A Tree Grows in Brooklyn By Betty Smith Summary and Analysis Book 2: Chapters 13–14

Summary

Chapter 13: At first, Johnny helps Katie with the janitorial work in the new building, but soon he begins to slack off, leaving her to do most of the work. Like the other children who live in this area, the Nolan children spend their days on the streets. Even very young children play in the streets, which, the narrator notes, is a sign that there is sadness in this neighborhood, where children take care of themselves while their parents work at menial jobs.

Chapter 14: Sissy is the source of two scandals that force the family to once again move. She borrows a tricycle that she sees and uses it to give Francie and Neeley rides, but the tricycle belongs to another family. Sissy is accused of stealing, and the police are called. When the policeman arrives, Sissy works her usual charm on him, and he allows her to continue to use the tricycle. On another visit, Sissy leaves a cigarette box that was in her handbag. The children open the box and discover that it is filled with "balloons" from the rubber factory where Sissy works. The children tie the balloons together and string them from their window, where they hang outside, embarrassing the family.

These scandals force Katie to move her family once again. Both Katie and Evy decide that Sissy will not be allowed in their homes again. The family moves to a new apartment in Williamsburg, where they live on the top floor but have the use of the roof, which is a great benefit in the summer. Francie is six and could start school, but she will wait a year for Neeley so that they can go together. Francie's age reminds Johnny that he has been married for seven years and has already lived in three houses. He says this will be his last move.

Analysis

The family has had to move twice within a short period of time, due to the behavior of Johnny and Sissy, both of whom bring disgrace to the family. Katie is concerned about what people think of her family, but Johnny seems to understand that they cannot continue to run from who they are. He and Sissy both have weaknesses. Johnny's weakness is alcohol, but in his case, there is no countering goodness that offsets this weakness. Johnny drinks because that is how he deals with life. Rather than face life, he looks for escape. Sissy's weakness is her love of men, but she is, at heart, a good person. Her sexuality is only a part of her personality. Her love for her family and especially for her sister's children is the greater part of who she is. Her carelessness leads them to be ashamed and embarrassed, but in both cases, she was mothering Katie's children. Sissy's generosity redeems her. The same cannot be said of Johnny, who is selfish and focused only on his own needs.

When Johnny says that this move will be his last move, he does not say that this will be the family's last move. The narrator notes the discrepancy, though. Johnny seems to understand that his clock is running down. Johnny spends his time on the roof of the new apartment, where he is closer to the sky and where he can dream of other things. Francie loves the roof as well, because she can see across the bridge and the world on the other side, which she dreams of seeing. In contrast, Katie is the pragmatic one. She is the one who pays the movers, who arranges credit at the grocery store, and who works to support the family. While Johnny dreams on the roof, Katie scrubs floors inside to pay their rent.

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During the summer after graduation from elementary school, Francie begins to work at a factory that produces what?




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