Study Guide

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Chapter 18

By Betty Smith

Chapter 18

  • Francie is pumped to start school for a couple reasons: (1) She's lonely; (2) she is itching to see all the cool stuff at school; and (3) she can't wait to get school supplies.
  • But first things first, she must be vaccinated. Ugh and ouch.
  • Mama instructs Francie and Neeley to get washed and go to the clinic around the corner to get vaccinated. They have to go alone, because both Mama and Papa have to work like usual.
  • Francie tries to calm Neeley’s nerves, so they relax by making mud-pies.
  • The waiting room is full of scared parents who don’t really understand why they have to get the shots, who feel bullied and like they are being forced into poisoning their kids. The cries coming from the office make the children waiting feel even more terrified.
  • When Francie is called in, she is trembling with fear; she has never even seen a doctor or nurse before and everything looks so frightening to her.
  • The nurse pulls up her sleeve and cleans a spot on her arm. The doctor approaches with the needle.
  • Francie closes her eyes in anticipation of the needle stick, but none comes. She opens her eyes and sees the disgusted doctor staring at her arm. He yammers on about how filthy and nasty Francie is: “Filth, filth, filth, from morning to night. I know they’re poor but they could wash. Water is free and soap is cheap" (18.16).
  • The nurse agrees with him wholeheartedly, even though she grew up in Williamsburg. He goes on to tell the nurse that the world would be a better place if the poor were sterilized and unable to “breed” anymore.
  • Francie is so hurt by their words that she never even feels the pain from the needle.
  • On her way out of the room, she tells the doctor and nurse that her brother is coming in next and he is dirty too, but they don’t have to tell him because they told her. (You go, Francie.)
  • Francie starts to run a fever that night, and her arm gets painful and itchy.
  • Katie, who is very afraid that it will get infected, tells Francie that if she scratches it, her arm will turn black and drop off.
  • The next day her arm feels worse, and before bed she takes a peek at it under the bandage. It looks disgustingly gross. She is terrified that she must have scratched it in her sleep and prepares to have her arm fall off. She stays up all night until her father gets home. He removes the bandage and tells her that it isn’t as bad as she thinks. He washes her wound and looks for a cloth to use as a bandage. When he can’t find one, he uses a piece of his undershirt. She loves how it smells just like her dad, and in the morning her arm starts to feel better.