Study Guide

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Summary

Meet Francie Nolan. She is eleven years old in 1912, living in a very poor section of Brooklyn called Williamsburg. But hold on, this is no gloomy tale of the hardships of poverty—in fact, the first sentence of the novel lets us know that Francie is a pretty upbeat person. To her, Williamsburg is serene, especially on easy breezy Saturdays in the summer.

One of the first things the narrator writes about is the “Tree of Heaven,” a really tough tree that can grow in terrible conditions, even out of cement. One of these trees is growing in the yard behind Francie’s tenement apartment building. Its leaves surround her fire escape, and she loves to sit out there and feel like she is living in a tree. So right away, Francie and this tree are connected, see? Can we expect her to be one tough mama, like the tree? Maybe.

The novel is divided into five different books.

In Book One, we go with Francie from place to place on a serene Saturday. Even though nothing extraordinary happens on this day, we learn a ton about her, her family, and the culture she lives in. We meet Mama, Papa, a couple aunts, and walk through the streets with her.
Francie spends the day:

  • Cashing in some scraps she and her brother collected at the junkie for some pennies
  • Running errands for her mother
  • Tagging along with her brother
  • Visiting her favorite place, the library
  • Ironing and chatting with Papa
  • Talking with her favorite Aunt Sissy
  • Going to Confession 
  • Seeing Aunt Evy and her mopey husband Uncle Willy
  • Doing her required reading
  • Listening to Papa sing Molly Malone as he comes up the stairs from work.
  • Hanging out with her family in the middle of the night 
  • Falling asleep in the front room to the comforting sounds of Mama and Papa chatting all night.

And there you have it, folks—A typical serene Saturday in the summer.

Book Two flashes back twelve years to when Johnny and Katie first meet and brings us up to when Francie is six years old. Here we get lot of background scoop about both sides of the family and how they influence who Francie is.

As newlyweds, Katie and Johnny have a blissful first year, but things get tough soon enough. Our Francie has a tough first year, and many people don’t think she will live for very long because she is so small and sickly. Then Papa loses his job, and Mama is pregnant again by the time Francie is three months old. Yikes.

The Nolans move a couple times because of scandals and embarrassments caused by Papa’s drinking and Aunt Sissy’s behavior. They have no money to afford a new place, but that doesn’t stop Mama. She finds a place where she can work as the janitress in exchange for paying rent because she knows that she can’t depend on Johnny. He spends a lot of time drinking these days.

Book Three, the lengthiest book, follows Francie’s life till she is fourteen years old. We learn a lot about Francie’s start in school, which is nothing close to the magical land where she gets to clap the teacher’s erasers outside like she expected.

Instead, school is an overcrowded and mean place where the wealthier students are obviously preferred by their teachers. And thanks to Mama’s fear of sickness, Francie has no chance of making any friends—the girl reeks from getting her hair combed with kerosene and wearing a garlic necklace to ward off various ailments.

When Francie is thirteen, a sexual predator lurks in the shadows of Williamsburg. Several girls are molested, and one is even murdered on her same block. Just when things start to calm down, the predator strikes again. This time, his victim is Francie.

Soon after this, things go downhill fast for Papa. In an attempt to sober up, he dies from pneumonia and alcoholism. It seems like all hope is lost, and Francie will have to drop out of school to work, but then Johnny saves the day. McGarrity, a saloon owner who misses Johnny, wants the kids to work for a few hours after school each day. This extra money helps them through the birth of the littlest Nolan, Annie Laurie.

Book Four focuses on Francie’s working life. In just the few months after graduating from grade school she worked in an artificial flower factory, was laid off, and found a new job at a clipping bureau as a reader. As September approaches, Mama decides only Neeley can go to high school this year. Francie is mad, but she has a plan—she is determined to study for an admissions test to bypass the high school requirement altogether.

Katie gets a marriage proposal from Sergeant McShane. This is a very good break for them all, as he is financially able to take care of Katie and her children. He wants to pay for them all to go to college and wants to adopt Laurie.

