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Literature / A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

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A 1943 American novel by Betty Smith about Francie Nolan, a girl growing up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in the 1900s and '10s. It draws significantly on Smith's own experiences, dealing with poverty, vice, and issues of class, education, and immigrant status.

The book was a huge bestseller when it was published, which is notable because of its frank and sympathetic treatment of sex (especially women's sexuality) and other then-controversial subjects.

Notable adaptations include the 1945 Film of the Book directed by Elia Kazan, with Academy Award-winning performances by James Dunn as Johnny and Peggy Ann Garner as Francie; and a 1951 Broadway musical, which Betty Smith helped George Abbott adapt from her book, unsuccessful despite very good songs by Arthur Schwartz and Dorothy Fields and Shirley Booth's show-stealing portrayal of Cissy (as Sissy's name was spelled in this version).

This novel provides examples of:

  • A Boy, a Girl, and a Baby Family: The Nolans become this after Laurie is born.
  • Absurdly Elderly Mother: Mary Rommely. Katie mentions in passing that her mother was 50 (roughly the time menopause starts) when she (the youngest of four daughters) was born.
  • Absurdly Youthful Mother: In contrast, Mary's daughters (sans Eliza), especially her eldest Sissy, have children very young. See Teen Pregnancy below.
  • Abusive Parents: Thomas Rommely (who "never forgave" any of his children for marrying and greeted them with "Gott verdammte!" [basically the German equivalent of "God damn you!"]); Johnny's mother (possessive, yet not affectionate) and whose reaction to the birth of her grandchild is to wail "Now she's got you good. You'll never come back to me." Katie counts too for her favoritism of Neeley, which Francie picks up on, though Katie does realize how wrong it is and does her best to hide it.
  • A-Cup Angst: Francie angsts over how skinny and underdeveloped her body is when she's going through puberty. Later on, she notices something's changed about her body while she's in the bathtub.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The 1945 movie only goes as far as Francie's graduation from eighth grade, and Katie agreeing to marry Mr. McShane and cuts some other stuff as well.
  • Adapted Out: The 1951 musical cuts out numerous characters, including Neeley, Katie's parents (it's said that Sissy raised Katie) and two sisters, and all of Johnny's family.
  • Alcoholic Parent: Johnny.
    • Played with though: While Johnny's drinking is destructive and ultimately kills him, he's always portrayed as a quiet, introspective drunk instead of a belligerent, abusive one. On the other hand, when he's sober, he tends to act as if he's drunk, being very impulsive and uninhibited.
  • All Men Are Perverts: When Francie gets groped on the subway, Sissy claims it's just because she's getting a nice figure and men can't help themselves.
  • Anachronic Order: The story is split into five "books," of which only the first is out of order (set in 1912). Book Two jumps back to 1900, and the story runs straight from there until it ends in 1918.
  • Attempted Rape: Just before Francie turns 14, a child molester who has already raped and killed several little girls in the neighborhood grabs Francie. Katie rescues her by shooting the attacker.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Sissy flashes a "Chicken Inspector" badge at the illiterate Italian family to get them to let her into the house.
  • Betty and Veronica: For Johnny, choosing between Katie (Veronica) and Hildy (Betty).
  • Big Applesauce
  • Book Dumb: Nearly all the adult characters, who haven't had the benefit of much education (or any, in the case of Sissy and Mary, who Never Learned to Read).
  • Book Ends: By the end of the book, Francie is moving away from her old neighborhood, but many details from its introduction are mentioned, down to a girl who sits on the fire escape reading, like Francie used to.
  • Brainy Brunette: Francie.
  • Breaking the Cycle of Bad Parenting: Katie and Johnny are far better parents than their father and mother respectively. Though Katie does blatantly favor Neeley even in infancy.
  • Break the Cutie: Francie goes through more emotional trauma in her childhood than some do in their entire lives.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: Francie imitates Mr. Siegler when comparing Laurie's height to that of their small Christmas tree.
  • Brooklyn Rage: Subverted. When the Christmas tree vendor shouts at Francie and Neeley to get the hell out of his sight, she knows he's not actually angry at them - it's just his way of wishing them a merry Christmas.
  • Brutal Honesty: Katie has this trait and so do her children.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Johnny borrows a gun to protect his family from a sexual predator. Someone uses it a few pages later for that exact purpose.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Sgt. Michael McShane, a policeman who is first introduced about halfway through the book. He starts being important near the end, when he proposes marriage to Katie and she accepts as a way to finally secure a decent life for herself and her children.
    • The film version does a better job of making him important, having him be the neighborhood cop and do things such as investigating when Sissy steals a neighbor's skates for Francie, taking Johnny home when he's drunk, helping the children with the Christmas tree (and bringing by candy canes later), and standing silently behind everyone at Johnny's funeral. We also see his feelings for Katie take on a form of Courtly Love, which he doesn't do anything about until after both his wife and Johnny have died.
  • Chinese Launderer: Where Francie takes her father's shirts. See Inscrutable Oriental.
  • Christianity is Catholic: Since the Nolans' ancestors are Austrian and Irish everyone in the family is Catholic, and their religion plays a major role in the story.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Hildy O'Dair, Katie's ex-best-friend who she stole Johnny from.
  • Coming of Age Story: The story follows Francie from her birth to her late teens.
  • Cool Loser: Francie is a loner and doesn't have any girlfriends. She's shocked when the other girls in her grade write fond things in her yearbook and ask her to come to the same high school as them on graduation day.
  • Cool Teacher: Francie has a few to make up for the Stern Teachers she has otherwise.
  • Daddy's Girl: Francie to Johnny.
  • Dark Reprise: The last verse of "Molly Malone." Johnny sings the song when he comes home late at night, and someone always tries to get the apartment door open before he can reach the end of the verse. One night, he sings the last verse for the first time. It's the last time Francie ever hears him sing before he dies.
  • Dastardly Whiplash: The plays Francie goes to see have villains of this variety. As she grows up she finds it harder to enjoy them because of the lack of realism, and even thinks it would be smarter of the typical Damsel in Distress heroine to just marry the villain as he wants, because he's at least nearby and willing, whereas her supposed true love apparently has better things to do and only returns in time to perform the heroic rescue.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Neeley, who looks exactly like Johnny and has all of his good traits without his bad ones. Though he is born soon after his parents' marriage and years before Johnny dies.
  • Dead Man Writing: On her graduation day, Francie is startled to find flowers from her father, who died several months earlier. Sissy explains that Johnny had given her the card and the money to purchase the flowers should he die before this special day, though she claims he told her in case he "forgot."
  • Denied Food as Punishment: After he discovers her pregnancy, Lucia's abusive father locks her up and tries to slowly starve her on a bread and water diet, hoping she'll suffer Death by Childbirth as a result. Later subverted by Sissy, who starts sneaking in plenty of good food after she learns of Lucia's situation. Lucia's father never learns of Sissy's intervention and is flabbergasted to see that his daughter has given birth to a healthy son.
  • Determinator: Katie, who passes this trait on to Francie.
  • Disappeared Dad: Willie Flittman leaves his family to perform as a one-man band. After learning that Katie is pregnant for the third time, Johnny leaves and ends up dying of pneumonia after being out in the cold.
  • Dreadful Musician: Willie until he gets better and the boy whose mother got him an instrument because she believed it would keep him off the front lines.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The Nolan family finally gets a break at the end after suffering in poverty most of their lives.
  • Education Mama: Mary Rommely tells Katie that if she wants her children to rise in the world, one of the things she must do is read them one page a night from The Bible and the complete works of William Shakespeare. Katie tries her best, and it does have an effect; if nothing else, Neeley has the play Julius Caesar inside and out by the time he starts high school.
    • Francie even goes to college at the end of the book
  • Fake Period Excuse: Katie uses this to leave work early and talk to Johnny which cements their relationship.
  • Fashionable Asymmetry: Flossie Gaddis's costumes. She always wears one long sleeve to cover the burn scars from a childhood accident with a tub of scalding water, but everyone thinks it must symbolize something and that it looks cool.
  • First World Problems: When Francie's English teacher talks to her about her newer compositions about not being as lovely as they were before Johnny's death, said teacher talks about how hard her life has been as a poor minister's daughter, including being so poor her mother could only afford "untrained" country girls as maids and only being able to attend a community college instead of a state university. Naturally, Francie, having grown up in real poverty, isn't impressed and thinks of snarky remarks in her head.
