A Tree Grows In Brooklyn: Novel Summary: Book3, Chapters 39, 40, 41, 42

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Summary
Chapter Thirty-Nine begins with Francie and Neeley’s confirmations in May. The narrative then shifts to explore why Francie’s grades have dropped in English; this is because she has been writing in partial memory of her father. Her teacher, Miss Garnder, says that she should write about beauty, and should strive for it rather than writing about poverty, starvation and drunkenness. She adds that drunkenness is a vice and hunger is unnecessary. She wants Francie to stop writing ‘these sordid little stories’. Uncharacteristically, Francie reacts to this, but then apologizes. Miss Garnder tells her to burn these sordid compositions and plays when she gets home.

Francie determines to ‘show’ this teacher and proceeds to write an imaginative account of a wealthy girl who has been raised in luxury. She then becomes disenchanted, though, and burns this work along with her ‘A’ grade compositions. She believes that she only received these grades because she is a good liar.

In Chapter Forty, Katie is due to have her baby and Francie is with her initially, before Sissy and Evy arrive. Katie tells Francie that she feels guilty for not having more time for Francie. The neighbors hear Katie’s screams and it is the women who are mostly sympathetic: ‘It was the only thing the women held in common – the sure knowledge of the pain of giving birth.’ When Francie returns from an errand, the baby is born (on 28 May 1916). She is named Annie Laurie, because of a song Johnny used to sing, but is called Laurie by everybody.

Chapter Forty-One expands on how Laurie is a good, healthy baby and Neeley and Francie continue to work for McGarrity in his saloon.

In Chapter Forty-Two, it is now graduation time. Katie is unable to go to both graduations (as Francie attends a different school than Neeley), so she attends Neeley’s and Sissy accompanies Francie to hers. At Francie’s school, it is a custom that the girls receive flowers at this time. Francie does not expect any, but there are some placed on her desk with a card from her father. He wrote the card about a year ago and gave money to Sissy to buy the flowers. This chapter ends with the family celebrating graduation in an ice cream parlor and Francie is asked on her first date.

 

Analysis
The reaction of Miss Garnder to Francie’s realistic portrayals of poverty and slum life is of central importance to these chapters. She regards these compositions as ‘sordid’, which implies she would view Francie’s life in this way if she fully knew about her background. Her judgement is based on a desire to see her version of beauty, and thus exposes her prejudice against class difference. She also unwittingly demonstrates how subjective beauty is. This teacher is incapable of seeing that her version of beauty (and the sordid) is only one more opinion, and Francie’s perspective and experiences are just as valid.

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