A Tree Grows In Brooklyn: Novel Summary: Book 3, Chapters 34, 35, 36, 37, 38

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Summary
In Chapter Thirty Four, the narrative returns to Sissy and her bid to have a child. She has now given birth to 10 children and all have died. She tells Katie she is going to get a baby. She has heard of a 16 year-old female, Lucia, who is pregnant with an illegitimate baby. Her family is ashamed of her and her father has locked her into a room. Furthermore, he is feeding her bread and water in the hope that both Lucia and the baby will die in childbirth.

Sissy offers to have the baby when it is born and Lucia’s mother accepts this idea. Lucia’s father is not told of this arrangement. Sissy pretends to her husband (her third one, whom she also calls John, but whose actual name is Steve) that she is pregnant. He will not adopt another man’s child, so this is her reasoning for such subterfuge. When Lucia has had the baby, Sissy pretends she had the baby when he was out and the baby is supposedly now in the hospital. She is waiting 10 days for Lucia to feed the baby until she takes over her care. After 10 days, Sissy brings the baby home and names it Sarah, but everyone calls her Little Sissy. Lucia and her family return to Sicily.

At the Nolan home, Katie whispers something to Johnny and he replies ‘no’, and then leaves the apartment. He comes home sober and is singing ‘Molly Malone’. Usually, Katie opens the door before the last verse, but this does not happen this time.

It is the week before Christmas in Chapter Thirty Five and Francie has just turned 14. Johnny is not drinking or working, but he is not talking or singing either. One day he comes home angry, as he has been expelled from the union for being a drunk. His hands are shaking, but this is because he is not drinking and has not for weeks. It is clear that he is ill from the effects of alcohol.

In Chapter Thirty Six, he dies three days later from pneumonia. The doctor wants to write that he died of acute alcoholism on the death certificate, but, with the help of a priest, Katie persuades him to put pneumonia for the sake of the children. After the undertaker takes his share of the insurance money for the funeral, Katie uses the remaining 25 dollars for mourning clothes. They have to open the tin-can bank to pay another 20 dollars for Johnny’s burial plot, and still have to borrow another two from Sissy. Katie says they will not start another bank as they have their piece of land now.

There are few physical reminders left of Johnny: his shaving cup and his ring. He is buried in his only clothes. Whilst the family attend the funeral the neighbors come in and tidy their home and leave some food. It is only now that Katie cries when she is sat at the table.

Johnny died on Christmas day and so Christmas passed unnoticed. In Chapter Thirty Seven, Francie and Neeley take a walk in the streets and cry for the first time since Johnny’s death (the day after the funeral) and Francie questions God’s motives. She says she believes in Jesus, but no longer believes in God.

It is revealed that Katie is pregnant and she thinks of this as all three read about the birth of Jesus in the Bible. She wonders if Johnny had tried to stop drinking because she had whispered the news of her pregnancy to him, and that he had died trying to be a better man. On saying goodnight, Katie tells her children that she is their mother and father now.

After the Christmas vacation, Francie informs Katie that she wants to leave school to help the family out with an income. Katie argues against this and insists she stays on to graduate in a few months. She also wants Francie to attend high school in the forthcoming September.

Chapter Thirty Eight is concerned with Katie’s baby which is due in May and, as the weeks progress, she loses some of her cleaning jobs as her pregnancy becomes more visible. She cashes in the children’s insurance policies, but still needs to get through eight weeks before the children can work in the summer holidays. She is about to pull Francie out of school when Mr. McGarrity (the saloon owner) helps by offering Francie and Neeley work after school.

 

Analysis
The death of Johnny in Chapter Thirty Six is a crucial point in the novel as the family’s circumstances become even more difficult. Katie’s pregnancy adds to these woes and she is clearly desperate to keep her children in school despite the need for more money. Their predicament is told in a straightforward manner, and Katie’s pride is often highlighted here and elsewhere in the novel as Smith demonstrates a need to vocalize the problems associated with poverty. The autobiographical elements of this work of fiction run through the novel, as Smith was also born in Williamsburg and her father is said to have died of pneumonia, but was also a heavy drinker like Johnny. As well as giving an indictment of an unfair society, this work also continuously expresses the pride and dignity of those who are often considered lowly and deserving of their harsh fate.

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