boiled eggs and cutting hunks of... (full context)
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...for the job at McGarrity’s; it keeps her from missing Johnny. After school, Francie and Neeley go to church for “instruction,” since they will be confirmed in the spring. The work... (full context)
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...a private conversation with her husband, Mae tells Jim that it won’t work out with Neeley and Francie. They look into each other’s eyes while they speak. She tells him to... (full context)
Chapter 39
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Francie and Neeley are confirmed in May. With confirmation over, Francie has time to work on her novel.... (full context)
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...then thinks about how much she misses Johnny and how she knows that Katie loves Neeley more than her. She worries suddenly about Katie dying and no one being there to... (full context)
Chapter 40
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Katie goes into labor. Katie asks Francie constantly for the time and says that, when Neeley arrives at 7:30 PM, he is to go over to Aunt Evy’s, because she lives... (full context)
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Katie instructs Francie to wrap up Neeley’s things, which he will need overnight. She then asks Francie to wring cold water out... (full context)
Chapter 41
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Jim McGarrity doesn’t fire Francie and Neeley as planned because his business is booming in the spring of 1916. His customers gather... (full context)
Chapter 42
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At home, Francie and Neeley’s diplomas are admired. Francie’s is especially admired, due to Mr. Jenson’s fine handwriting. Neeley turns... (full context)
Chapter 43
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...to laugh at the effeminate voice of her co-worker, Mark. After that, they become friends. Neeley gets a job working as an errand boy in a downtown New York brokerage house.... (full context)
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Neeley presents a pound package of peanut brittle to Katie for her and Francie to share.... (full context)
Chapter 44
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...evening, Francie tells Katie about how much she wants to go back to school, while Neeley says that he doesn’t want to go. Katie insists that he will be a great... (full context)
Chapter 45
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...she sees how her salary makes life so much easier for the family. When she, Neeley, Katie, and Laurie go Christmas shopping, they first go to buy Katie a new hat.... (full context)
Chapter 46
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...Someone with a thick Irish brogue yells out “Happy New Year!” to the Nolans and Neeley responds with the same, but jokingly calls the well-wisher “a dirty Irish mick.” Katie and... (full context)
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Francie and Neeley go to the roof and stand in the cold night air. Francie is drunk and... (full context)
Chapter 54
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Sergeant McShane makes it clear to Francie and Neeley that he doesn’t wish to replace their father, but he would like to adopt Laurie,... (full context)
Chapter 56
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...things into a box, including her Bible, her edition of Shakespeare’s plays, and her diary. Neeley comes running up the stairs, whistling. Francie thinks of how much he is like their... (full context)