Study Guide

Cornelius (Neeley) Nolan in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

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Cornelius (Neeley) Nolan

Neeley is born only one year after Francie, so they go through most of their young lives side-by-side. Mama even holds Francie back a year so that both her children can go to school together and protect each other from the mean kids. Neeley doesn’t always want his big sis around, though, and likes hanging out with his buddies and doing boy stuff.

Both Mama and Francie see a lot of Papa in Neeley. In fact, right when he is born, Mama plans to make him into a “new and improved” Papa. She wants him to have all Papa’s good qualities, but none of his bad stuff.

Neely is a musician, much like Papa, but Mama believes he is more of an artist and less of an entertainer like his dad. Unlike Papa, Neeley is a very hard worker and is getting a high school education. Perhaps most importantly, Neeley is not a drinker—he gets drunk once and decides it is not for him.

He looks a lot like Papa, though. Plus, there are a couple scenes with Francie and Neeley that closely parallel earlier scenes with Francie and Papa, like when Neeley comes home singing up the steps and needs a shirt ironed. Hopefully Neeley develops more of the charm that Papa had, too; if he does, Neeley will have no other choice but to be successful in his life.

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