Study Guide

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Chapter 11

By Betty Smith

Chapter 11

  • Johnny celebrates his birthday by going out and getting stinking drunk.
  • The next day, Katie locks him in the bedroom so he can’t go out and drink. The plan doesn’t go as expected because instead of sobering up, he becomes very ill. He gets delirium tremens, which means his body is addicted to alcohol and is suffering the physical pains of withdrawal.
  • Katie thinks it will help to toughen him up and get him to quit, but he continues to wail and beg her all day long.
  • Katie is wicked embarrassed because all the neighbors can hear what is going on, so she decides that they will move at the end of the month.
  • When Johnny is still crying in the late afternoon, she goes to talk to Sissy at the factory, who says she will come over to help after work.
  • Sissy sneaks whiskey in to Johnny’s room and gives him little sips to help him get through this long, difficult night. She also sleeps in the bed with him, holding him as he cries in his sleep, comforting him the way a mother comforts a baby.
  • Sissy is a very compassionate person. Yes, she loves men, but she also loves women, children, and even animals. She has a big heart and would give anyone anything she has if they need it. She even left out cheese crumbs in a box for a mouse in her house once.
  • Sissy orders Katie not to nag Johnny about any of this when he gets up, and Katie agrees but ends up having a meltdown, too.
  • She cries out all her worries and frustrations to her sister, and her sister listens. When Katie calls Johnny a drunk, Sissy responds, “All of us are what we have to be and everyone lives the kind of life it’s in him to live” (11.30).
  • Sissy tells Katie to take the bad with the good, but Katie has a hard time remembering why she ever married him in the first place.