A Tree Grows in Brooklyn By Betty Smith Summary and Analysis Book 4: Chapters 37–39

Summary

Chapter 37: Johnny's death is very hard on Francie and Neeley. Although Francie continues to attend church with her mother, she tells Neeley that she no longer believes in God. Katie says that the family needs to return to their usual customs, so that night, they will read a story from the Bible. She chooses the birth of Jesus for that evening's reading. It is unusual for Katie to kiss her children, but that evening, she kisses both of them before they go to bed.

Chapter 38: The new baby is due in May. Katie is worried about how she can earn enough money to feed the family, when she is unable to work as hard as normal. The best thing, everyone tells Katie, would be for Francie to quit school and get a job, but Katie refuses to even consider this choice. She prays to Johnny and asks him to help her.

McGarrity, who owns the saloon where Johnny most often did his drinking, genuinely loved Johnny and valued his conversations with him. Although Johnny died owing McGarrity a lot of money, McGarrity considers the bill amply paid through Johnny's friendship. McGarrity offers after-school jobs to Francie and Neeley.

Chapter 39: Before her father's death, Francie always received good grades. After her father died, she began writing about poverty, drunkenness, and death. The teacher does not like these topics and wants Francie to write about beautiful and pleasant things, as she did in the past. However, Francie realizes that all the writing that earned her good grades was about things that she had never experienced.

Analysis

Johnny's death leaves Francie especially bereft. Because Katie has always loved Neeley the most, Francie has needed Johnny's attention to make up for her mother's absence of affection. With Johnny dead, Francie is especially lonely. Her questioning of God and whether she even believes in God is one way of working through the grief she feels at her father's death. It is also a way for Francie to work through questions that she has about death and why some people die so young. Francie is especially worried that Katie will die as well.

The job at McGarrity's saloon helps to make Francie feel closer to her father. Johnny spent a lot of time with McGarrity, and Francie believes that part of Johnny's soul still exists in the bar owner. In addition, McGarrity's affection for Johnny helps to validate Johnny's worth. Some people might have thought of Johnny as a drunk who could not support his family, but McGarrity was envious of Johnny, whose worth as a father was clearly seen in his children's love for him. Although Johnny dreamed his life away and never achieved the success he wanted, McGarrity achieved financial success but never achieved his dream of having a family like the one Johnny possessed. In one sense, then, Johnny's life was a success. His family made it so.

Grief has changed Francie. One change has been in her writing. She uses the compositions that she writes for school as a way to work through her anger, disappointment, and grief. Francie's teacher is unable to see how important it is for Francie to be able to write about what she has endured. Instead, the teacher wants Francie to write only about pretty things. The teacher's rejection is painful to Francie, who desperately needs all the comfort available.

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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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