At the start of the fall, Mama gets married, and Francie, who passes her entrance exam, is off to start at the University of Michigan. The boy from the summer college classes, Ben, gives Francie a promise ring. He wants to marry her in five years. She is not so sure. Maybe she will, but she has a while to think about it. She looks out the window as she prepares for her date with him and notices that her favorite tree that was cut down has started to grow a new tree from its stump. She also notices a little girl watching her get ready just like she used to do when she was little. She whispers “Good-bye, Francie” and closes the window (56.152).

  • Chapter 1

    • Williamsburg, Brooklyn can be described as serene on Saturday afternoons in the summer of 1912.
    • We meet out first character, Francie Nolan. She loves the feeling she gets when the afternoon sun shines down in her yard; it makes her think of poetry she learned in school.
    • There is one tree in Francie’s yard. This tree is sometimes called a “Tree of Heaven” (1.4). It is a hearty variety of tree that thrives in difficult environments, and it can even grow through concrete. The narrator tells us that the tree does especially well in tenement districts. (Btw, tenement housing is found in many big cities during this time. It was housing for the poor, and they are pretty run-down areas full of overcrowded apartments.)
    • The narrator tells us that wherever you spot this tree, you can be sure that the area is (or soon will become) a tenement district, because the tree just seems to like poor people.
    • The tree wraps around the Nolans’s apartment's fire escape, and Francie, who is eleven years old, loves to sit on the fire escape and pretend that she lives in a tree.
    • Early in the day on Saturdays, she and her brother Neeley (and nearly all the other children who live in Brooklyn) go to a place called the junkie. Throughout the week these kids collect all sorts of scrap materials—like “rags, paper, metal, rubber, and other junk” (1.9)—and bring it to the store to get a few pennies.
    • The problem is that when they walk to turn in their stuff, the kids who get there first make fun of them as they walk home, calling them “rag pickers.” In other words, they are making fun of them for being poor, which is pretty harsh, especially since they are poor themselves.
    • They get to Carney’s shop. Carney is the owner of the junkie, and a real creeper to boot. He likes girls more than boys, and will often give girls an extra penny if they let him pinch their cheeks. Ick. Anyway, Francie lets him pinch her cheek for the extra penny, and she gets to keep this “pinching penny” for herself. All of the other money is split with her brother.
    • After they divide their loot, Francie and Neeley go to some neighborhood stores to spend it.
    • At Cheap Charlie’s, there is a board with numbered hooks and a prize in a bag hanging from each. You can buy a chance at the board for a penny. You could possibly win something cool like roller skates or a catcher’s mit, but all anyone ever wins is some penny prize or candy.
    • Neely picks and gets some candy.
    • Francie thinks about how one day when she has fifty cents, she will go and buy all of the numbers; that way she can get all of the good prizes.
    • Francie leaves the store and walks up Manhattan Avenue until she reaches Broadway. On Broadway in Brooklyn, there is a fabulous nickel-and-dime store where she buys some peppermint wafers. (For the record, this would not have been Shmoop’s choice.)
    • Francie gets home at noon and sees her mother, twenty-nine-year-old Katie Nolan, putting away her broom and pail.
    • Mama is very pretty. Everyone thinks it is a shame that she has to work as a janitress, but she has to work because her husband, Johnny Nolan—a good-looking and charming man—is a drunk.
    • Mama gives Francie instructions on where to go to get some food and how much she should pay. Today is special because she will also get sugar buns for dessert.
    • Coffee is a very important thing to the Nolan family, and their one luxury. Mama makes a big pot every morning and reheats it for dinner.
    • Everyone can have three cups a day with sweetened condensed milk to go in it. They can have even more cups if they just wanted a cup of black coffee.
    • Neely and Francie both love coffee but don’t drink it much. Francie loves the smell of coffee, and she loves holding on to the warm cup, but she usually just dumps it down the drain at the end of the dinner.
    • Mama’s sisters think this is horribly wasteful, but Mama says it is Francie’s right to do with her share of the coffee what she wants to. She thinks it is pretty cool that they have at least this that she can waste. It makes them feel a bit less poor.
    • After dinner, Francie goes to Losher’s bread factory to buy some stale bread for the week. She notices many families give this chore to the old people in their families who have little other worth. These old people linger in the bread factory because it is warm and doing something gives them a sense of purpose.
    • Francie looks at the oldest man, and is sad to think about what this man’s life has turned into. She realizes that most of the babies born in the world will end up like this man one day—and specifically, she realizes that this could be her fate, too.
    • In a panic, she boldly hollers her order and gets the heck out of there; on the way home, she is haunted by the old man’s feet.
    • She goes home and then follows her younger brother around, even though she is not welcome.
    • Francie gets bored watching the boys fool around and realizes that it is 2:00PM. She’s off to the library.
  • Chapter 2

