Study Guide

Minor Characters in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

By Betty Smith

Minor Characters

Dr. Fraber

Dr. Fraber is the dentist who owns the lovely horse, wagon, and stable next door to Francie’s tenement building. The stable is the most beautiful structure in all of Williamsburg.

Frank

Frank is a handsome young man who drives the horse and wagon around town to advertise Dr. Fraber’s dental practice. All the women flirt with Frank, especially Flossie Gaddis. Frank turns her down time and time again, but this doesn’t stop Flossie from chasing after him; eventually they get married, but Francie has a feeling Frank might have been looking for a way out of going to war.

Flossie Gaddis

Flossie is the Nolans’s downstairs neighbor who Francie describes as being “love starved.” She is a talented seamstress who pieces together interesting costumes for a weekly masquerade party and contest. Her dresses flatter her shape and help camouflage her badly burned arm, and she usually wins each week. She works in a glove factory and supports her mother and brother, Henny, who is dying of tuberculosis. After the United States joins the war, Frank and Flossie get married.

Henny Gaddis

Henny is Flossie’s brother who dies of tuberculosis. Francie believes that his death may have been one of the things that made her realize how fast time actually does go by. Up to now, the future always seemed so far away to her.

Mrs. Gaddis

Mrs. Gaddis is Flossie and Henny’s mother. She is always happy when Francie stops by.

Hassler

Hassler is the butcher that the children get soup bones from. He is very kind, and gives Francie a big slice of bologna for free. Katie doesn’t trust him for other cuts of meat because he does his butchering behind closed doors.

Werner

Werner is the miserable butcher where the kids are sent to get chopped meat.

Maudie Donovan

Maudie is Francie’s companion who she goes to Confession with every Saturday with. Maudie moves away, and when she comes home for a visit she has clearly entered puberty.

Mr. Tomony

Mr. Tomony is the rich owner of a pawn shop who lives above the shop he owns but has never entered. There is much talk and speculation about why he lives among the poor but spends all his time in the city. On weekends, when Francie stays up late, she watches him as he comes home from his outings.

Hildy O’Dair

Hildy used to be Mama’s friend, but Mama stole Johnny Nolan from her, so that ended that friendship fast. Hildy attends Johnny’s funeral and openly weeps over him. At first Mama is jealous, but then she figures she is happy that someone is crying over Johnny since she can’t.

Eliza Nolan

One of the Nolan sisters, but she is not nearly as vivacious or pretty as the other three and she enters a strict order of nuns when she turns sixteen. She is only allowed to leave the convent to attend her parents’s funerals. Francie was thinking about being a nun one day, but when she meets Eliza at Thomas Rommely’s funeral, she has noticeable hair on her upper lip which prompts Francie to decide that she will not enter the convent after all.

Ruthie Nolan

Ruthie is Johnny’s mother, but she doesn’t really play a role in Francie’s life. She hates Katie because she believes that she stole her son away. One redeeming thing she does is she makes sure her sons all get through the sixth grade.

Andy Nolan

Andy is the oldest Nolan son. He dies of tuberculosis (a.k.a. consumption) before he can marry his fiancé, Francie. Johnny decides to honor Andy and Francie by naming his daughter after her.

Georgie Nolan

He stays with his mama until he dies at the age of twenty-eight.

Frankie Nolan

Frankie is another one of the Nolan brothers. He dies after falling down drunk and getting stabbed in the stomach by something sharp. Instead of going to the hospital, he goes to bed and doesn't wake up again.

Mrs. Gindler

Mrs. Gindler is the midwife who helps Katie give birth to Francie. She is also the person who offers Katie a potion that will cause an abortion when she finds out that she is pregnant again soon after Francie is born.

Miss Lizzie and Miss Maggie Tynmore

Miss Lizzie and Miss Maggie Tynmore are the spinster sisters who live in the sam tenement building as the Nolans. Katie barters her cleaning services for piano lessons from Miss Lizzy. Papa tries to barter some handyman services for voice lessons from Miss Maggie, but he messes the job up. The Tynmore sisters have very little money after paying their rent and eat only what is offered to them after giving lessons. When the Nolans are doing better financially, they give the sisters a fantastic Christmas dinner instead of buying presents for each other.

Miss Briggs

Miss Briggs is Francie’s teacher who makes the poor children share desks in the back of the room. Sissy goes to talk to her after Francie confides in her that she wets her pants because Miss Briggs won’t let her go to the bathroom.

Miss Phieffer

Miss Phieffer is one of the teachers at Francie’s first school. She leaves her classes to have sex with janitors in the basement. Stay classy, Miss Phieffer.

Mr. Morton

Mr. Morton is a fantastic music teacher—enthusiastic and infectiously happy during the half hour each week when he comes to Francie's class. Even the nasty old teachers are happy when he is around.

