Study Guide

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Chapter 47

By Betty Smith

Chapter 47

  • Soon after the holiday season ends, the Nolan family resumes their regular schedule that they have been on since Johnny died.
  • Neeley plays the piano most nights in ice cream parlors for free sodas, which scares the heck out of Francie since it is just one step away from living the life that her father did. Mama believes it is not the same at all because Johnny never played the songs he wanted to, and Neeley only does what he wants. In other words, says Francie, Mama believes that Neeley is an artist whereas Johnny was only an entertainer. Francie thinks that might be pushing it a little.
  • Loneliness haunts Francie in the evenings. Mama and Laurie go to bed right after dinner and Neeley goes out with his friends, but Francie doesn’t like going to the movies because they hurt her overworked eyes, and there are no plays to go see. She really wishes that she had a boyfriend.
  • All everyone talks about in March 1917 is how the war will start at any minute.
  • And then Sissy spices things up with tons of Drama—that's right, with a capital D.
  • Even though Sissy is not living like a wild woman anymore, her wild past catches up with her, causing her to get “widowed, divorced, married, and pregnant—all in ten days’ time” (47.23). Plus, there is something else too . . . maybe. Possibly.
  • The drama starts when her first husband, the firefighter, dies in a fire. Since he never remarried, she is listed as his widow and her picture is in the paper. Her new John believes she was officially divorced, so Katie and Francie run over to Sissy’s house because Katie thinks that new John may throw her out or something.
  • When they get there, new John is pretty mad that Sissy tricked him into living in adultery, and insists that she gets a formal divorce from her other ex-husband.
  • He also demands that they all start calling him Steve—you know, his real name—and not John.
  • He storms out to go buy ice cream for the guests, and Sissy is very happy that he has finally become a man in the relationship.
  • They write to Sissy’s old husband and ask him for a divorce. A week later, they get a response from him that they were formally divorced seven years ago. He got married and has three children.
  • Steve and Sissy get remarried in a Catholic church. He knows that Sissy will never leave a marriage that is blessed by the church, and Sissy is madly in love with him again.
  • But wait, it doesn’t stop there.
  • Sissy comes over to talk to Mama one night, and Francie eavesdrops.
  • Among other things, Sissy tells Mama that she is pregnant again and sure that this baby will live because she is married in the church now. There is also something else, though, kind of buried between the lines, so pay attention.
  • Sissy tells Katie that she told Steve the truth about how she got their baby.
  • He says he knew it wasn’t her baby, but he got very confused with all of her games.
  • Sissy says it’s funny how much the baby looks like Steve.
  • She also says that they never found out who the father of the child is.
  • Now add to this that Steve is the one who told Sissy about the pregnant young woman in the first place.
  • (Are you putting these pieces together? Go back and reread the last few sentences if not.)
  • Then Sissy remembers how Steve said he would never take on another man’s baby.
  • (Are you with us?)
  • Katie tries to stop Sissy’s mind from going there. She repeats that all of this is merely accidental… and struggles for another word when—from the other room—Francie offers coincidental as the possible word she is looking for.
  • There is a shocked silence when the sisters realize that Francie has heard them. The conversation continues but is too quiet for her to hear now.
  • (So, what do you think? Who has tricked whom in this situation? Is this a giant ball of irony? Or is it possible that Sissy is just feeling suspicious because she tricked her husband and feels guilty? )