    • Francie loves the library even though it is not the nicest looking place. She loves the smell of old books (so do we).
    • Her plan is to read all of the books in the world in alphabetical order. Whoa. She won’t even allow herself to skip over the boring books, though on Saturdays she takes a break and reads a book that is not in alphabetical order. (Way to live on the edge, Francie…) As Francie enters the library, she thinks about how she totally loves everything about the place and daydreams about decorating her house just like a library when she is older.
    • There is a beautiful brown bowl that is filled with flowers, leaves, berries and other lovely seasonal things sitting on the librarian’s desk. Francie loves this bowl and always admires what is in it.
    • The librarian is pretty cold to her, which is a bummer because Francie would really love it if she was even a little nice to her. Francie comes in to check out a new book every day (that’s right, she reads at least one book per day), and the librarian doesn’t realize this because she never even looks up at her. Kind of a jerk, yes?
    • She goes home with her books and arranges a sweet little reading spot on the fire escape. She gets her pillow, a drink, and puts the little candies she bought earlier in her favorite bowl and steps out on to the fire escape.
    • The fire escape is surrounded by the tree's branches, so it is a really private place. No one can see Francie, but she can peek through the leaves and see everything going on around her. Good times.
    • She is very happy that the boy whose father rents the shop downstairs is not there today. This kid likes to play a pretty twisted funeral game that consists of digging little graves, putting live caterpillars into match boxes, burying the matchboxes, putting little pebble headstones up, and sobbing and crying the entire time. Shmoop hopes this kid gets therapy soon.
    • Anyway, this weirdo is not there, so Francie is pumped.
    • Around 4:00PM, she notices that the flats (apartments) start to come to life. Kids run in and out; women come home with their husbands’s suits that they picked up from the pawn shop. If you look in the windows, you can see young women wash up and get ready for dates at their kitchen sinks. Why in the kitchen and not the bathroom you wonder? Well, they don’t have private bathrooms in the tenement housing; instead, they have bathrooms that many families share.
    • She stops reading when Fraber’s horse and wagon go into the yard next door. The stable that this horse is kept in next door is the best looking thing in all of Williamsburg.
    • Frank is the guy who drives the wagon around advertising for a dentist every day. He’s a nice guy and all the girls flirt with him.
    • This isn’t the only horse that Francie knows. Her aunt Evy’s husband, Uncle Willie Flittman, also drives a horse.
    • Her uncle’s horse is named Drummer, and he pulls a milk wagon.
    • Uncle Willie and Drummer have a very antagonistic relationship; Willie doesn’t like the horse, and the horse does not like him.
    • Flossie Gladdis, the woman who lives in the apartment beneath the Nolans, sticks her head out the window and flirts with Frank. Like usual, Frank turns her down.
    • Francie feels sorry for Flossie. She says that “Flossie was always running after men and they were always running away from her” (2.67). This makes her think about her Aunt Sissy who runs after men too, but the men always “meet her halfway.” She thinks the difference is that Aunt Sissy isn’t as desperate about wanting a man as Flossie is. Francie puts it this way, “Flossie Gaddis was starved about men and Sissy was healthily hungry about them. And what a difference that made” (2.68).
  • Chapter 3

