A Tree Grows in Brooklyn By Betty Smith Summary and Analysis Book 4: Chapters 34–36

Summary

Chapter 34: In spite of all the babies who have died, Sissy still wants a baby. She learns of a young girl, Lucia, who is unmarried and pregnant. Lucia's father has locked her in her room and is giving her only bread and water. Sissy visits the family one day when the father is not home. She offers to adopt the baby and to provide food for Lucia and her siblings and mother during the pregnancy. When Lucia's baby girl is ten days old, Sissy brings her new daughter home. She convinces her husband that she has given birth to the baby and that he is the father. Only Katie, Johnny, and Francie know that the baby is not Sissy's.

Chapter 35: One day, Johnny comes home and is crying hysterically. The Waiters Union has kicked him out and is demanding their union pin be returned. Johnny is extraordinarily proud of his union pin, and the thought of not having it makes him fall to pieces. The lack of money, Johnny's emotional breakdown, and the shortage of food will make this Christmas season a particularly unhappy one.

Chapter 36: After awakening the next day, Johnny leaves the apartment and disappears for two days. Finally, McShane appears at the door to tell Katie that Johnny has been found unconscious in the street and he is dying. McShane takes Katie to the hospital, where she sits and watches Johnny die. The next morning, Katie tells the children that their father has died and not to cry.

The doctor at the hospital wants to list alcoholism and pneumonia as the cause of death, but Katie is adamant that alcoholism not be listed on Johnny's death certificate. The priest supports Katie, so the doctor lists only pneumonia as the cause of death.

At Johnny's wake there are a lot of flowers. Many people loved Johnny, and the outpouring of love provides some small comfort to the family. When Francie views her father's body, she is surprised at how young and at peace he looks. He is only 34. With all his worries gone, he looks as young as he did when he and Katie were first married.

At the funeral service, the person crying the loudest is Hildy O'Dair, Johnny's first girlfriend. Katie is still unable to weep, though. On the way back to the apartment, Katie stops by the barber shop and asks Francie to go inside and pick up Johnny's mug. Francie is to keep the mug, while Neeley will receive Johnny's ring. Once they arrive back home, Katie begins to weep uncontrollably, but Sissy tells her she must stop to avoid harming her unborn child. This is the first indication for readers — and for Francie and Neeley — that Katie was pregnant when Johnny died.

Analysis

These chapters begin with Sissy's trick to finally have a baby that lives. The agreement between Sissy, Lucia, and her mother is the union of three women, all of whom have the welfare of the unborn baby at heart. The three of them out-smart Lucia's father, and it appears that they have also fooled Sissy's husband. Tricking Lucia's father saves the baby's life and probably Lucia's life, as well. Tricking Sissy's husband is a different matter, since he has made it clear that he opposes adoption and is unwilling to support another man's child. Because the novel later makes clear that adopting this baby turns around Sissy's life, it could be argued that tricking Sissy's husband effectively saves their marriage. Although this is an era where paternity is especially valued, there is nothing cruel in Sissy's deception.

Johnny's death was not a surprise, given that the narrator noted early in the book that Johnny died before age 35. At the end of Chapter 36, readers learn that Katie is pregnant. That is the secret that she whispered to Johnny at the end of Chapter 34. Johnny looked sad at the news because he has been unable to support two children and now there will be a third child. Katie's pregnancy would limit her ability to work, and she has been the principal means of support for the family. Johnny has quit drinking, as Francie noted in her diary, but he continues to appear drunk. After he is fired from the Waiter's Union, however, Johnny hits bottom. The occasional singing waiter jobs have been the only income he has brought into the family in a long time; now with no source of even occasional income, he is devastated. The death of his job portends the death of his body.

Although Katie nagged Johnny about his drinking during his life, in death she makes sure that he will not be remembered as a drunk. She ensures that Johnny's death certificate is proper, and she makes certain that at the wake there is no reason for visitors to think that Johnny was not revered by his wife and children. Johnny may have had his faults, but as Sissy told Katie shortly after they married, everyone has a weakness. Alcohol was Johnny's weakness.

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