Study Guide

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Chapter 27

By Betty Smith

Chapter 27

  • We are moving right along into the Christmas season in this chapter.
  • The first sign Christmas is approaching is when Mr. Morton (beloved music teacher) gives the students Christmas carols to learn, followed by all of the stores decorating their windows and displaying awesome toys. Just looking at these toys is a thrill for Francie; all the dolls and sleds and roller skates are things of beauty.
  • Christmas tree vendors start coming in and the streets are lined with trees resting on ropes stretched from pole to pole.
  • But cruelty sneaks its way back in, too. The tree vendors have a problem with what to do with the trees that don’t sell, so the nasty solution is that poor kids who don’t have a tree line up at midnight on Christmas and beg for the chance to have a tree thrown at them (literally). If the kid stays standing after the tree hits him, he can take the tree, but if the tree knocks him over, he does not get the tree. They start with the biggest tree and work their way down to the littlest.
  • Even the littlest kids line up waiting for the littlest trees, and when they stand up to the tree, they squeal in delight.
  • Francie wants the biggest tree, and she and Neeley ask for the chance.
  • At first the vendor says they are too little, but eventually he lets them try.
  • Looking at skinny little Francie and Neeley, the vendor considers just giving them the tree, but he knows if he does that, then no one will buy a tree from him next year; they will just wait for them to be handed out on Christmas Eve. So he gives the tree a powerful throw.
  • They are both hurt by the tree, but they aren’t knocked over, so they get their tree.
  • It is the best tree in the whole neighborhood.
  • Papa makes a big fuss over it when they get home, all the neighbors come out to see their prize, and all are happy.
  • Except for Mama. She stands alone at the top of the steps and thinks about the horrible meanness of the whole situation. The children are happy that they had a tree thrown at their heads? They don’t realize the filth and dirt of their surroundings. She feels even more resolved that she has to get her kids out of this life.
  • Even though they are having a particularly poor year, Christmas does have presents. Francie receives the following:
    • From Mama: some warm long underwear.
    • From Aunt Evy: a box of dominoes for Francie and Neeley to share.
    • From Granma Mary Rommely: two hand-made, blessed scapulars. (A scapular is a type of necklace that Catholic people sometimes wear as a devotion to Jesus.)
    • From Aunt Sissy: a tiny matchbox filled with ten individually wrapped pennies that were painted with some gold paint. They are beautiful and Francie adores them. She somehow loses two of them throughout the day, so Mama suggests putting them in the tin can for safekeeping. She agrees, even though it is painful to put them away.
    • From Papa: A postcard with a beautiful stained-glass church on it.
  • Francie also has gifts for everyone:
    • A handmade hatpin for Mama.
    • A handmade watch for Papa. Even though Papa has no watch, he wears it and pretends.
    • A five-cent shooter marble for Neeley, so he can enter the more important marble games. Neeley has a lot of really inexpensive marbles, but this one is very nice and he likes it very much.
  • Neeley has a bag of candy canes for everyone to share, and Francie tries not to be jealous that Mama makes a bigger deal over his present than she did with hers.
  • A week later, Francie tells another big ol’ lie.
  • The kids go to a special Christmas celebration given by a church, and at one point a nicely dressed little girl holding a beautiful doll comes on stage.
  • The little girl’s name is Mary, and the doll is named Mary. Mary (the girl) wants to give the doll to another little girl also named Mary. A lady says: “‘Is there any poor little girl in the audience named Mary?’” (27.60).
  • The word poor stops them all from raising their hands, and all the Marys in the crowd murmur to those around them that they aren’t poor and have better dolls at home than that one anyway.
  • Francie can’t take it—she wants that doll more than anything. Finally she raises her hand and is called up on stage.
  • She gets the doll and is escorted back to her seat. The lady explains that the rich Mary is a good little girl for not being selfish by sharing with poor Mary. Francie is humiliated and starts to cry. To make matters worse, all the other little girls in the audience start calling her a beggar. Francie pays for the doll with her pride.
  • When they get home, she tells Mama that the doll was given to her as a prize. If Mama knew it was charity, she would have made her throw it out. Neeley does not snitch on her.
  • Francie feels awfully guilty about the lie and tries to make it better by writing a story, but it doesn’t help. She decides that she will do triple the penance the priest gives her when she confesses the lie.
  • But wait—she has a great idea. She asks Mama if she can take Mary as her middle name when she makes her Confirmation. This way, it wouldn’t be a lie; her name would actually be Mary.
  • Mom says no she may not and explains how she is named after Francie, Andy’s girl. However, she is also named after Mary Rommely. She finds out that her official name is Mary Frances Nolan, so her name really is Mary after all.
  • She sleeps with her doll that night and from time to time whispers Mary to her.
  • It is the only doll she ever has.