A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
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FAQ Contents

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

Set in Brooklyn, New York in 1900, the movie tells the story of the Nolan family -- 13-year old Francie Nolan (Peggy Ann Garner), her younger brother Neeley (Ted Donaldson), hard-working mother (Dorothy McGuire), and alcoholic father Johnny (James Dunn). Although the family lives in a tenement and Katie ekes out a living by scrubbing floors and collecting rags, Francie grows up idealistic and imaginative, just like her father. As Francie comes of age and, with Johnny's help, transfers to a school where she hopes to get a better education, tragedy strikes the family, and it looks like Francie's dreams are going to be dashed.

Yes, albeit indirectly. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a 1943 novel by American author Betty Smith [1896-1972]. The film was adapted from a screenplay by American screenwriter Tess Slesinger, who died in 1945. Selsinger's screenplay was adapted for the movie by Frank Davis. A made-for-TV version, also called A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, was released in 1974.

Outside the window of the Nolans' tenement apartment grows a single tree, struggling to survive amidst the pavement and the squalor. The tree is a symbol of Nolans. Even when its branches are chopped down, the tree manages to grow back. According to the Sunset Garden Book, the tree is an Ailanthus altissima, or 'Tree of Heaven' (see photo), native to China and Taiwan and is now considered an invasive species.

Those who have both seen the movie and read the book mostly agree that the movie does a good job of capturing the spirit of the novel. However, the novel encompasses five 'books', ranging from Francie's birth until she goes off to college. The movie telescopes books one and three only, leaving out many details and subplots, and it chronicles the life of the Nolans, which take place over 17 years, into about one year.

After the graduation exercises, Francie, Neeley, Katie, and Aunt Sissy (Joan Blondell) go out for ice cream sodas. While they're drinking them, Francie catches the eye of a boy, and he asks her to go to the movies with him. Katie leaves 50 cents for the 30 cent sodas and tells the waiter to keep the change, much to Francie's delight. 'There's times when feeling good and things like that is important,' Katie explains to Francie, showing that she has learned something from Johnny. The four of them then go home, where Sissy's husband Steve (John Alexander) is holding their new baby and Office McShane (Lloyd Nolan) is holding Baby Annie Laurie. After Steve and Sissy leave, McShane stays on for a while. He asks Katie if she would might 'keeping company' with him, and Katie agrees. He assures Francie and Neeley that he isn't trying to take Johnny's place but would like to be considered as a good friend to them. He asks Katie for permission to adopt Annie Laurie, since she never looked on the face of her real father. Katie replies, 'If the time comes, she'll have your last name.' In the final scene, Francie and Neeley are on the roof, talking about how Annie Laurie McShane will have an easier life than they had but not nearly as much fun. Francie looks down at the courtyard and notices that the tree has begun to grow again, 'just like Papa said it would.'


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