A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Questions and Answers
by Betty Smith

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Why is Katie so insistent that the death certificate state the cause of death as pneumonia?

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A central issue in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is Johnny Nolan's alcoholism. At the time the novel takes place, over a hundred years ago, substance abuse was considered shameful and was not generally thought of in the clinical terms in which we tend to see it today. Alcoholism was regarded primarily as a moral failing, not as an illness.

In this context, it's obvious why Katie doesn't want it to be known that her husband was "a drunk." With the death certificate whitewashing his problem, no evidence exists about his alcoholism after he's gone....

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