    • We get to know a lot about Francie’s father, Johnny Nolan, in chapter three.
    • Papa always sings his favorite Irish folk song when coming up the stairs, "Molly Malone."
    • Papa has work tonight as a singing waiter.
    • He is a big believer in Unions, and he talks about how unfairly waiters are treated when they do not belong to a union.
    • He takes his hourly wage home to his family, but he drinks away all of his tip money. Francie overhears men talking about this one day when she visits him at the union headquarters. This really hurts Francie’s heart, but her heart feels better when she notices how all the men that her father is talking to seem to really like him.
    • Most people really love Johnny. He is quite charismatic, which is a fancy way of saying he has a personality that people just like. He’s one of those people who makes friends easily, and his wife and children adore him, too.
    • He usually comes and goes without saying much to his family, but on Saturdays he talks a lot. Today he is talking to Francie as she irons and prepares his uniform. She notices that he isn’t really talking to her—it is more like he is talking to himself. He talks about his parents and how he never made it past the sixth grade. He had to drop out to earn money.
    • He was a singer in a saloon by age twelve and drunks would throw pennies at him as his pay.
    • He feels like he is stuck in his pitiful job and existence, and this is why he drinks.
    • He claims he is not happy and he never wanted a family. This really hurts Francie’s feelings. He makes Francie feel a little better by saying that he loves his family. Francie doesn’t understand why she likes her Papa more than Mama when she knows that Papa is no good.
    • Johnny notices that Francie is looking sad, and quickly tells her that when they have enough money, he will take her on a trip to some far away places. Even as he says it, he knows it is just a pipe dream.
    • He takes great pride in his appearance and makes sure that he is dressed perfectly for his work; as they walk to the trolley, Francie notices that women look at him.
  • Chapter 4

    • After watching Papa leave for work, Francie goes over to Floss Gaddis’s house. You remember Floss—she is the one who is hungry for men from a couple chapters back.
    • Floss supports her mother and her brother, Henny, by working in a glove factory.
    • Her brother can’t work because he has consumption. Consumption is what we call tuberculosis today, and it is a nasty disease that attacks the lungs. It also causes weight loss, which is why it was called consumption long ago. It is a serious disease that often leads to death, especially back in the early 1900s when this novel is set.
    • Francie knows that Henny is dying, but she doesn’t really believe it because he looks good.
    • They are all happy to see Francie when she arrives.
    • She tells Henny that he is looking good, but he refuses to believe it. Both Francie and Mrs. Gaddis try to raise his spirits, but Henny gets upset about it all, and this causes him to go into some coughing and sobbing. They leave him alone at his insistence.
    • Flossie does three things each week: (1) She works at the glove factory. The gloves are sewn inside out, and her job is to turn them right-side-out. (2) She works on sewing costumes for a masquerade ball that she goes to every Saturday night. (3) She works on getting Frank, as we witnessed a couple chapters ago.
    • Flossie has several different pieces of fabric that she rearranges in different ways each week to create a new costume for the ball. All of her dresses are made to flatter her figure and to help take attention away from scars on her right arm from when she was burned by boiling water as a child.
  • Chapter 5

