Study Guide

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Chapter 9

By Betty Smith

Chapter 9

  • Johnny and Katie spend a very happy first year of marriage together.
  • After dinner, they walk to the old, small, warm school. They really like their jobs, and they have fun working together as night janitors at the school. They even find time to fool around together at work, if you catch our drift. Wink-wink.
  • They leave work at dawn and eat fresh baked buns from the baker on the way home. Johnny reads the newspaper to Katie as she cleans up their rooms, they eat a nice dinner at noon, and then sleep until it is time to get up for work.
  • They earn $50 a month doing this, which is a pretty good pay for people of their class at the time.
  • They are comfortable, happy, and full of adventure.
  • Then Katie finds out that she is pregnant.
  • She keeps working until she is so big that she can’t do much but lie on the couch at school as Johnny works.
  • She goes into labor one night at work and tries not to tell Johnny about it until work was over.
  • He gets her home and runs to get the midwife, Mrs. Gindler, who helps her through the birth.
  • The apartment is filled with many women reminiscing about their labors when the midwife finally arrives. Poor Katie is screaming in pain, and they shoo Johnny out of the room. (Most men did not witness the birth of their babies back then. It was considered improper.)
  • Katie labors all day, and Jonny feels helpless.
  • Eventually, he leaves the front stoop of the apartment and goes to his mother’s house and then he goes off and finds his brother, Georgie. They go out drinking all night in hopes that it will calm Johnny’s nerves. He is a nervous wreck about it—so nervous that he forgets that he should be at work… oops.
  • Johnny doesn't know how cold it got last night, and since he wasn’t at school to keep the fires going, pipes froze and burst and the basement and first floors of the school flooded.
  • Even though she is the one who is weak from labor, Katie feels terrible that Johnny has been going through so much pain from worry. She tells him things will be okay, and he starts to feel better.
  • He suggests that they name the baby Francie, after his brother Andy’s fiancé because he thinks that maybe it will help heal her broken heart.
  • A messenger from the school arrives with a note for Johnny that says he is fired. He is sick about it, rips up the note, and doesn’t tell Katie about it.
  • With his last paycheck, he pays the midwife and gives the landlord the next month’s rent. Even though he feels terribly nervous about having a baby and no job, he feels a bit better knowing that they would have a place to stay for the next month.
  • Johnny goes to see Katie’s mother, Mary Rommely, to tell her about the baby and she comes to visit soon after.
  • Katie is so scared and sad that her children might not have any chances in life; she asks her mother for advice.
  • Mary talks about how they came to America in search of a better future for their children, and Katie scoffs at this idea, saying that they have not done any better than their parents.
  • Mary disagrees. Katie has a sixth grade education and so does Johnny, which is much more than their parents had. Now Francie has two literate parents, and this is the key to a better future: education.
  • Mary tells her daughter that she must read one page from a good book to her daughter every day, and Francie will start reading one page a night by herself when she learns to read. She recommends Shakespeare and the Bible.
  • Another important bit of advice that Mary offers her daughter is that she must own some land before she dies, so she can pass it down to her children.
  • Katie scoffs at this idea. How can she possibly own land when they can barely make rent each month?
  • Mary has a plan for that, too.
  • Step one: wash out an empty condensed-milk can and cut off the top.
  • Step two: nail it to the bottom of the closet in the darkest corner.
  • Step three: put 5 cents in it every day.
  • In three years, she will have fifty dollars, enough to buy some land in the country.
  • The plan seems simple, but how is she supposed to find five cents a day?
  • Well, if she goes to the grocer and asks how much for a bunch of carrots and he says three cents, she should find a smaller, not so fresh bundle and ask him if she can have that one for two cents. That is one penny saved, and this type of penny-pinching will add up.
  • Katie wonders why her mother never followed her own advice. The thing is that Mary did follow her own advice, but she was taken advantage of because she can’t read. 
  • Sissy comes right over after work and makes a big fuss over the baby; she is thrilled to pieces over “the most beautiful baby in the world” (9.104).
  • Johnny goes off to pretend to work. (He can’t bear to tell Katie he lost the job yet.)
  • He tracks down his brother Georgie who is working as a singing waiter that night. Luckily, Johnny is able to work there, too, and he is even offered a job the next weekend. And so Johnny becomes a singing waiter again.
  • Sissy and Katie spend most of the night talking with the baby between them on the bed.
  • Katie shares her mother’s plan about reading and saving, and Sissy immediately gets on it, making the bank and hammering it down in the closet.
  • The next day, Sissy sets out to get the books that Mary recommended for Francie, buying some worn-out Shakespeare from the library for twenty-five cents.
  • A few days later, after waking up in a hotel with her current lover, she spots a Bible on the dresser and swipes it.