Study Guide

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Chapter 10

By Betty Smith

Chapter 10

  • Francie has a rough start in life. She is pretty sickly looking, and the neighborhood women blame her state on Katie's milk being bad. Soon after this, Katie's milk mysteriously dries up.
  • The midwife, who is rather superstitious, concludes that the reason her milk stopped is because a jealous old lady cursed her. The midwife gives Katie instructions on how to make a voodoo doll and what she should do with it to get her milk to come back; Katie follows the instructions perfectly, but it doesn’t work. (Surprised?)
  • She tells Sissy all about it, and Sissy immediately knows what’s up: Katie is pregnant again.
  • Johnny feels trapped when he hears the news.
  • When the midwife returns to see if her voodoo doll worked, Katie tells her the real reason why her milk dried up.
  • The midwife immediately offers her a potion that will make her abort the baby, which horrifies Katie so she tells her to leave.
  • Meanwhile, people are constantly telling Katie that Francie looks like she will die, which makes Katie mad, as you would probably expect.
  • Francie has a tough first year, but she makes it. (This book would be a whole heck of a lot shorter had she not, right?)
  • When Katie's son is born, he is very strong—especially in comparison to Francie—and something in Katie tells her that she will love this boy more than she loves her daughter.
  • Katie names him Cornelius after a noble character from a play she saw, but soon the name is shortened to Neeley.
  • Neeley is his mother’s whole world, and Johnny continues to weaken as his son gets older.
  • By the time Neeley is a year old, Katie has completely stopped depending on Johnny for anything. He works one-night jobs, drinks away all of his tip money, and only brings home his wages to the family.
  • Johnny feels doomed. He had his children when he was too young, and he feels sorry for himself and stuck. Katie also had her children too young though, so in many ways she is doomed, too.
  • Here’s the difference: Johnny knows he is doomed and completely accepts it, but Katie will not accept this fate.