    • Francie loves Aunt Sissy, and thinks that she has led a really interesting life. She is thirty-five and has been married three times and had ten children (all of whom died in childbirth).
    • Sissy is very wild as far as men are concerned—don't forget that wild with men probably had different connotations over a hundred years ago than it does today, though.
    • Sissy brings Francie a little toy that was made in the rubber factory where she works. Her factory makes a few little rubber toys as a “blind.” What they make their real money on is from “other rubber articles which were bought in whispers” (5)… a.k.a. condoms. The secrecy around this gives us a clue about how society views condoms and other birth control options at this time.
    • When Sissy leaves, Francie tells her Mama about the old man with the nasty feet at the bakery. Mama kind of blows her off and tells her to stop worrying about old age, that Francie should try to just accept the fact that everyone gets old.
    • Mama changes the subject to meal planning for the week. The Nolan family does a lot with the stale bread, and most of their meals involve it in some way. Other than the bread, they also eat condensed milk, coffee, onions, and potatoes very frequently.
    • Francie really loves the tangerines that she only gets at Christmastime. She also tells us about how every once in a while when she is really sick and tired of eating the same thing over and over and over (and she happens to have an extra penny), she goes down to get a Jewish pickle from the store on Moore Street.
  • Chapter 6

    • Neeley gets home, and he and Francie get very specific instructions about where to go get some meat for the week.
    • Their first stop is to get meat at Werner’s.
    • Francie negotiates with the butcher to get ten cents worth of chopped round steak. The butcher is annoyed with her, and his overreactions to Francie’s requests come across as a bit comical to Shmoop. What do you think? For example, when she tells him that her mama wants it ground, he replies “God-dam it to hell!” (6.12 ).
    • Next, it’s off to another butcher, Hassler, for a soup bone. Neeley waits outside with the chopped meat they got from Werner’s because if Hassler sees that they got their chopped meat somewhere else, he will be irritated and tell them that they should get their bones at the same place. Francie orders a five cent bone with some meat on it to make a soup for Sunday dinner. The butcher cuts off a nice, thick piece of liverwurst and gives it to Francie for free. Francie feels bad that they deceived this nice guy, and she wishes that Mama trusted him for their other meat, too.
    • Next, they go to the grocer to get some veggies for the soup.
    • After they get home, Maudie Donovan comes over so they can walk to confession together.
    • After confession, Francie buys an ice cream sandwich and splits it with Maudie as they walk home.
    • When Francie gets home, her Aunt Evy and Uncle Flittman are visiting. Francie likes Aunt Evy because she reminds her of Mama
    • Francie and Neeley have to do two things before they go to bed each night: (1) They have to read a page from the Bible; and (2) they have to read a page from Shakespeare. This is the law of the house, and to save time they split the chore: Neeley reads the Bible and Francie reads Shakespeare.
    • On Saturdays, Francie is allowed to sleep in the front room. She pushes two chairs together and lies there watching people out the window and listening to the sounds of the house.
    • She hears her father singing Molly Malone around 2:00AM, and they all get up to chat and eat together around the kitchen table.
    • Neeley goes back to bed shortly after they eat, and Francie goes back to the front room. She stays awake and listens to the comforting sound of her parents talking the night away in the kitchen.
    • She sees Mr. Tomony, the wealthy owner of the pawn shop, come home from his adventures in the city. There is a lot of mystery surrounding Mr. Tomony since he is very wealthy but chooses to live above the pawn shop surrounded by the poor.
    • Francie loves Sundays so much and hates to go to sleep knowing that it will end such an awesome day.
    • She dreads the weeknights when she has to sleep in her room where she can hear what happens in the apartments around her. Specifically, she hates to hear the sounds of one particular young couple. She describes the sounds of a young wife who cries every night after her husband forces himself on her. This makes Francie sick. She tries to focus on enjoying the few remaining moments of her Saturday, and she eventually drifts off to sleep listening to her parents reminiscing about when they first met.
  • Chapter 7

