Study Guide

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Chapter 39

By Betty Smith

Chapter 39

  • It is the neighborhood tradition to make three wishes on your Confirmation day:
    • An impossible wish: Francie wishes for her hair to be curly and golden like Neeley’s; Neeley wishes for wealth.
    • A wish that you can make come true yourself: Francie wishes for a nice speaking voice like Mama; Neeley wishes for better grades.
    • A wish for when you are grown up: Francie wants to travel all over the world; Neeley wishes that he won’t drink like Papa did.
  • It is also tradition to have your picture taken by a photographer on Confirmation day. They can’t afford a professional photographer, so Flossie, who has a box camera, takes a snapshot for them. This is a really big deal, and it is the first time the kids have had their picture taken.
  • Neeley’s Confirmation name is John, after Papa. Mama remarks that Cornelius John Nolan is a nice sounding name for a surgeon.
  • Francie’s Confirmation name is Kathleen, after Mama. Mama doesn’t say anything about the name.
  • Her new English teacher, Miss Garnder, is giving her a hard time about her writing. Since her father died, Francie writes less about nature and beauty and more about real life stuff, specifically her dad. Miss Garnder tells Francie that good writing is about beautiful things. Ironically, Miss Garnder also says that she should write about the truth. Francie argues with her that these stories are the truth—her truth—but her teacher has a different definition of truth than Francie does. Francie can’t win this battle, and her teacher is adamant about her position.
  • In another big wave of disappointment, Miss Garnder tells Francie that her play will not be used for graduation. It is not happy enough, so instead she wants Francie to take another student’s idea about fairies and holidays and help her write rhymes for it. Francie is heartbroken and does not want to do this at all. Miss Garnder calls her work sordid, and says that she should burn it. Francie doesn’t burn the stuff her teacher told her to burn, but she does burn all of the other silly “pretty" stuff that she has ever written.
  • She’s angry, plus she feels like a failure as a writer and like she should just give up.
  • Francie goes to find her Mama and hopes she can make her feel better. Instead, Francie feels guilty watching Mama scrub the floor super pregnant, and offers to help. Mama says no, that she doesn’t want Francie’s hands to be destroyed by the strong soap like hers are.
  • Francie stays and chats with Mama as she finishes with the floor, and when she's done, Francie helps her stand up.
  • As they walk, Mama tells her that she is going to need Francie very much in the next few months. Mama tells her that she needs to check on her often when she is working to make sure that she hasn’t gone into labor; she is counting on Francie, and she can’t count on Neeley for this.
  • This warms Francie’s heart, and she promises to stay by Mama’s side.
  • Francie wonders if being needed might be even better than being loved.