A Tree Grows in Brooklyn By Betty Smith Summary and Analysis Book 5: Chapters 52–54

Summary

Chapter 52: Francie meets a young soldier, Lee Rhynor, who is about to ship overseas to the war. She likes both his smile and his honesty and agrees to go out alone with him, even though he is engaged to a girl back home. They go out to dinner, where Lee asks Francie to pretend that she is his girl just for the evening. The next day, Francie and Lee go dancing. At the end of the evening, Lee asks Francie to spend the night with him. She refuses but agrees to Lee's request that she write a letter to him telling him how much she loves him. As soon as she gets home, Francie writes a letter to Lee in which she pours out her love for him.

Chapter 53: Francie waits for Lee's reply and within a few days, a letter does arrive. The letter, however, is from Lee's fiancée, whom he married two days after he left Francie. In the letter, Lee's bride thanks Francie for entertaining her fiancée while he was in New York. In a postscript, the new Mrs. Rhynor says that it was mean of Lee to pretend to be in love with Francie and he sends his apologies. Francie is devastated and thinks about writing to Ben but decides not to do so.

Chapter 54: Sergeant McShane comes to visit the Nolan family. He has waited for a year of mourning after his wife's death to pass before coming to see Katie. He asks Katie to marry him. Her reply is that she will marry him, not because he is a wealthy man, but because he is a good man. He asks if he can adopt Laurie and give her his name. Neeley asks whether he and Francie can call McShane "Dad."

Analysis

Over several chapters, Francie has lamented about her loneliness, and thus it is no surprise that when she meets Lee, she quickly succumbs to his flattery and nearly succumbs to his efforts to seduce her. Francie is completely inexperienced with men, which, in fact, she actually tells Lee. His request that she pretend to be his "best girl" should have warned her that he could not be trusted. After all, he had already told her that he was engaged to a girl back home. But now he is in New York and on a date with another girl, which would have been a clear warning to a more experienced young woman that he could not be trusted. Lee's efforts to convince Francie to spend the night with him, scarcely a day after they meet, further suggests how unscrupulous he is. The next day, he returns to his hometown and within another day is married. Before he left her, Lee demanded that Francie tell him that she loves him, and he demanded a promise that she would never kiss anyone else or love anyone else. He also demanded that she write a letter to him affirming her love for him.

This is Francie's first experience with heartbreak and she instinctively turns to her mother for comfort. Katie, who is always the most practical member of the household, does remember what it feels like to be so suddenly and overwhelmingly in love. Katie has always tried to protect her children from pain and loss, but Lee's betrayal is evidence that even a mother's love cannot always protect a child. Katie also realizes that Francie is no longer a child, when Francie addresses her mother as "mother" and not "mama." Katie remembers doing the same thing when she married Johnny.

The return of McShane into the family's life brings with it another chance for Katie to be happy. This is not the young giddy love that she and Johnny had so many years ago. Instead, McShane will bring stability and the promise of a better future for all of the family. He will pay for Francie's and Neeley's college education and make sure that Laurie never suffers from hunger and poverty as Francie and Neeley did as children. Francie's final sentence in this chapter, "Poor Laurie," is an acknowledgement that she and Neeley did have fun, even though they were poor.

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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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