    • We have jumped into a literary DeLorean and gone back in time twelve years to learn a little bit about how Francie’s parents met. 
    • They first meet in 1900, when he is nineteen and she is seventeen. 
    • Katie Rommely (Francie’s future Mama) works at the Castle Braid factory with her best friend, Hildy O’Dair. Hildy has a boyfriend named Johnny Nolan. 
    • One day, Hildy asks Johnny to set Katie up on a date, so they could all go out dancing together. (Bad move, Hilds.) 
    • They go out, and Katie does not like the guy they brought for her. But who do you think can’t stop looking at Johnny’s “young, slender, and shining [. . .] blond curly hair and deep blue eyes” (7.6)? That’s right… Katie. 
    • Johnny dances with her, and Katie decides that she is going to get that. 
    • She takes any opportunity to find him when Hildy isn’t around and get her flirt on, and her plan works. 
    • Hildy sees Johnny talking to Katie, and she doesn’t need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows, people. She knows the deal and she is not pleased. 
    • Hildy tells Katie to stay away from her man, and then they have an all-out girl fight in front of the factory. 
    • Johnny takes both young women with him to move away from the others to talk, and is very open with Hildy about how he loves Katie. He tells her “. . .you go your way and I’ll go mine” (7.29). 
    • Four months later, Johnny and Katie are married. (Whoa.) 
    • Thomas Rommely, Katie’s father, is angry and never forgives her for marrying Johnny. Thomas is full of hate for Austria (his homeland) and America, where he ran to in order to escape joining the army. He is pretty much just a miserable old man who spends his time saying nasty stuff and swearing in German at his children, who have been forbidden to learn German. 
    • Mary Rommely is Thomas’s wife, and she is pretty much his opposite. She is saintly, especially in comparison to her nasty husband, and though she has no education, but she is a fantastic storyteller. She knows thousands of stories, myths, and legends that she tells to amuse people. She is very religious, but not in the sense that she judges people who are not. Although she lives her life trying not to do sinful things, she completely understands those who are not religious or who make bad choices in their lives. 
    • Mary tries to protect her children from Thomas, and she is very sad for them when they all marry men of little wealth. She is also very sad when her daughters give birth to girls, because girls have a much harder life than men. 
    • Next, we learn about each of the children that Mary and Thomas Rommely have together: 
      • Sissy is the eldest, and she never went to school because her parents didn't didn’t know about free education and no one told them about it. By the time Mary learns about free school, Sissy is too old to start, so she just stays home with her mother. When Sissy turns ten, she is very developed and looks like she is thirty; she starts hanging out with much older men. Her father beats up some of the older men she associates with, but when she is fourteen she meets a twenty-five-year-old fireman who her father isn’t capable of beating up, so he and Sissy get married. They have a pretty good marriage for a while, and Sissy gets pregnant right away. She decides that if it is a boy, she will name him John. She has an attachment to the name John, and even renames her husband, John. (His real name is Jim.) Sadly, the baby is stillborn. It is the first of four stillborn children Sissy has by the time she is twenty, a pattern that prompts her to leave her husband because “nothing but death grew out of their love-making” (7.56). Sissy gets married again easily by pretending she was never married before. She starts calling her second husband "John" too (no one ever knows his real name), and again has four stillborn babies before deciding to leave him. Sissy believes that since she has had eight stillbirths by the age of twenty-four that God must not want her to marry, so she goes to work at the rubber factory. During this time, she has several lovers, all named “John”—at least as far as Sissy is concerned. Even though she is a “bad” girl, her sisters and Francie (who is eleven when Sissy marries a third time) all really love her. Her third husband is the “John” that she is married to presently. 
                       
      • Eliza is the second daughter, and she joins a very strict order of nuns when she turns sixteen. Her name is now Sister Ursula, and she is forbidden to leave the convent except to attend her parents’s funerals. Francie only sees her once when she attends her father’s funeral. 
                       
      • Evy is the third Rommely daughter. She marries Willie Flittman—a big time whiner and complainer—when she is young. Flittman's one redeeming quality is that he plays the guitar, but besides being a good musician he's basically a really dull guy who only talks about how much he hates horses. Evy loves her husband and they have three children together, though she picks on him about his horse fight (which Francie finds hilarious).
    • And that's that for the Rommely women.
  • Chapter 8

