Study Guide

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Chapter 3

By Betty Smith

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Chapter 3

  • We get to know a lot about Francie’s father, Johnny Nolan, in chapter three.
  • Papa always sings his favorite Irish folk song when coming up the stairs, "Molly Malone."
  • Papa has work tonight as a singing waiter.
  • He is a big believer in Unions, and he talks about how unfairly waiters are treated when they do not belong to a union.
  • He takes his hourly wage home to his family, but he drinks away all of his tip money. Francie overhears men talking about this one day when she visits him at the union headquarters. This really hurts Francie’s heart, but her heart feels better when she notices how all the men that her father is talking to seem to really like him.
  • Most people really love Johnny. He is quite charismatic, which is a fancy way of saying he has a personality that people just like. He’s one of those people who makes friends easily, and his wife and children adore him, too.
  • He usually comes and goes without saying much to his family, but on Saturdays he talks a lot. Today he is talking to Francie as she irons and prepares his uniform. She notices that he isn’t really talking to her—it is more like he is talking to himself. He talks about his parents and how he never made it past the sixth grade. He had to drop out to earn money.
  • He was a singer in a saloon by age twelve and drunks would throw pennies at him as his pay.
  • He feels like he is stuck in his pitiful job and existence, and this is why he drinks.
  • He claims he is not happy and he never wanted a family. This really hurts Francie’s feelings. He makes Francie feel a little better by saying that he loves his family. Francie doesn’t understand why she likes her Papa more than Mama when she knows that Papa is no good.
  • Johnny notices that Francie is looking sad, and quickly tells her that when they have enough money, he will take her on a trip to some far away places. Even as he says it, he knows it is just a pipe dream.
  • He takes great pride in his appearance and makes sure that he is dressed perfectly for his work; as they walk to the trolley, Francie notices that women look at him.

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