A Tree Grows In Brooklyn: Novel Summary: Book 1, Chapters 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

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Summary
Chapter Two begins with Francie’s visit to the library. It is shabby, but she thinks of it as beautiful. She reads a book a day and is still on the ‘B’ section. On Saturdays, however, she treats herself and reads a book out of the sequence. She always asks the librarian to recommend a book for an 11-year-old girl, and the librarian only ever passes over If I Were a King or Beverly of Graustark. The librarian never converses with Francie nor, indeed, looks at her.

When Francie goes home, she sits on the fire escape with her book and candy and begins reading. She does not own a book yet, but is determined to one day. As she sits reading she also notices the women returning from the pawnbroker’s with suits that will be back in the store by Monday and sees others preparing to go out. She also watches Frank wash the horse in the next yard and hears a neighbor, Floss Gaddis, flirt with him.

In Chapter Three, Francie’s father (Johnny) comes home at five o’clock and is singing ‘Molly Malone’. He has work for that night; singing and waiting at Klorrimer’s. Johnny extols the virtues of his union because it helps him to find employment and ensures that he receives fair pay. He believes all trades should be unionized.

This leads Francie to remember hearing other men talk about him when she visited the headquarters once. These particular men called him a ‘funny duck’ for keeping his tips to drink alcohol (this is strange as his family is poor), but she also recalls that most people like him.

Back in the present, Johnny talks of his parents and how they came to the United States from Ireland at the time of the potato famine. He talks about these same things every Saturday, but does not when drunk in the rest of the week. Johnny’s parents did not know how to read and write and he left school in the sixth grade. He wanted to go on stage to sing, but carried on as a singer-waiter as this was deemed more reliable. Francie’s thoughts reveal that she prefers her father to her mother, even though she knows ‘he is no good’. She is also proud of the way he looks when he is dressed for work.

After seeing Johnny off for work, Francie visits Floss Gaddis in Chapter Four in order to see what she is wearing when she goes out that night. Floss supports her family (mother and brother) by turning gloves in a glove factory. Her brother, Henny, is unable to work as he is dying of tuberculosis.

Every Saturday night, Floss attends a masquerade ball and more often than not wins first prize. She makes and wears costumes that disguise her disfigured arm. She always wins a silk umbrella, and the quantity of these impress Francie: ‘Poor people have a great passion for huge quantities of things’.

In Chapter Five, at six o’clock, Mama (Katie) is at home with Aunt Sissy, who is Francie’s favorite aunt. At this time, Sissy is 35, has been married three times and has given birth to 10 children, which have all died shortly after they were born. She works in a rubber factory, which produces some toys as ‘a blind’. It is strongly suggested that the main profits come from the manufacturing of condoms.

When Neeley comes home, in Chapter Six, he and Francie go out to buy the weekend meat. She has to argue and haggle with the butcher, as instructed by Katie.

After supper, Neeley plays outside with his friends and Francie goes to confession with her friend Maudie Donavan. When she returns home, Aunt Evy is already there with her husband, Willie Flittman, who is playing guitar and becoming increasingly melancholic.

At bedtime, the children read from a page of the Bible and a page from the works of Shakespeare. We are told this is a rule of the family. Before falling asleep, Francie looks through the window and watches the return of Mr Tomony, the pawnbroker. He is rumoured to be rich, but continues to live in Williamsburg. Because it is Saturday, Francie is allowed to sleep in the front room as a treat. She dreads the forthcoming week when she sleeps in her usual room as she can hear a neighbor (a childlike bride) crying.

 

Analysis
These chapters reinforce the extent of the poverty of Francie’s circumstances and also give greater detail of her family’s background. Her paternal grandparents were unable to read and write and the difference in her upbringing is clear in Chapter Six as she and Neeley are expected to read from the Bible and from work by Shakespeare. Francie’s superior education is emphasized by her desire to read a book a day and her use of the public library. Her outlook and opportunities are evidently wider than those of the previous generations.

The social criticism of inequality is extended in Johnny’s speech when he argues in favor of the unionization of all employment. This is a direct critique of unfair employment practices, and it is also poignant that this is voiced through Johnny who is rarely employed regularly.

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