A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Major Characters
Francie Nolan: Francie Nolan is the central character in this coming of age novel. The story revolves around her life, from her daily routines to her intimate feelings about family, life, and love. She is born to poor, young parents on December 15, 1901 with beautiful hands and long thick brown hair. She is not gorgeous, but she gets by. She is a combination of her mother's strength and her father's zest for life; she becomes a very intelligent and motivated young woman. She grows up quickly, wants to be a writer, and attends the University of Michigan. After working hard as a young girl, surviving her beloved father's death, a broken-heart, and poverty, Francie grows into a young woman with unlimited potential.
Neeley Nolan: Neeley Nolan, born 'Cornelius,' is Francie's younger brother by one year. He looks just like Johnny (his father) with his blue eyes, thick curly blonde hair, and charismatic handsome face and body. He is not as motivated as Francie, but Katie loves him more than he loves her. Katie vows to never show her strong love for Neeley, but her favoritism shines through at times. Neeley and Francie go through school together and are each other's support through their poor youth. Neeley is allowed to continue to high school when he does not want to and Francie is forced to work when she wants to continue school. Although the two siblings have a small rivalry, they love each other dearly and are always there for one another.
Katie Nolan: Katie Rommely Nolan McShane is Francie's mother. She is the youngest of four sisters. She is of German descent and steals Johnny from her best friend. She loves Johnny, but marries him too young and pays the price by working as a janitress to support her two young children (and eventually third). She is realistic and non-demonstrative of her feelings. She is always working hard for her children so that they will have a better life, and refuses to accept charity. She is devoted to her family, their future, and her pride. She banks on education as the one quality that her children must have in order to become something important in the world. Like her sisters, Katie needs the love of a man. She marries Sergeant McShane at the end of the novel and plans to live out her years comfortably.
Johnny Nolan: Johnny is Francie's father. He is a very handsome man with curly blonde hair and blue eyes. His family comes from Ireland. Every man in his family dies before the age of 35, and he believes he will as well. When he works, he is a singing waiter; but he is usually drunk. He is extremely proud of his Waiter's Union and always dresses well in his one tuxedo and dickey. Francie is very close with Johnny. Johnny tries to be a good father and a role model, but unfortunately fails in his responsibility. He dies of pneumonia on Christmas Day, leaving the family in heartbreak and even worse financial straits. The family moves on, but never forgets Johnny.
Aunt Sissy: Aunt Sissy is the oldest Rommely sister. She is brassy, voluptuous, flirtatious, and fun loving. Francie has a very special connection with her. Sissy has been married three times (never by the Catholic church), had ten stillbirths, and longs for children of her own. She is often considered 'bad,' because of her risqué behavior, but truly has a massive heart for the Nolan family. She has a special place in her heart for Francie and pretends to be her mother at school to help her. She also brings magazines and gifts for the children from the factory in which she works. She eventually falls in love with her husband Steve (whom she calls John), gives birth to her own healthy baby, and settles down.
Aunt Evy: Aunt Evy is the third Rommely sister and is the voice of reason among the girls. She is poor as well, but has enough money to support her family before her crazy husband, Willie Flittman, runs out on her. She and Katie sometimes join forces when Sissy is out of control, to try to protect their families. Katie gives Evy $200 of the $1000 she receives from McShane as a wedding present, because that is the sum she would have collected from Willie's life insurance.
Hildy O'Dair: Hildy is Katie's childhood girlfriend from whom she stole Johnny. Johnny and Hildy were dating when Katie met him. The two got married shortly and went their own way, while Hildy went hers.
Flossie Gaddis: Flossie is one of Francie's childhood acquaintances. She has only one arm and gets dressed in costumes every week. Francie visits her and begins to understand about worse hardships than her own.
Maudie Donovan: Maudie is another friend of Francie's from the first home. She is an orphan. She is one of the first friends to develop into a woman. Francie realizes that she is growing up when she sees Maudie change.
Tynmore sisters (Miss Lizzie and Miss Maggie): The Tynmore sisters are music teachers. Lizzie teaches piano while Maggie teaches voice. Katie hires Lizzie to teach her piano, while she slyly has the children look on to her lessons and learn the piano as well. The Tynmores don't have much money and survive on the coffee they are given from their clients after lessons.
Mr. Jensen: Mr. Jensen is the beloved janitor of Francie's second school. He is supposedly more educated than the teachers, but makes more money as the janitor. He gives Francie hope in school and signs her yearbook with style.
Mr. Morton , Miss Bernstone: The respective music and art teachers who visit Francie's school once a week and are the treasure of the students and teachers. They also give Francie something to look forward to in school and attend both her old and new schools.
Joanna: Joanna is a girl in Brooklyn who got into trouble and proudly displays her bastard child. She is stoned by other cruel women. Katie uses her as an example of what should not happen to Francie, but Francie sees how the other women treat her and decides that she will never be friends with a woman.
Sergeant Michael McShane: McShane is a middle-aged Irish police officer-turned politician who falls in love with Katie. After his wife dies and Johnny dies, he marries her and brings the Nolans out of poverty and into a life of comfort.
Willie Flittman: Willie Flittman is Evy's husband who constantly feels like he is a failure. He is kicked by a horse and consequently decides to become a one-man band and leaves his family. He is never heard from again.
Lee Rhynor: Lee is the man with whom Francie falls in passionate love. He plays a cruel joke on her by telling her he loves her and wants to sleep with her before he goes to war. He leaves, gets married to another girl, and disappears from Francie's life. She always thinks of him.
Steve/John: Steve is Sissy's last and final husband. He loves her dearly, but is frustrated with her past and with her feigned pregnancy. She calls him John and eventually falls madly in love with him. The two have two children and live comfortably.
Steven Aaron: Steven Aaron is the first live born baby of Sissy. She has had ten stillbirths until this successful birth in a hospital. He is partially named after the doctor who helped Sissy bear him.
Miss Briggs: Miss Briggs is one of Francie's teachers at her first school who treats her inferior because she is poor. Sissy pretends to be Francie's mother and scares Miss Briggs into treating Francie well.
Miss Garnder: Miss Garnder is Francie's English teacher who grades her down because she writes about death and drunkenness. Francie writes imaginary plays in which she is her pet. Miss Garnder is the teacher who at first grants Francie the task of writing the graduation play and then takes that privilege away from her because of the change in her writing compositions.
Miss Armstrong: Miss Armstrong is the city reader at the bureau where Francie works in New York. She is the boss's mistress and leaves work to marry him. She is the first real-life mistress that Francie has met and destroys Francie's image of mistresses because she does in fact marry the man she is seeing.
Laurie Nolan McShane: Laurie is the third child of Katie and Johnny. Johnny dies four months before she is born. She is named after the song 'Annie Laurie' that Johnny sings and is adopted by McShane, after his marriage to Katie. She will have a much easier life than Francie and Neeley.
Little Tilly: The young girl who unfortunately is a forgotten child and who Johnny takes on a fishing trip (a comedy of errors). She cries and illustrates Johnny as an unfit parent and never appears in the rest of the book.