Study Guide

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Chapter 36

By Betty Smith

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Chapter 36

  • Johnny dies three days later.
  • After he goes to bed with Katie, he gets up and leaves and never returns; they can’t find him anywhere.
  • On the second night that he is gone, Sergeant McShane comes to the door to take Katie to the hospital. He tells her that Johnny was found unconscious huddled in a doorway and didn’t have any identification on him. McShane recognized his description and went to the hospital to make sure it was in fact Johnny. He is in the final stages of pneumonia.
  • Doctors tell Katie that he only has a few hours to live, and she sits with him until he dies.
  • He never knows she is there.
  • Katie returns home and tells the children in the morning.
  • They are not to cry for their father because he is “out of it now, and maybe he’s luckier than we are” (35.11).
  • An undertaker comes to talk to Katie first thing in the morning. This undertaker is pretty unscrupulous—he takes advantage of people as they mourn. He uses some trickery to find out just how much they have in life insurance ($200), and then quotes a price for a funeral that is just a little bit less than the amount ($175).
  • Katie realizes this guy is a scammer but is just too wiped out to care.
  • She goes back to the hospital later to provide the information for the death certificate. The official cause of death is listed as acute alcoholism and pneumonia, though she fights to have the acute alcoholism part taken off.
  • Later, the undertaker asks her for the deed to their cemetery lot. Katie is angry—she assumed that was part of the cost of the funeral. Nope. He assures her that it is a separate cost.
  • They have to pry up the tin can and give him everything that remains, $18.62. The undertaker says he will let the rest slide. (What a peach.)
  • She says she will not give him the money till he brings her the deed and she can read it. (She remembers the story about how her mother was cheated many years ago.)
  • At this time in history, the bodies of the dead are brought home for a few days so that people can pay their respect till the burial. It was not very common for most people to use funeral homes like we do today.
  • Francie and Neeley avoid the front room the whole time the coffin is in there, even going so far as to sleep in the kitchen.
  • Before they close the coffin, Katie comes out and tells the children that some of the neighbors believe the reason that the children won’t look at their father one last time is because he was a bad father. Not wanting them to think that, Francie takes Neeley’s hand and they go out.
  • Neeley looks very quickly then runs out. He doesn’t want to cry.
  • When Francie summons the courage to lift her eyes up from the floor to look, she is amazed at how peaceful and young he looks. His usually trembling hands are now so still.
  • At the funeral mass, there is a woman sobbing uncontrollably in another pew. Turns out that this is Hildy O’Dair, the woman that Katie stole Johnny from many years ago. At first Katie is jealous, but then decides that someone should cry for Johnny, especially when she can’t.
  • On the way home, Mama stops the coach in front of the barbershop and tells Francie to go in and get her father’s cup. (Back then, some men went to the barber several times a week for a shave. The wealthier men had the barber use their own mug to work soap into a lather to shave with, and Johnny had his own as his little luxury.) The barber cleans out his mug and offers Francie some heart-felt, kind words about her father.
  • Mama tells her that the mug is for her to keep, and Neeley will get his signet ring. Francie is so very grateful for this gift. Besides a few waiter’s aprons at home, these are the only objects that Johnny leaves behind. He is buried in all his clothes and with his beloved union pin.
  • Aunt Sissy, Evy, Mama, Francie, and Neeley all sit around the table, and Mama—who up till now has been so strong— starts weeping.
  • Sissy embraces Mama and tells her not to cry or “the child you’ll soon be bringing into this world will be a sad child” (37.105). (Does this mean Mama is pregnant? It certainly sounds like it, doesn’t it? Could this explain the mysterious whispering at the end of chapter 34?)

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