Study Guide

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Chapter 19

By Betty Smith

Chapter 19

  • Francie is so ready for school. She simply can’t wait, and expects that she will know how to read and write after the very first day.
  • Unfortunately, school is bummer after bummer for poor Francie:
    • She gets a bloody nose when a jerky older kid slams her face into the water faucet.
    • She has to share a desk (made for one) with another girl.
    • She realizes that only the kids with money are Mrs. Brigg’s teacher’s pets, which means there will be no eraser clapping for her.
    • Mrs. Briggs makes the poor kids sit in the back and share desks and snarls when she talks to them. She does not believe that the poor kids belong in school.
    • Instead of sticking together, the poor kids turn on each other. Most likely they do this because they want to imitate their teacher in the hope that she will like them better if they do.
    • Three thousand kids attend the school with the facilities for one thousand.
    • There are teachers who leave class to go have sex in the basement and the principal whips boys with their pants down. If kids go home and tell that they were whipped at school, they would just get whipped again at home, so they never tell.
    • Many teachers are only teaching because they have few other opportunities. They have little training and married women are not allowed to teach, so many of the teachers are bitter and love-starved and take out their misery on the children.
    • Leaving the room (polite code for asking to use the bathroom) is pretty much not allowed. Get this—these kids are told to go before they get to school, at recess, or at lunch. However, at recess there are evil kids who don’t let other kids into the stalls unless they pay them a fee. No one ever tells on these jerks, because they are afraid that if they tell the bullies will find out and kill the snitches.
    • When you ask to leave the room in class, most teachers will not let you leave, unless of course you are one of the wealthier, favorite kids. Many of the poor kids wet their pants frequently.
  • Poor Aunt Sissy misses Francie and Neeley very much. She is still banned from their house over the condom incident, so one day when she doesn’t have to work, she goes over to the school in hopes of seeing them.
  • Sissy buys Francie a chocolate soda, and they sit down on the stoop to talk about school.
  • She discovers that Francie has wet her pants because Mrs. Briggs ignored her, so the next day Sissy pretends to be Francie’s mom and goes to see Mrs. Briggs before school starts and talks to her about Francie.
  • Sissy tells her that Francie has a kidney disorder and she must be allowed to leave the room whenever she asks; she tells Mrs. Briggs that she could drop dead if she isn’t allowed to go. Sissy also convinces Mrs. Briggs that Francie’s father is a police officer who will beat her if she treats Francie poorly, in addition to leading Mrs. Briggs to believe that they are getting her a nice Christmas present in exchange for seating Francie closer to the front of the room.
  • Even though Mrs. Briggs figures much of what Sissy says is ridiculous, she doesn’t want to take chances so she moves Francie’s seat and pays attention to her when she raises her hand.
  • When Christmas rolls around, and she doesn’t get her gift, Francie’s desk is moved again.
  • Sissy writes a letter to Katie a couple weeks later to ask if they can let bygones be bygones, but Katie ignores it.
  • Later, when Katie hears from their insurance collector that Sissy had a baby who died only two hours after being born, Katie sends a message to her, and just like that, Sissy is back in the family.