Study Guide

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Chapter 56

By Betty Smith

Chapter 56

  • It is the last Saturday in their old home. Katie and McShane will marry the next day, and then the family will move into their new house immediately. They are leaving most of their stuff behind for the new janitress, only taking their personal belongings and the furniture in the front room. Francie wants the rug with the big roses, curtains, and the piano for her new room.
  • Francie takes Laurie down to Cheap Charlie’s store. (Remember this place from earlier in the novel? It is where all the kids spend their pennies they make after selling their junk. They pick a number off the board in the hope of winning one of the fabulous prizes that no one ever wins, and they always get candy instead. Remember how Francie dreamt of going in with fifty cents to buy all of the numbers in order to win all the prizes?)
  • Francie marches in and slaps her fifty cents on the table and demands all the prizes off the board. Charlie starts stumbling for words, and she catches him in his scam to rip off the little kids. He argues that he isn’t really scamming them because he always gives them candy in return. The picking just makes it more interesting for everyone.
  • Francie buys a fifty-cent doll from him and tells him to put it up on the prize board. She wants him to let a kid actually win this one, and though he argues with her at first, he ultimately promises to do it.
  • After lunch, she returns books for the last time to the library. When she does, she asks the librarian to look at her. When she looks up, Francie informs her that in all the years she has been coming into the library she has never once looked at her. Annoyed, the librarian defends herself by saying there are too many kids to look at them all. Francie tells her just how much the brown bowl with the flowers has meant to her through her life. The librarian seems confused about this at first, but eventually realizes what Francie is talking about. The janitor or someone puts the stuff in the bowl, not her. Francie hands in her card, but takes it back when she sees that the librarian is just going to tear it up.
  • Francie looks around the shabby little library one last time. She knows that if she ever returns, it will not look the same to her as it looks now, and this is the way she wants to remember it.
  • She decides she will never return to the old neighborhood. It will be very changed soon when they tear down the tenements and replace them with different housing projects.
  • At home, Mama goes off for one last dress fitting. She will be married in a jade-green velvet dress.
  • Francie collects her personal possessions in a box, including the crucifix Grandpa Nolan made her, the picture of her and Neeley on their Confirmation Day, her First Communion veil, Papa’s two waiter’s aprons, the shaving cup with John Nolan written on it in gold, the old blouse that she wore the time she was with Lee, the doll named Mary, the pretty box Aunt Sissy gave her with the ten pennies in it, her books, her diary from when she was thirteen, an envelope with her diploma, the envelope of stuff she collected when war broke out (not to be opened until 1967), and the four stories that her teacher told her to burn. To this last envelope, Sshe adds her library card.
  • Francie thinks about the time she told God that she would stop writing if he let Mama live. She has kept her promise so far, but she realizes that God won’t be upset if she writes again sometime.
  • Neeley whistles a song as he comes up the stairs. He asks Francie if he has a clean shirt, and Francie finds one and starts to iron. After Neeley is dressed, he asks her how he looks; Francie realizes just how much he looks like Papa. They talk for a while, and then Neeley tells her that since there will be so much commotion in the upcoming days what with the wedding and the moving, that he wants to say goodbye to her now. She reminds him that she will be home at Christmas, but agrees it will never really be the same. She holds out her arm, and he surprises her by going in for the hug. She cries, and Neeley jokes that girls are way too mushy (while fighting back tears himself). Francie thinks he is so much like Papa in so many ways, but that he also has more strength than Papa ever did.
  • Francie dresses for her date with Ben before making supper.
  • As she gets ready, she thinks about how many times she watched girls get ready for their dates when she was just a little girl sitting on the fire escape with her books. She looks out to see if there are any little girls watching her now. Yes, there is—little Florry Wendy is watching her through the bars of her fire escape. Francie calls out the window to her Hello, Francie, and Florry responds in a huff that her name is Florry not Francie.
  • Francie looks out into the yard and thinks about the tree whose branches curled around her fire escape that she loved so much. It was chopped down because it became a nuisance. The cool part is that even though this tree was cut down, it did not die: a new tree sprouted up from the trunk and is growing strong.
  • She looks over again at Florry on the fire escape, whispers “Good-bye, Francie,” and closes the window.