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MonkeyNotes-A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
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This first chapter in the book serves as an introduction to the setting and several of the key characters. All of the Nolan family is presented. Katie Nolan, the mother, is a pretty and vivacious woman of twenty-nine. She is also a very caring person and a good mother. She trusts her young daughter to go to the store alone to buy groceries. She also encourages Francie and her brother, Neeley, to save the money they earn by selling junk. Johnny Nolan, the father, is a handsome, lovable man, who drinks too much. He does not have a steady job, largely due to his drinking problem; but he does wait tables and sing in restaurants when he is needed. Although they sometimes fight, Francie and Neeley are close to each other. Even though Francie is older and stronger than her brother, she allows him to dominate her, simply because he is a boy.

The family lives in a small, shabby house in a Brooklyn neighborhood called Williamsburg; the entire suburb seems to be filled with poverty and filth. In spite of the impoverished, dirty surroundings, Francie has a cheerful attitude. She says that she loves Williamsburg, simply because it is her home. It is obvious that this young girl tries to make the best of things.


In Francie's yard there is a very special tree, "neither pine nor hemlock." It has pointed leaves and looks like a huge open umbrella. People call it the "tree of heaven," for its seeds fall to the ground and struggle to grow into small plants in a crowded, impoverished environment. The tree, which gives life amid the poverty, becomes symbolic; it represents the grit and struggle of the Nolan family. Just as a plant grows in the place where the seed falls, the Nolan family digs into Williamsburg and makes the best of their bleak surroundings and impoverished existence.

The routine life of the Nolans and their neighbors is described in this chapter. The children of the neighborhood collect junk all week and sell it to a junk dealer on Saturday. Francie and Neeley are no exception. With excitement, they sell their junk and collect their pennies, spending much of their earnings at the candy store.

Mother (Katie Nolan) is portrayed as a wise woman and good provider. Even though she must buy the cheapest food, and in small quantities, she cooks it well and makes fine meals for the family. She also encourages the children to study hard and get a good education; she also tries to make them save their pennies. When her sisters scold her for being wasteful with coffee, a precious commodity, Katie argues, "I think it's good that people like us waste something once in a while and get the feeling of how it would be to have lots of money and not have to worry about scrounging." She obviously longs for more out of life although she seldom complains.

Francie is portrayed as a young girl who disciplines herself and who tries to find pleasure in every small aspect of life. She eats her sugar bun very slowly, trying to enjoy each bit of its sweetness. She joins her brother's baseball game and plays just as hard as the boys; however, she is disciplined enough to leave the fun behind and go to the library to find a book to read. When she goes to buy bread at the outlet store, she entertains herself by watching an old man and imagining what he was like throughout his life, from infancy to the present. She is filled with panic, however, when she thinks about herself as an elderly person. It is a vivid image of the fear that every child has of growing up and old.

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