  • Foreshadowing: Three months after Framcoe was born, Katie finds that she has no milk left to nurse...because she is now pregnant with Neeley. Neeley is "leeching" the nourishment that Francie needed — especially since she is a weak, sickly child. The infant Francie just has to toughen up and cope, setting up a pattern that continues as the children grow up. Neeley receives the lion's share of the limited affection and opportunity that their mother gives them, even when Francie logically deserves it more.
    • At one point, Johnny is badly shaken by the news that Katie is pregnant with the couple's third child and goes out. She pleads, "Please don't come home...[drunk]" but trails off before the last word. He promises her he won't, and from then on he stops drinking. A few weeks later, he doesn't come home at all and ends up dying of pneumonia in the hospital.
  • Four-Girl Ensemble: "The Rommely women": Katie is practical and hard-working, Evy is a bit of a Deadpan Snarker and aspires to a "refined" lifestyle, and Sissy is a tender Good Bad Girl. Their sister Eliza is described as having been rather dull, having joined a convent, and is barely mentioned, so the fourth corner is really filled by first Mary, their saintlike mother, and later Francie herself.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Johnny and Katie only dated for four months before marrying. After Johnny detoxes, Sissy tells Katie she believes they married so fast was so she could sleep with him and not feel guilty. Katie doesn't wholly disagree.
  • Frothy Mugs of Water: In-universe — when Katie reads Francie's diary, she insists that Francie sanitize all of the (frequent) references to her father's drinking by replacing the word "drunk" with "sick."
  • Generation Xerox: Francie and Neeley essentially grow up to be like the parent of their respective genders.
  • Good Bad Girl: Sissy is described in the page quote. One of her lovers even tells her, "You got a heart of gold." One chapter also tells of a neighborhood girl named Joanna, who was always nice and friendly, but is ostracized and abused after she has a baby out of wedlock.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Katie didn't want to get pregnant the second time, but she refuses an abortifacient and has Neeley.
  • Gratuitous French: Francie and Neeley jokingly use some around Katie, who doesn't know any.
  • After Katie shoots the pedophile who grabbed Francie, a drunk reporter confuses Katie's name with that of the cop on the case. The article in the Brooklyn paper the following morning states that Mrs. O'Leary of Williamsburg shot a prowler in her home. A few days later, the New York papers pick up the story, which has become "Mrs. O'Leary of Williamsburg was shot by a prowler in her home."
    • Inverted as the story dies down and the pedophile is forgotten and the neighbors only remember that Katie shot a man.
  • Groin Attack: Katie shoots a pedophile in his exposed groin when he tries to go after Francie.
  • Growing Up Sucks: And how!
  • Hates Everyone Equally: Thomas Rommely.
  • Hope Sprouts Eternal: The tree of the title (the Tree of Heaven), which is a metaphor for the hardiness and potential for growth of the people of Brooklyn.
  • Incurable Coughof Death: Andy Nolan dies of tuberculosis. His brothers got him a nice pillow to keep him comfortable, which they give to Johnny and Katie as a wedding present.
    • Henny Gaddis also dies young of consumption.
  • Insatiable Newlyweds: Katie and Johnny were this before Francie was born. Somewhat justified since they're both Catholic. Francie is born less than a year after they marry, and Neeley is born less than a year after Francie.
    • Sissy and her first husband appear to be this, as Sissy was 14 when she married and the child was born (and died) on her fifteenth birthday.
  • Inscrutable Oriental: Subverted. Francie thinks this of the "Chinaman" who does her father's laundry, but it turns out he never says anything simply because he barely speaks English.
  • I Am Not Pretty: Francie believes this about herself, but this turns out to be untrue, based on the number of men who seem interested in her when she grows up.
  • Ignorant of Their Own Ignorance
  • Immigrant Parents: Or grandparents, to be accurate. At her first school, Francie stands out in that she's the only student in her class whose parents were actually born in America. At her second school, there are other students whose parents were born in the US.