    • The Rommely family produces strong women, and the Nolan family produces weak but talented men.
    • The Nolan men all grow handsomer and weaker with every generation, and most decide not to marry, which is why their family is dying out.
    • Ruthie Nolan is Johnny’s mother. She came over from Ireland with her husband right after they got married, and they have four sons together: Andy, Georgie, Frankie, and Johnny. Ruthie makes sure her boys all make it through the sixth grade, but then they have to go to work.
    • All the Nolan boys are good-looking, play music, sing, and dance. This makes them very unpopular with the ladies. (Totally kidding… all the girls want one of these Rommely boys.)
    • The boys become singing waiters, which means that they are waiters who also entertain the diners in between their serving duties.
    • They are known as the Nolan Quartette, but then Andy gets sick with consumption. He and his girlfriend, Francie Melaney put off getting married till he gets better. The rest of the brothers buy him a very luxurious pillow that costs seven dollars, which is a whole heck of a lot to spend on a pillow back then, especially for poor people. They just really want Andy to have a little bit of luxury before he dies, which he does after bleeding out massively… on the pillow.
    • Ruthie grieves hard for her son, and her remaining sons promise to never leave her.
    • Fast forward six months, and Johnny marries Katie. Ruthie is pissed and convinced Katie tricked Johnny into marrying her.
    • As a wedding gift, Georgie and Frankie give them the pillow that Andy died on. Don't worry though—Ruthie covered up the bloodstain with new material. (Seriously—this has got to be the worst wedding present of all time.)
    • About one year later, Frankie dies in his sleep after falling down drunk on a sharp stick.
    • It is a bad year for Ruthie: she lost three sons, two to death and one to marriage.
    • Georgie stays at home with his mom until he dies when he is twenty-eight.
    • All of the Nolan boys die suddenly or in violent deaths that are caused by their own recklessness, and Johnny is the only one who lives past thirty years old.
    • The narrator tells us that all the people in Francie’s past and present that we just met give us a good idea about who Francie really is.
  • Chapter 9

