Study Guide

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

By Betty Smith

Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

Francie thought that all the books in the world were in that library and she had a plan about reading all the books in the world. She was reading a book a day in alphabetical order and not skipping the dry ones. (2.1)

Our girl has big plans. Not only does she have big plans though, she does what many people don’t do… she starts moving in their general direction. She’s on it.

A head pain caught her between the eyes at the taking in of such a wonderful sight. It was something to be remembered all of her life. “When I get big,” she thought, “I will have such a brown bowl and in hot August there will be nasturtiums in it […] Yes, when I get big and have my own home, no plush chairs and lace curtains for me. And no rubber plants. I’ll have a desk like this in my parlor and white walls and a clean green blotter every Saturday night and a row of shining yellow pencils always sharpened for writing and a golden-brown bowl with a flower or some leaves or berries always in it and books… books… books…” (2.4-7)

This girl knows what she wants, and what she wants is all things library inspired. Hey, we are all different, right? Her vision of what she wants and doesn’t want in her future home is very clear—especially for an eleven year old. That’s cool.

“If I get a lot of tips tonight, I’ll put the money on a good horse that I know is running Monday. I’ll put a couple of dollars on him and win ten. Then I’ll put the ten on another horse I know and win a hundred. If I use my head and have any kind of luck at all, I’ll run it up to five hundred”

Pipe dreams, he thought to himself, even while he was telling her about his dream winnings. But oh, how wonderful, he thought, if everything you talked about could come true! He went on talking. (3.46-47)

Francie’s dreams are in stark contrast to her papa’s dreams. Papa’s dreams are just pretty thoughts. Even as he says it, he knows he is full of… um, hot air… is the nicer way of saying it.

Flossie did three things each week. She worked on the gloves, she worked on her costumes, and she worked on Frank. (4.23)

Even the minor characters in this novel seem to be motivated by clear dreams and plans. Flossie will not be satisfied until she gets Frank. And guess what? (Spoiler alert) She gets him in the end.

Feeling his arms around her and instinctively adjusting herself to his rhythm, Katie knew that he was the man she wanted. She’d ask nothing more than to look at him and to listen to him for the rest of her life. Then and there, she decided that those privileges were worth slaving for all her life. (7.7)

Katie is a girl who gets what she wants, and she wants Johnny. And that might just be her biggest mistake. Achieving our dreams doesn’t necessarily guarantee happiness.

“There is here, what there isn’t in the old country. In spite of hard unfamiliar things, there is here—hope. In the old country, a man can be no more than his father, providing he works hard. If his father was a carpenter, he may be a carpenter. He may not be a teacher or a priest. He may rise—but only to his father’s state. In the old country, a man is given to his past. Here he belongs to the future. In this land, he may be what he will, if he has the good heart and the way of working honestly at the right things.” (9.52)

Ah, what we’ve got here Shmoopsters, is classic American Dream stuff. The American Dream: To do better than your parents at whatever you choose, to have a house on a little bit of land, to raise your children in a safe environment, and to have plenty of 4G coverage. That is what it’s all about. (Okay, maybe the 4G is a recent addition, but you hear us, right?) This is what Mary Rommely is talking about here to her daughter, Katie, who has just given birth to Francie.

“The secret lies in the reading and the writing. You are able to read. Every day you must read one page from some good book to your child. Every day this must be until the child learns to read. Then she must read every day, I know this is the secret.” (9.58)

This is the central piece of the multi-tiered plan that Mary imparts to Katie. Education is key to pulling her children out of the tenements.

“Before you die, you must own a bit of land—maybe with a house on it that your child or your children may inherit.” (9.84)

The other cornerstone of Mary’s plan is to get some land. Mary has been after this dream for years and years herself. She saves and saves and then her plans get destroyed—once due to her illiteracy and once due to her husband being the spawn of Satan, if not Satan himself. Mary tells us that she is working on saving again. Fingers crossed.

Katie would make [Neeley] into the kind of man Johnny should have been. (10.45)

Sometimes our parents have plans for us that are not exactly our own plans. Luckily enough, Neeley doesn’t seem to mind, or be aware, of Mama’s plans for him.

So, I will not go to high school. But I will go to college someday. (48.62)

At first Francie is bummed because it doesn’t look like she will be able to go to high school. Then again, high school isn’t really her goal. Her goal is to be educated, so why not college without high school first? Sometimes, you have to think creatively to achieve your goals; if one way won’t work, find another.