A Tree Grows In Brooklyn: Novel Summary: Book 5, Chapters 55, 56

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Summary
In Chapter Fifty-Five, it is Francie’s last day of work before leaving for college and she is feeling sad. She remembers her grandmother, Mary Rommely, and her death and reflects on how Uncle Willie could choose this time to leave his family.

Having won 10 dollars in a talent contest (he performed as a one-man band), he decides to never come home. His wife, Evy, gains work in a factory and earns 30 dollars a week, so is secure in terms of finance.

Francie is preparing to study at college, at the University of Michigan. That summer she passed her four subjects at summer school and Ben helped her to pass her Regents College entrance examination. She is able, therefore, to enter college at the age of 16 with half a year’s worth of freshman credits.

Ben is 21 now and is in the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps. He tells Francie he will not be in a position to marry her for five years, and this will give her time to consider if this is what she also wants. At the moment, however, she still thinks occasionally of Lee.

In Chapter Fifty- Six, the final chapter, Katie is getting married and it is also when they will move to live with Mr McShane. Francie visits Cheap Charlie’s and buys all of the ‘picks’ as she promised herself at the age of 11. She does not win a prize (as there were no winners as she presumed), but she buys a doll and insists he uses it as a prize so that the children will have something to hope for. As Francie passes the familiar places of her neighborhood, she also visits the library and asks for a recommendation for an 11 year-old girl. Once more, the librarian passes her If I Were a King without looking up. She only looks at Francie when Francie tells her she is not really 11 and does not want a recommendation.

Francie decides that she will not return to this area and then packs her few belongings. When Neeley comes home to dress for a night out, he sings ‘Molly Malone’ just as Johnny used to do. They say a tearful goodbye as this is the last time they will be alone together before Francie departs for college.

As she prepares to meet Ben, she considers how she wishes that she loved him. She wishes he would need her more. Whilst dressing, she remembers how she used to sit on the fire escape as a child and watch women of her age now preparing to go out. She looks across the yard and sees a young girl (Florrie) sitting on a similar fire escape and holding a book. She is also watching Francie. Francie waves to her, and shouts ‘Hello Francie’. As Florrie points out, this is not her name.

The novel finishes with Francie remembering how the tree she used to love has since been chopped down, but a new tree has grown from the stump. Finally, Francie looks to Florrie once more and whispers, ‘goodbye Francie’.

 

Analysis
These final chapters see Francie ready to depart for college, the University in Michigan. She says farewell to her old haunts and it is made clear that she has now outgrown this area. The ending is particularly poignant when she sees the younger version of herself (Florrie) sitting on a fire escape as she used to do. This signifies how Francie has now ‘come of age’ as she whispers goodbye to her old self.

This goodbye also reflects how she and her family now have the means to escape the tenements. This is made possible with education, and the kindness of Mr McShane.

In conclusion, the final references to the eponymous tree frame the novel. The tree of Francie’s childhood has been chopped down, but a new one is growing and adapting to the environment as Francie has done, and as Florrie may do in the future.

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