Study Guide

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Chapter 46

By Betty Smith

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Chapter 46

  • It is just minutes until the start of the New Year, 1917, and Francie and Neeley are hanging out in the kitchen. Francie believes this is going to be the most important year ever, and Neeley reminds her that she says this every year. She is pretty sure that she is right this time, though, especially considering that the United States will be joining the war very soon. She knows—she reads hundreds of newspapers a day.
  • There is noise from people outside, so it must be past midnight now; people cheerfully sing out "Auld Lang Syne."
  • But then the sound of German verses start ringing through the streets—keep in mind that at any moment war will be declared against Germany, so this creates a pretty tense mood.
  • The Irish retaliate by loudly singing a version that makes fun of the German song, and then the whole sing-off devolves into a battle of wills with each side trying to out-sing the other until eventually the Germans win.
  • When things quiet down, the Nolan family leans out the window and screams “‘Happy New Year, everybody!’” (43.34 ).
  • Mama, who is pretty scared that her children will become alcoholics like their father, is very careful about how she approaches the whole drinking thing. She doesn’t want to nag them about it being wrong to drink or anything like that—she knows this may make them think it is mysterious and glamorous to drink. She also doesn’t want to be too easygoing about it though, and she definitely doesn't want her children to think that it is normal and natural to be drunk all the time. Since New Year’s Eve is an appropriate time to have a drink, she carefully makes them up some brandy eggnog concoction that she calls milk punch.
  • She makes a toast that their “family will always be together the way it is tonight” (43.54), and then Mama nervously watches for their reaction to the drink.
  • Neeley takes one sip and pours the rest down the sink. Francie drinks the whole thing and says it is good, but not as good as ice-cream soda. Phew—Mama is totally relieved.
  • Francie and Neeley go up to hang out on the roof, and Francie feels truly in love with the moment. She wants to reach out and hug the world and the night and everything around her. Neeley accuses her of being drunk, and she steps to him with hands clenched. Luckily, he diffuses the situation by telling her that he got drunk once, that it made the world tip upside down and everything seemed pretty amazing, but that mostly it made him dizzy and vomit.
  • If this is true, Francie realizes that she has been drunk before too, even though she has never had much to drink. She recalls how she felt like this when she saw a tulip last spring; it is also how she feels now at this very minute.
  • They know Mama was testing them on their reaction to the drink earlier, and both agree that Mama has nothing to worry about. Neeley says he isn’t going to drink because he doesn’t like throwing up, and Francie doesn’t need alcohol to feel drunk.
  • Francie wishes Papa were with them and Neeley starts to sing.
  • As they look out over the rooftops of Brooklyn, Francie believes that it is a magical place unlike any other in the world.

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