  • It's All Junk: Francie's school compositions, which all earned A's because she imitated the books she'd read and wrote Purple Prose about beautiful subjects, none of which she had ever experienced firsthand. After Johnny's death, she begins writing grittier, more realistic, but still compassionate things about him, which her teacher criticizes as "sordid." Rejecting this idea, Francie realizes that her old essays were shallow and meaningless, and she burns them in the stove.
    • The film alludes to this when Katie is in labor and asks Francie to read one of her compositions; Francie claims she burned all of them, but Katie gently rebukes, "No, you didn't"; when she does read one of them, it's one of the later ones, about Johnny.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Sissy reminisces at one point about how nice her figure was when she was younger. Note that she apparently still is a looker, since men still seem to want her as much as ever (and that's after she's had ten children, mind).
  • Jewish Complaining: Crops up at times when the Nolans do business with Jewish merchants.
    • The pickle seller throws a curse of "Goyem!" at Francie when she asks for a "sheeny" pickle. (The two terms are pejoratives; "goyem" is used by Jews to refer to Gentiles, "sheeny" vice versa.)
    • The hat saleswoman (who happens to be a Greedy Jew) complains loudly at first about Katie's reluctance to spend more than $2 on a hat. After they strike a deal, she whispers "Goyem!" and spits after them.
    • Mr. Seigler, the owner of the local dry-goods store, rails at Francie when the family comes in to buy some clothes for baby Laurie. She hasn't been in for a year to buy dickies and paper collars for Johnny; he thinks she's been going to a different store, but he relents and apologizes after Katie tells him of Johnny's death.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Not so much to Francie and Neeley once they get to school (they're cruel to other kids) but before she gets to school, Francie was a loner because the other children ignored her.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Sissy wants nothing more than to be a mother, but she has ten stillbirths. Finally, she gives up and adopts the illegitimate baby of an Italian girl, [[who may be her husband's child, who told her about the girl]] insisting to everyone that she was pregnant and gave birth naturally. Soon afterward, she has a healthy child of her own.
    • Her healthy birth is justified after all her stillbirths though, as it's the first child she gave birth to in a hospital and the modern medical techniques used save the child who would have otherwise succumbed to the same fate as his brothers and sisters.
  • Leave the Two Lovebirds Alone: Francie has to shoo Neeley out of the room so Katie and McShane can have a tender moment.
  • Leg Focus: Francie observes that her boss' mistress has very nice legs and concludes that this is the reason he finds her attractive.
  • Lice Episode: Because the kids at Francie's first school are so prone to catching head lice, she and all the other girls have to have their heads inspected every week. The minute Katie hears of this, she starts washing Francie's hair once a week with the same soap she uses to scrub floors, and also brushes it with kerosene every day. Francie stinks up the whole classroom and can't sit near any lit gas jets for fear of igniting her hair, but she never once gets lice. A similar campaign, involving a bag of garlic worn around the neck, keeps both Francie and Neeley from catching any colds at school.
  • Long Hair Is Feminine: Katie certainly believes so, despite Francie wanting to cut it short so she'll look like Irene Castle (she is mentioned by name), and ultimately forbids Francie from cutting it until she is 18.
  • Love Martyr: Katie to Johnny. The narration notes that if she'd married a man who felt this way about her, the family would have been a lot better off.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Sissy tells Katie that the illegitimate baby she adopted (see above) actually looks remarkably like her husband. Katie insists that's just her imagination, but she then asks her if she ever did find out who the baby's father was. Sissy admits that she didn't, but she recalls that her husband was the one who told her about the pregnant girl in the first place. Then she muses that her husband always did say he'd never be willing to adopt another man's child....
  • Mama Bear: Katie when the pedophile comes after Francie. Getting the gun in the first place was a Papa Wolf move on Johnny's part.
  • Mama's Boy: Neeley and most of his uncles, though that is more a case of My Beloved Smother
  • Marital Rape License: Discussed. See Sour Prudes.
    • Also one of the Nolans' neighbours is a brutish dockworker who has a young bride who cries as she undresses for him, and nobody cares. Ew.
  • Meaningful Funeral: Johnny's.
