A Tree Grows In Brooklyn: Novel Summary: Book 2, Chapters 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

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Summary

Chapter Ten continues to outline the early years of Johnny and Katie’s marriage. Three months after Francie’s birth Katie realizes she is pregnant again. Life is a struggle as Francie is a sickly baby, but when somebody suggests that it would be best if the baby (Francie) died, Katie compares her to the tree that thrives against adversity: ‘It’s growing out of sour earth. And it’s strong because its hard struggle to live is making it strong. My children will be strong that way.’ After giving birth to the new baby, Katie decides to name him Cornelius (which is shortened to Neeley) after an actor she admires. Sissy wants her to name him after his father, Johnny, but Katie wants her son to have his own name. Katie then accuses her of loving Johnny and Sissy responds by saying maybe.

The new baby becomes Katie’s ‘whole world’ and she decides to make him into the man Johnny should have been. By the time Neeley is one year old, Katie has ‘exchanged her tenderness for capability’. She is a fighter, whereas Johnny is ‘a useless dreamer’.

In Chapter Eleven, the narrative continues to relate the tale of their marriage. At one point Katie locks Johnny in their bedroom after he has been drinking for three days. He develops delirium tremens and noisily insists on being let out of the room. Sissy helps by giving him whiskey and lies with him as though he is her child. Sissy later tells Katie that he is a drunk and she must accept that; she must stop nagging him. Katie answers that she will try to overlook it, but she knows she ‘wasn’t the overlooking kind’.

After Johnny made such a noise when Katie locked him in their room, she decides to move the family to a new place. She finds a janitor’s job where she can work for the rent and they move to Lorimer Street, Williamsburg in Chapter Twelve.

Francie is aged four and Neeley is three when they move to this new address and Chapter Thirteen describes how they used to sit out on the stoop. Francie does not know how to make friends and the other children avoid her as she ‘talked funny’. This is because of the influence of Katie reading the Bible and Shakespeare’s work to them. Francie also thinks the other children are unfriendly because Johnny drinks a lot and because of Sissy’s reputation with men. This chapter ends with memories of music being played on the street, such as the organ grinder coming round with his monkey. ‘Bums’ also used to sing for pennies, when all they have in the world is the ‘nerve’ to sing loudly.

In Chapter Fourteen, we are told the family enjoys living at the new address, but they have to move because of Sissy’s indiscretion. Firstly, she causes a stir in the neighorhood when she borrows a tricycle (without asking the owner) for Francie and Neeley to ride on. In addition to this, at a later point whilst looking after the children she lets them look at a box with a condom in it. She tells them it is a box of cigarettes and they must not open it, but when she leaves they tie the contents of the box to a piece of string and hang it out of the window.

Katie and Johnny decide Sissy must not visit them again and move once more as they see this incident as shaming. They take the tin-can bank with them and move to Grand Street in Williamsburg. Here, they live on the top floor, but have the roof to themselves. On the roof, Johnny tells Francie how he and Katie have now been married seven years and have moved home three times. He also tells her this will be his last home.

 

Analysis
These chapters continue to examine the early years of Johnny and Katie’s marriage and in so doing offer further details of life in Brooklyn in this period, such as music being played in the street.

In terms of the plot, the reason for Katie’s apparent preference for Neeley is introduced here, as she decides to make Neeley the man Johnny should have been. Her love for Johnny continues, but she invests her hopes in her son. As the novel progresses it becomes apparent that Francie begins to notice this favoritism towards her brother, as she grows older.

It is also apparent that Katie in particular is unswervingly proud and this highlights this novel’s central concern, which is to speak up for the extremely poor. This novel refuses to denigrate or exclude those who are the lowest in the social hierarchy; instead, characters such as Katie and Francie are used to demonstrate that the poor should not be regarded as sub-human creatures.

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