Miss Bernstone

Miss Bernstone is another teacher that Francie likes very much. She is the drawing teacher who likes all her students, even the very poor and dirty students.

Mr. Jensen

Mr. Jensen is the janitor at Francie’s new school, and is one of the most well respected people there. Even the principal addresses him with a great deal of respect, and children who act up are usually sent to Mr. Jensen instead of the principal.

Mattie Mahony

Mattie is a Democratic politician who is seeking re-election. His campaign is the one that sponsors the carnival that the Nolans attend.

Mr. McGarrity

McGarrity is the owner of the local saloon where Johnny spends quite a bit of his time and money. McGarrity loves listening to Johnny talk about his family because he can pretend that Johnny's family life is his own. When Johnny dies, he hires Neeley and Francie in hopes that they will talk to him like Johnny did.

Mrs. Mae McGarrity

Mrs. McGarrity is Mr. McGarrity’s unfaithful and disinterested wife.

Rich Little Mary

This is the little girl who wants to give one of her Christmas dolls to a poor little girl named Mary at the Christmas program at a church.

Harold Clarence

Harold is Francie’s celebrity crush. He stars in a production that has an overly simplistic ending that doesn’t satisfy Francie at all, so she goes home to write a better ending to the play.

Little Tilly

Little Tilly is the four-year-old neighbor that Johnny pities because her mean big brother takes all of the breast milk that she is supposed to have, so he takes her along on their fishing adventure.

Gussie

Gussie is Tilly’s brother who refuses to stop breastfeeding. His mother finally weans him by drawing a scary face on her breast.

Joanna

Joanna is a young unwed mother. The women in the neighborhood think that she should not dare to come out in public with the child; they believe she should feel shame and stay away from the rest of the “good” people. Francie notices that Joanna is very friendly and smiles at everyone as she passes, and that she takes very good care of her little baby. The nasty women force Joanna back into her home by throwing stones at her, one of which hits and hurts her baby. Francie feels intense guilt that she didn’t smile at Joanna as she went by that day, and because of this incident with the stones, Francie decides that she hates women.

Burt the Watchman

Burt is the jealous night watchman at a bank. He has Johnny cover for him when he wants to go check to see if his young wife is cheating on him in the middle of the night, and when a sexual predator is at large on the streets of Williamsburg, Johnny gets Burt to give him a gun to protect his family.

Lucia

Lucia is the daughter of Sicilian immigrants. She is pregnant with a married man’s baby, and her father wants to starve both her and her unborn child to death. Sissy hears about her, takes care of her during her pregnancy, and takes her baby in after it's born. Some time after, Sissy suspects that the married man who fathered Lucia’s child is her husband.

Annie Laurie Nolan

Annie Laurie is the third child that Katie and Johnny have together, born several months after Johnny dies and named after one of the songs he loved to sing. She is a very good and content baby most of the time, and McShane is going to adopt her since she never knew her birth father.

Mrs. Garnder

Mrs. Garnder is an English teacher who is very pleased with Francie’s writing at first, but when Francie starts writing realistically about her life, gives her bad marks. Mrs. Garnder believes that all writing should be beautiful and calls Francie's sordid. She recommends that Francie burn her terrible work, then disappoints her further by not letting her write the graduation play.

Albie Seedmore

Albie is the young man who asks Francie to go on a date to the movies when they are at the ice cream parlor after grade school graduation.

Miss Armstrong

Miss Armstrong is the Special City Reader at the clipping agency where Francie works. When Miss Armstrong marries the boss and quits working, this top position goes to Francie.

Ben Blake

Francie meets Ben when she registers for summer college classes. He gives her good advice and they often study together. He says that he really likes her, but that he has no time for a girlfriend right now. When Francie passes the college entrance exam the following year and gets ready to attend the University of Michigan, Ben gives her a ring that has their initials engraved in it. He wants to marry her in five years when they are both ready. She is not sure if she will marry him or not, but she has time to think about it.

Lee Rhynor

Francie meets Lee when she agrees to do a friend from work a favor and go out with him. Lee sweeps Francie right off her feet. He is going off to war in a few days, but in the short time they have together, they both decide that they are madly in love and will get married when he returns from war. Lee asks Francie to sleep with him before he goes off to war, but Francie decides not to. He asks her to write to him every day, and she does. A few days later, she gets a response to her letters, but it is not from Lee: It is from his new wife, who is terribly sorry that Lee deceived her.

Elizabeth Rhynor

Lee’s wife who writes to Francie.

Florry Wendy

Florry is the little girl who Francie notices watching her get ready for her date with Ben at the end of the novel. She addresses her as Francie, much to Florry’s annoyance.

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