  • Metaphorically True: Inverted. Francie claims her name is Mary to get a doll being donated to a "poor little girl" of that name, after all the actual Marys refuse to come forward. When she wants to take it for her confirmation name, she discovers that she was christened Mary Frances.
  • Middle Name Basis: Francie's full name is Mary Frances but everyone calls her Francie (and she doesn't find out that her first name is Mary until her teens), and Annie Laurie is known as Laurie.
  • Mirror Character: Katie and Johnny are both the youngest of four single-gender siblings from Catholic families. Johnny and his brothers all remain impoverished and die young from various causes. On the other hand, Katie and her sisters survive, and three of the four raise families of their own and improve their lives in different ways.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Francie wants to become a playwright.
  • Multigenerational Household: Mary lives with her daughter Sissy and her husband and their children. Ruthie Nolan's sons live with her until they die or marry.
  • Must Have Caffeine: All the Nolans drink very strong coffee almost constantly.
    • Though it did take Francie a few years to learn to like it, and Katie let Francie dump the coffee out.
  • My Beloved Smother: Johnny's mother, who is incredibly possessive of her sons.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: Repeatedly.
  • "Near and Dear" Baby Naming: Francie, whose full name is Mary Frances, is named for her maternal grandmother and her deceased uncle Andy's then fiancee who would have been Francie Nolan had they married.
    • Annie Laurie is named after the title character in one of Johnny's favorite songs.
    • Sissy names her son Stephen Aaron in honor of her husband and the hospital doctor who supervised the delivery, resulting in the first live birth of her life.
  • New Job as the Plot Demands: Francie holds a variety of jobs at different times, including:
    • Bed-maker and dishwasher at a local saloon
    • Artificial flower assembler
    • File clerk and reader at a press clipping office
    • Teletype operator
  • New Parent Nomenclature Problem: When Mc Shane asks Katie to marry him, he makes it clear to Francie and Neeley that he will not be replacing Johnny as their "Papa" (though he will adopt Laurie, who never knew him), and Neeley suggests they call him "Dad."
  • New Transfer Student: Francie, after she switches schools to a better one in a different, more affluent neighborhood.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted (albeit euphemistically) — Francie gets her period for the first time in the middle of a Heroic BSoD triggered by seeing the women stone Joanna, and she thinks her heart has literally broken and she's bleeding to death.
  • Not Actually His Child: Sissy tries to pass off her adopted daughter Sarah off as her husband's, by faking a pregnancy. She reveals the truth to Katie. But she also reveals that Sissy might be Steve's child, as he was the one who told her about Lucia.
  • Office Romance: The boss of the press clipping office Francie works for marries the Head Reader which is how Francie gets the job.
  • Oh, and X Dies: Johnny.
    They were the pride of Shantytown, the tall, blond, good-looking Nolan lads. They had quick feet in shoes that were kept highly polished. Their trousers hung just so and their hats set jauntily on their heads. But they were all dead before they were thirty-five — all dead, and of the four, only Johnny left children.
  • Older Than They Look: Both Francie and Neeley, which gets them jobs when they're really too young to be working, but need to for the money. Francie goes to college and has a nineteen year old boyfriend when she's only fifteen.note 
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Almost everyone, except Mary and Thomas Rommely and Evy's children Paul Jones and Blossom. Neeley's real name is Cornelius, after a character from Julius Caesar but everyone calls him Neeley (he shares this nickname with Cornelius Vanderbilt), Francie (Mary Frances), Katie (Katherine), Johnny (John), Evy (Eva), and probably Sissy and Eliza, though we never learn what their full names are, Sissy's son Stevie (Stephen) and adopted daughter Little Sissy (Sarah) and Ruthie (Ruth) Nolan.
    • Sissy calls all of her husbands and lovers John until her third husband Steve insists on being called by his real name.
  • Parent with New Paramour: Katie marries Sergeant McShane after Johnny dies, once Francie and Neeley are more or less grown-up.
  • Parental Abandonment: Willie Flittman, Evy's husband. In the final chapter, he abandons his wife and three kids to travel as a one-man-band. When Katie gets $1,000 from Mr. McShane as a wedding present, she gives Evy $200, the value of Willie's life insurance.
  • Parental Favoritism: Katie favors Neeley while Johnny favors Francie. In an inversion of the trope, Francie prefers her father over her mother.
