Study Guide

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Family

By Betty Smith

Family

In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the Nolan family is not your picture perfect, made for TV family—well, unless the TV show is more like a reality show, Meet the Nolans or something like that. They’ve got enough drama, for sure. Papa's the one with the heart of gold, but you can’t count on him for anything. He lives his life in the bottle and it totally trapped in there. When he manages to escape for a while, he does his best to be a good dad, but it is never for too long. Mama does her best to love him through the worst like she vowed to do, but she works too hard and as a result becomes pretty hardened. On top of this, we’ve got an interesting cast of extended family around them. There is scandalous yet kind Sissy who comes in and out of favor with the family, Evy and her odd husband, saintly Mary and evil Thomas Rommely… the list goes on. Beneath it all though, they love each other very much and count on each other to make an often challenging life much more bearable.

Questions About Family

  1. What happens to all of Johnny’s brothers? Why?
  2. Who brings news back and forth from different family members even when they are not all talking?
  3. What does Sissy want more than anything? How does she accomplish her goal? What do you think of the way she does this?
  4. Why does Mama have Francie wait a year to start school?

Chew on This

In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, family members accept the bad along with the good in each member of the family.

Sometimes it is essential to sacrifice the wants of an individual in favor of the needs of a family.