Study Guide

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Chapter 38

By Betty Smith

Chapter 38

  • Francie figures that since she is fourteen years old now and able to get her working papers, she should go to work to help support the family.
  • Mama isn’t having it, though. They will get by somehow until summer, and she can work then.
  • Mama sounds confident, but actually isn't sure how they are going to make it.
  • She talks to her sisters, but they have little extra money to help. Evy says there is no other option—Francie will, in fact, have to drop out and work.
  • Nope. Mama knows no grade school diploma = no high school. (Back in these days, not everyone went to high school. It was a privilege if you could go.)
  • Evy mentions Catholic charities, but Katie would rather kill herself and all the children than accept charity.
  • Things are looking bleak, and Katie prays to God but feels unheard. She prays to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and again she doesn’t feel heard. Finally, she prays to Johnny and gets a warm feeling.
  • Johnny comes through.
  • Mr. McGarrity, the guy who owns the bar, misses Johnny. He misses him because he loved listening to Johnny talk about his wonderful family life and pretending to have this life for himself. McGarrity liked the way Johny distracted him from his own lousy life.
  • McGarrity has tons of cash, and wants to hire the kids for a couple hours after school. (His hope is that the kids will talk to him like Johnny did, and he won’t be as lonely for him anymore.)
  • Francie and Neeley have really busy days now, and Francie is glad for it. This way she doesn’t have time to miss Papa. Here is a typical day:
    • They wake up two hours early and help Mama clean the building. Mama is too far along in her pregnancy to do hard work.
    • They go to school.
    • After school they go to church for Confirmation classes.
    • After Confirmation they go to McGarrity’s to work.
    • And after this, Neeley delivers the newspaper.
  • Things are going okay at McGarrity’s, though the kids don’t talk to him like he expected.
  • Mrs. and Mr. McGarrity have a conversation at dinner one night (a true rarity) and decide that it isn’t going to work out with the Nolan kids working there. After the baby is born, they will let the kids go.
  • One day coming home from a visit with her aunts, Francie realizes that Sissy doesn’t wear her signature perfume anymore.
  • She has her baby and a man to help her take care of her now, Mama explains, so she doesn’t need to wear it anymore.
  • Their conversation makes Francie laugh for the first time since Papa died, and Mama smiles.