  • Plucky Girl: Francie, of course. Katie was one herself when she was younger (see Determinator).
  • Practically Different Generations: Francie and Neeley's younger sister Laurie is born shortly before Francie graduates primary school (when they are 14 and 13 respectively). Francie recognizes this near the end of the novel after Officer McShane proposes to Katie when Laurie identifies McShane as her father rather than Johnny, who she has never known as she was born after he died.
    • Justified in that Katie was 17 when she married Johnny, who was 19, and 18 when Francie was born.
    • The narration implies that Sissy was much older than her siblings, their mother didn't discover that school was compulsory until the rest were old enough and as Sissy was "too old to start school" she stayed home. But when giving her age in the latter half, Sissy is only about four years older than Katie, who was born when her mother was 50, though see Writers Cannot Do Math as a possible explanation.
  • Purple Prose: In-Universe. Francie's essays are written like this before Johnny dies. Her English teacher, Miss Gardener, believes in this philosophy for writing.
    Miss Gardner: But poverty, starvation, and drunkenness are ugly subjects to choose. We all admit these things exist. But one doesn't write about them.
    Francie: What does one write about?
    Miss Gardner: One delves into the imagination and finds beauty there. The writer, like the artist, must strive for beauty always."
    Francie: What is beauty?
    Miss Gardner: I can think of no better definition than Keats': 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty.'
    Francie: Those stories are the truth.
    Miss Gardner: ...By truth, we mean things like the stars always being there and the sun always rising and the true nobility of man and mother-love and love for one's country.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: When her father dies, Francie breaks down in tears and blames God.
    Francie: Jesus wouldn't go around punishing people. He knew about people.
  • Really 17 Years Old:
    • Francie has to lie about her age to get her first job, and also when she starts dating Ben and has to confess about it (he's 19 when she's 15). However, being a Nice Guy, he doesn't mind and lets her know he's willing to wait until she grows a little older.
    • Sissy lies about her age to marry her first husband at fourteen.
  • Reformed Rakes: Katie marries Johnny because he's romantic and dashing, then tries to make him a reliable husband.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Ben suggests that Francie take this approach to pass her summer French course, in which she's been struggling badly. He has her memorize an excerpt from Tartuffe by Moliere, along with its English translation, then warns her that one of the questions on the final will completely stump her. She should say at the outset that she doesn't know the answer, but is ready to write and translate the excerpt she's been primed with instead. It works, and she just barely passes the course.
  • Rich Language, Poor Language: Francie and others in her family and neighborhood versus those who are more affluent and/or educated. Part of the reason for her attending college at Ann Arbor is because the family is encouraging her to lose her New York accent.
  • Sadist Teacher: Nearly all of them, including the principal who apparently likes to whip little boys. There are a few Cool Teachers though, and they have a big impact on Francie. When she transfers schools to a better neighborhood, her teachers are much better.
    • The most notable teachers are Francie's first-grade teacher (who refused to let her use the bathroom but treated her better after Aunt Sissy got involved) and Miss Gardner, Francie's eighth grade English teacher who dismisses Francie's stories and play as "sordid" because they weren't Purple Prose and (probably unintentionally) insults Francie's background.
  • Scrubbing Off the Trauma: After Francie's attack, she begs her parents to help her because she can still feel where it touched her thigh. Her father pours acid over the spot, leaving a permanent scar but Francie is happy to have it rather than the feelings or dirtiness left by her ordeal.
  • She Is All Grown Up: Happens to Francie a few times, including when a man gropes her on the train. Katie herself realizes this about Francie when she not only calls her "Mother" instead of "Mama", she confides that she almost slept with Lee, and as such, responds to her both as a woman and as her mother.
  • Share the Male Pain: Female, rather. As Katie gives birth to Annie, every woman in the apartment building cringes as she screams, knowing what she's enduring. Even two old women who never married—one of them outright tells the other that that's why she didn't marry the man she loved, because she was so terrified of experiencing that.
  • Shrinking Violet: Francie, though she has Hidden Depths and begins to come out of her shell as she grows up.