    • Johnny and Katie spend a very happy first year of marriage together.
    • After dinner, they walk to the old, small, warm school. They really like their jobs, and they have fun working together as night janitors at the school. They even find time to fool around together at work, if you catch our drift. Wink-wink.
    • They leave work at dawn and eat fresh baked buns from the baker on the way home. Johnny reads the newspaper to Katie as she cleans up their rooms, they eat a nice dinner at noon, and then sleep until it is time to get up for work.
    • They earn $50 a month doing this, which is a pretty good pay for people of their class at the time.
    • They are comfortable, happy, and full of adventure.
    • Then Katie finds out that she is pregnant.
    • She keeps working until she is so big that she can’t do much but lie on the couch at school as Johnny works.
    • She goes into labor one night at work and tries not to tell Johnny about it until work was over.
    • He gets her home and runs to get the midwife, Mrs. Gindler, who helps her through the birth.
    • The apartment is filled with many women reminiscing about their labors when the midwife finally arrives. Poor Katie is screaming in pain, and they shoo Johnny out of the room. (Most men did not witness the birth of their babies back then. It was considered improper.)
    • Katie labors all day, and Jonny feels helpless.
    • Eventually, he leaves the front stoop of the apartment and goes to his mother’s house and then he goes off and finds his brother, Georgie. They go out drinking all night in hopes that it will calm Johnny’s nerves. He is a nervous wreck about it—so nervous that he forgets that he should be at work… oops.
    • Johnny doesn't know how cold it got last night, and since he wasn’t at school to keep the fires going, pipes froze and burst and the basement and first floors of the school flooded.
    • Even though she is the one who is weak from labor, Katie feels terrible that Johnny has been going through so much pain from worry. She tells him things will be okay, and he starts to feel better.
    • He suggests that they name the baby Francie, after his brother Andy’s fiancé because he thinks that maybe it will help heal her broken heart.
    • A messenger from the school arrives with a note for Johnny that says he is fired. He is sick about it, rips up the note, and doesn’t tell Katie about it.
    • With his last paycheck, he pays the midwife and gives the landlord the next month’s rent. Even though he feels terribly nervous about having a baby and no job, he feels a bit better knowing that they would have a place to stay for the next month.
    • Johnny goes to see Katie’s mother, Mary Rommely, to tell her about the baby and she comes to visit soon after.
    • Katie is so scared and sad that her children might not have any chances in life; she asks her mother for advice.
    • Mary talks about how they came to America in search of a better future for their children, and Katie scoffs at this idea, saying that they have not done any better than their parents.
    • Mary disagrees. Katie has a sixth grade education and so does Johnny, which is much more than their parents had. Now Francie has two literate parents, and this is the key to a better future: education.
    • Mary tells her daughter that she must read one page from a good book to her daughter every day, and Francie will start reading one page a night by herself when she learns to read. She recommends Shakespeare and the Bible.
    • Another important bit of advice that Mary offers her daughter is that she must own some land before she dies, so she can pass it down to her children.
    • Katie scoffs at this idea. How can she possibly own land when they can barely make rent each month?
    • Mary has a plan for that, too.
    • Step one: wash out an empty condensed-milk can and cut off the top.
    • Step two: nail it to the bottom of the closet in the darkest corner.
    • Step three: put 5 cents in it every day.
    • In three years, she will have fifty dollars, enough to buy some land in the country.
    • The plan seems simple, but how is she supposed to find five cents a day?
    • Well, if she goes to the grocer and asks how much for a bunch of carrots and he says three cents, she should find a smaller, not so fresh bundle and ask him if she can have that one for two cents. That is one penny saved, and this type of penny-pinching will add up.
    • Katie wonders why her mother never followed her own advice. The thing is that Mary did follow her own advice, but she was taken advantage of because she can’t read. 
    • Sissy comes right over after work and makes a big fuss over the baby; she is thrilled to pieces over “the most beautiful baby in the world” (9.104).
    • Johnny goes off to pretend to work. (He can’t bear to tell Katie he lost the job yet.)
    • He tracks down his brother Georgie who is working as a singing waiter that night. Luckily, Johnny is able to work there, too, and he is even offered a job the next weekend. And so Johnny becomes a singing waiter again.
    • Sissy and Katie spend most of the night talking with the baby between them on the bed.
    • Katie shares her mother’s plan about reading and saving, and Sissy immediately gets on it, making the bank and hammering it down in the closet.
    • The next day, Sissy sets out to get the books that Mary recommended for Francie, buying some worn-out Shakespeare from the library for twenty-five cents.
    • A few days later, after waking up in a hotel with her current lover, she spots a Bible on the dresser and swipes it.
  • Chapter 10

    • Francie has a rough start in life. She is pretty sickly looking, and the neighborhood women blame her state on Katie's milk being bad. Soon after this, Katie's milk mysteriously dries up.
    • The midwife, who is rather superstitious, concludes that the reason her milk stopped is because a jealous old lady cursed her. The midwife gives Katie instructions on how to make a voodoo doll and what she should do with it to get her milk to come back; Katie follows the instructions perfectly, but it doesn’t work. (Surprised?)
    • She tells Sissy all about it, and Sissy immediately knows what’s up: Katie is pregnant again.
    • Johnny feels trapped when he hears the news.
    • When the midwife returns to see if her voodoo doll worked, Katie tells her the real reason why her milk dried up.
    • The midwife immediately offers her a potion that will make her abort the baby, which horrifies Katie so she tells her to leave.
    • Meanwhile, people are constantly telling Katie that Francie looks like she will die, which makes Katie mad, as you would probably expect.
    • Francie has a tough first year, but she makes it. (This book would be a whole heck of a lot shorter had she not, right?)
    • When Katie's son is born, he is very strong—especially in comparison to Francie—and something in Katie tells her that she will love this boy more than she loves her daughter.
    • Katie names him Cornelius after a noble character from a play she saw, but soon the name is shortened to Neeley.
    • Neeley is his mother’s whole world, and Johnny continues to weaken as his son gets older.
    • By the time Neeley is a year old, