Study Guide

Sergeant Michael McShane in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

By Betty Smith

Sergeant Michael McShane

Francie first meets McShane when she is at the Democratic Party re-election carnival. He notices that she doesn’t have any tickets for food, so he gives her some and inquires about her Mama. Immediately, Francie is aware that there is a spark between Mama and McShane, and she doesn’t really like it. Papa gives her the whole scoop he has about McShane: he’s a very honest police officer, and an immigrant from Ireland. When he first arrived in America, he lived with a family, and he studied hard to work his way onto the police force, where he was promoted several times. To repay the family he stayed with, McShane marries their daughter when her husband leaves her while she is pregnant. It turns out his wife is ill with tuberculosis, so all of her children are born with it too, and most of them die early on.

Francie is right about the spark between Mama and McShane. McShane knows that both his wife and Johnny are going to die soon, and when they do, he will marry Katie. A few years after their spouses both die, McShane proposes to Katie and offers to support her family and send all of her children to college.

What do you think about this development? Is this one of those cheesy endings that Francie hates so much where characters are saved by unlikely circumstances? Is McShane to be seen as a hero swooping in to save the damsel in distress? Does the family even need saving? Or would they have made it work with or without him? Consider how Francie and Neeley feel like Annie Laurie won’t have the same kind of fun growing up that they had.

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