  • Significant Name Shift: Francie calls Katie "Mother" instead of "Mama" after she discovers that her love interest has been lying to her (he's already engaged). Hearing this, Katie recalls the moment that she did this with her own mother and realizes that Francie isn't a little girl anymore.
  • Smoky Gentlemen's Club: Democratic Party headquarters, which Francie catches a glimpse of. The political corruption of the day is a recurring theme.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Katie is pregnant with Laurie when Johnny dies. It's implied that learning there was another baby on the way contributed to his death, since he realized he'd have to earn more to support another child, and he began taking any job available to the detriment of his limited strength. In the film, he stood in line for hours on a winter day to apply for work sandhogging a tunnel.
  • Sour Prudes: The story is pretty heavy on the "women treat each other worse than men treat women" idea, with the obvious example being the neighborhood women who harass and eventually stone a girl who has a baby out of wedlock. The narration explains how miserable these women's marriages are. Also, the baby's father initially wanted to marry her, but his female relatives talked him out of it.
  • Stealing from the Hotel: Sissy takes a Gideon Bible for her sister (and wraps it in a hotel towel). Her current lover becomes concerned.
    "John": People swipe it, read it, reform and repent. They bring it back and buy another one, too, so that other people can swipe, read and reform. In that way, the firm that puts out the books loses nothing. [...] Say! You might read it and reform and then Iíd have to go back to my wife. Promise me that you wonít reform.
    Sissy: I won't. [...] I never listen to what people tell me and I canít read.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Francie and Neeley look almost identical to Katie and Johnny.
  • The Talk: Francie gets one from Katie around the time she starts her periods. The narration describes Katie as being frank and occasionally having to use vulgar words due to not knowing the proper words, and also that Francie was the only one in her neighborhood that even got that much.
    • Neeley was listening in on this conversation and teases Francie about her naïveté later.
  • Three Successful Generations: Francie's extended family become this by the end.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Katie was 18 when Francie was born.
    • Aunt Sissy's first child was stillborn on her fifteenth birthday
    • Joanna and Lucia appear to be in their teens when they get pregnant
    • Evy is implied to also have married young though her exact age is uncertain.
  • Time Capsule: Francie creates one for herself on the day the United States enters World War I in 1917, with instructions not to open it for 50 years.
  • Tragic Dropout: Francie is forced to drop out and get a job to help support the family. She is furious at her mother for making her do it instead of her brother Neeley, as he doesn't even like school. Her mother explains that it is exactly why she made the choice she did - if Francie drops out, she'll find a way to go back for her education when she can. If Neeley did, he would never go back. Eventually, she chooses not to go to high school, finding work instead, and by the end goes to college.
    • Katie and her sisters (sans Sissy, who never even went to school), and Johnny and his brothers only finished school through 6th grade. They all dropped out to help support the family.
  • Turn Out Like His Father: Played half straight — Katie loves Neeley for the ways in which he's like Johnny, but hopes and prays he won't inherit the bad as well as the good, and tries to raise him to be the man Johnny should have been. By the end of the book, Francie muses that Neeley has ended up with all of Johnny's good qualities and none of his bad ones.
  • The Un-Favourite: As soon as Neeley is born, Katie realizes that she loves him more than Francie, mostly because she can transfer all her dying dreams for Johnny to him. However, she does her best to hide it, and we only feel the occasional twinge from Francie's point of view. Though she points out Katie's favoritism and while they do make up, the narration notes that their relationship will never be the same again.
  • Unwinnable by Design: Cheap Charlie's prize/candy draw game. The kid pays a penny, draws a number from 1 to 50 at random, then takes either that numbered prize from the display board or a penny's worth of candy. There are a couple of decent prizes, like a doll or a pair of roller skates, but Francie starts to suspect early on that Charlie has rigged the drawing to give out only the junk items. Her suspicions are confirmed near the end of the book when she tries to pay 50 cents and take all the prizes on the board, but Charlie defends himself by saying that he always gives full value to any kid who turns down the prize they drew.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Sissy hides a bottle of whiskey in her bustier and gives it to Johnny, who's trying to detox.
  • A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: Lee, the army major whom Francie meets and tries to get her to commit adultery with him. Luckily, she doesn't.

Alternative Title(s): A Tree Grows In Brooklyn