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MonkeyNotes-A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
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Chapter 20

Summary Because the children are packed into Francie's school, head lice are a problem. Once a week, the school nurse examines each child for lice. If lice are found in the hair, the children are separated from the others. Afterwards, these infected children, usually the poor ones, are teased and tormented by the other students. The moment Katie learns from Francie that the girl sharing her bench has head lice, she goes into action. Every day before Francie leaves for school, Katie combs her hair with a comb dipped in kerosene; she then braids it tightly, hoping to keep the lice out. Every week, she also scrubs Francie's hair vigorously with soap.

Katie also goes into action when she hears that an epidemic of mumps has broken out at school. She sews buds of garlic in two separate bags and ties one each around the necks of her children. When the other students smell the garlic, they stay away from Francie and Neeley, not exposing them to the mumps. Katie's efforts pay off. Her children never fall sick nor have lice in their hair.

Although Francie is not accepted at school and is often shunned, she does not let it bother her excessively. She claims that she is already used to being lonely.


Notes

Katie's fierce desire to keep her children clean, healthy, and safe is clearly described in this chapter. Even though the teacher objects to the smell of kerosene and garlic on Francie, Katie ignores the note written by the teacher on the subject. All that matters to Katie is the well-being of her children, and her efforts pay off. Neither Francie or Neeley gets head lice or the mumps. In fact, both are very healthy children.

The continued discrimination against the poor students is again depicted in this chapter. When the nurse finds head lice in a student, he or she is separated and subsequently teased by the other children; invariably, the child is from the poorer part of the neighborhood. And since the poor children have to share their seats with other poor children, they are more likely to get head lice from an infected child.

Although Francie knows that she is shunned by other students and discriminated against by teachers, she learns to accept it as a fact of life. She says that she is used to walking alone and being considered 'different.' In fact, she claims she has always felt lonely, lacking any close friends.

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