Study Guide

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Chapter 42

By Betty Smith

Chapter 42

  • It's grade school graduation day, which is a pretty big deal since this is as far as many kids will get with their education.
  • Francie and Neeley are graduating from two different schools, and that means Mama can only go to one kid's ceremony. You guessed it: she goes to Neeley’s. Sissy goes to Francie’s, and Evy stays home to watch Laurie.
  • After receiving her diploma, Francie has a dreadful task to do—cleaning out her desk. She knows that her desk will be the only one that won’t have flowers on it, and she never even told Mama about the custom because she knows they can’t afford it.
  • Francie stops to pick up her report card from the teacher’s desk. A C- in English? She’s heartbroken, but her sadness quickly turns to hatred. She hates Mrs. Garnder and the whole school in general. She storms to her desk, and is shocked to see flowers there.
  • Two dozen dark red roses await her along with a note that reads: For Francie on graduation day. Love from Papa.
  • It is written in Papa’s handwriting.
  • What?
  • Seeing this makes Francie think that Papa’s death has been a dream, but she goes out to the hall and sees only Sissy there.
  • Papa prepared for this day a year ago. He gave the card and two dollars to Sissy for Francie on graduation day in case he “‘forgets’” (42.18). It's a pretty bittersweet moment.
  • Francie cries not only because Papa is definitely dead, but also because she is totally spent. She’s beat from working hard and worrying about Mama, not writing the graduation play, and the lousy grade in English.
  • Sissy takes her to the bathroom, and Francie cries it out.
  • When she composes herself, she goes out to say her goodbyes. Many of the girls crowd around her to tell her to come over to their houses to play; some tell her that they hope she goes to the same high school that they are attending next year. They all want to sign her autograph book. Francie is shocked to realize that these girls are all really nice and maybe she could have had friends after all.
  • She goes to see Mrs. Garnder, who explains that instead of failing her for not doing her work, she gave her the C- so she could graduate. Instead of explaining herself, Francie just offers her hand in goodbye. She no longer hates Mrs. Garnder; instead she kind of pities her.
  • They all head out to the ice cream parlor for a special graduation treat. The place is packed with other graduates and their families. They have a great time-but Francie notices Mama appears in deep thought. And she is.
  • Mama is thinking about how far her kids have come and how much farther she would like them to go in their education. Her thoughts turn again to McShane. She wonders if he will remarry when his wife dies.
  • When the waiter comes and lays down the bill, everyone silently wonders if Mama will tip him the five cents that is customary on an occasion like this one. The bill is for thirty cents, and Mama gives him the fifty cent piece she has. When he comes back with the change, she grandly tells him to keep it.
  • Francie thinks this is fabulous. Evy asks her whether that was the last of her money. Yes, it is, but Mama says that if spending twenty cents can make them feel like millionaires, it is well worth it.