'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn' Vocabulary Terms

Betty Smith's Famous Novel of Life in the Inner City

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Image provided by Harper Perennial Modern Classics

Betty Smith's first novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, tells the coming-of-age story of Francie Nolan and her second-generation immigrant parents struggling to provide for their family. It's widely believed Smith herself was the basis for the character of Francie.

Here's a vocabulary list from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Use these terms for reference, study, and discussion.

Chapters I-VI:

tenement: an apartment building, usually in a low-income area, that is without luxury amenities

ragamuffin: a child whose appearance is unkempt and uncivilized

cambric: a finely woven white linen

interminable: long and dull with little sign of ending (or terminating)

premonition: a warning or feeling about something that will happen in the future (usually negative)

vestibule: a reception area or foyer, often in a school or church

Chapters VII-XIV:

fetching: attractive or pretty, beguiling

peculiar: unusual or suprising, out of the ordinary

bucolic: of or in the countryside, literally a shepherd or cowhand

sprig small shoot or twig of a plant, usually decorative or garnish

filigree: a delicate ornamentation or detail' usually gold or silver, on jewelry

banshee: from Irish folklore, a female spirit whose high-pitched wailing signals an imminent death

(on the) dole: unemployed and receiving benefits from the government.

Chapters XV-XXIII:

prodigious: impressively large, awesome

languorous: without energy or liveliness, sluggish

gallantly do something in a brave or heroic way

dubious: having doubt or uncertainty, skeptical

horde: a large unruly crowd

saunter to walk at a leisurely pace

relegate: to demote or assign to a lower category

Chapters XXIV-XXIX:

gratis: free, without cost

contempt: disrespectful dislike

conjecture: opinion based on incomplete information, speculation

surreptitious: secretive, sneaky

vivacious: animated, lively, happy-go-lucky

thwarted: prevented from accomplishing something, disappointed

sodden: drenched, thoroughly soaked

Chapters XXX-XXXVII: 

lulled: calmed, settled down

putrid: decaying with a foul odor 

debonair: sophisticated, charming

lament: to mourn, or feel sad about a loss

fastidious: having exacting attention to detail


contrite: apologetic, feeling sincere regret for a misdeed

contorted: twisted or misshapen

infinitesimal: so small as to be irrelevant or unmeasurable

Chapters XLIII-XLVI: 

contemptuously: disrespectfully, disdainfully

poignant: creating or evoking a feeling of sadness or empathy

genuflect: to kneel and show deference or reverence especially in a house of worship

vestment: garment worn by a member of clergy or religious order

Chapters XLVII-LIII:

vaudeville: variety show with comedic and slapstick performances

rhetorically: speaking in a theoretical or speculative manner, not literally

mollify: to pacify or appease

matriculate: to enroll and pass through a school or course of study

munitions: collection of weapons

Chapters LV-LVI:

prohibition: forbidding, or, period in American history when alcohol was illegal.

jauntily: cheerful and arrogant, lively

sachet: small perfumed bag

This vocabulary list is just one part of our study guide on A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Please see the links below for other helpful resources: