Study Guide

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Chapter 35

By Betty Smith

Chapter 35

  • It is a week before Christmas, and Francie has just turned fourteen while Neeley is getting ready to turn thirteen very soon. It’s going to be a bleak Christmas since Johnny isn’t working at all. To make things even more confusing, he isn’t drinking either. Something is really wrong with Papa. He is sober, but he is acting like he is drinking. Very bizarre.
  • There is no money for heat, so they wear their coats and hats inside.
  • Neeley hears Francie swear, and reminds her that God can hear her, which sets Francie off questioning about God and his mercy. If God can hear all things and do all things, why doesn’t he do something about their life right now? Why doesn’t he help Mama? Why doesn’t he fix Papa? This kind of talk makes Neeley uncomfortable, so she stops talking about it.
  • Mama comes home and tells them that they are having oatmeal again for supper tonight, but since they have condensed milk and bananas, it won’t be so bad.
  • Mama doesn’t eat.
  • Francie convinces her to play the piano for them while they eat, so it feels like they are eating in a fancy restaurant. Katie hesitantly agrees. Francie and Neeley listen to the music and talk about silly times from their younger days.
  • They are almost happy—the kitchen is warm, their bellies are full, and Mama’s piano playing makes them feel safe and comfortable. A violent pounding on the door snaps them out of this reverie.
  • It’s Johnny. He has always taken such pride in his appearance, and now he looks like he rolled out of the gutter. Trembling terribly, he vows that he isn’t drunk. Things don’t look good for Johnny at all. He is very upset—in fact, he weeps. Katie tries to calm him down. He tells her that he has been thrown out of the Waiters’s Union for being a bum and a drunk. Sobbing uncontrollably, he tells her how he cannot sing anymore; he has lost his voice.