Study Guide

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Chapter 7

By Betty Smith

Chapter 7

  • We have jumped into a literary DeLorean and gone back in time twelve years to learn a little bit about how Francie’s parents met. 
  • They first meet in 1900, when he is nineteen and she is seventeen. 
  • Katie Rommely (Francie’s future Mama) works at the Castle Braid factory with her best friend, Hildy O’Dair. Hildy has a boyfriend named Johnny Nolan. 
  • One day, Hildy asks Johnny to set Katie up on a date, so they could all go out dancing together. (Bad move, Hilds.) 
  • They go out, and Katie does not like the guy they brought for her. But who do you think can’t stop looking at Johnny’s “young, slender, and shining [. . .] blond curly hair and deep blue eyes” (7.6)? That’s right… Katie. 
  • Johnny dances with her, and Katie decides that she is going to get that. 
  • She takes any opportunity to find him when Hildy isn’t around and get her flirt on, and her plan works. 
  • Hildy sees Johnny talking to Katie, and she doesn’t need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows, people. She knows the deal and she is not pleased. 
  • Hildy tells Katie to stay away from her man, and then they have an all-out girl fight in front of the factory. 
  • Johnny takes both young women with him to move away from the others to talk, and is very open with Hildy about how he loves Katie. He tells her “. . .you go your way and I’ll go mine” (7.29). 
  • Four months later, Johnny and Katie are married. (Whoa.) 
  • Thomas Rommely, Katie’s father, is angry and never forgives her for marrying Johnny. Thomas is full of hate for Austria (his homeland) and America, where he ran to in order to escape joining the army. He is pretty much just a miserable old man who spends his time saying nasty stuff and swearing in German at his children, who have been forbidden to learn German. 
  • Mary Rommely is Thomas’s wife, and she is pretty much his opposite. She is saintly, especially in comparison to her nasty husband, and though she has no education, but she is a fantastic storyteller. She knows thousands of stories, myths, and legends that she tells to amuse people. She is very religious, but not in the sense that she judges people who are not. Although she lives her life trying not to do sinful things, she completely understands those who are not religious or who make bad choices in their lives. 
  • Mary tries to protect her children from Thomas, and she is very sad for them when they all marry men of little wealth. She is also very sad when her daughters give birth to girls, because girls have a much harder life than men. 
  • Next, we learn about each of the children that Mary and Thomas Rommely have together: 
    • Sissy is the eldest, and she never went to school because her parents didn't didn’t know about free education and no one told them about it. By the time Mary learns about free school, Sissy is too old to start, so she just stays home with her mother. When Sissy turns ten, she is very developed and looks like she is thirty; she starts hanging out with much older men. Her father beats up some of the older men she associates with, but when she is fourteen she meets a twenty-five-year-old fireman who her father isn’t capable of beating up, so he and Sissy get married. They have a pretty good marriage for a while, and Sissy gets pregnant right away. She decides that if it is a boy, she will name him John. She has an attachment to the name John, and even renames her husband, John. (His real name is Jim.) Sadly, the baby is stillborn. It is the first of four stillborn children Sissy has by the time she is twenty, a pattern that prompts her to leave her husband because “nothing but death grew out of their love-making” (7.56). Sissy gets married again easily by pretending she was never married before. She starts calling her second husband "John" too (no one ever knows his real name), and again has four stillborn babies before deciding to leave him. Sissy believes that since she has had eight stillbirths by the age of twenty-four that God must not want her to marry, so she goes to work at the rubber factory. During this time, she has several lovers, all named “John”—at least as far as Sissy is concerned. Even though she is a “bad” girl, her sisters and Francie (who is eleven when Sissy marries a third time) all really love her. Her third husband is the “John” that she is married to presently. 
                     
    • Eliza is the second daughter, and she joins a very strict order of nuns when she turns sixteen. Her name is now Sister Ursula, and she is forbidden to leave the convent except to attend her parents’s funerals. Francie only sees her once when she attends her father’s funeral. 
                     
    • Evy is the third Rommely daughter. She marries Willie Flittman—a big time whiner and complainer—when she is young. Flittman's one redeeming quality is that he plays the guitar, but besides being a good musician he's basically a really dull guy who only talks about how much he hates horses. Evy loves her husband and they have three children together, though she picks on him about his horse fight (which Francie finds hilarious).
  • And that's that for the Rommely women.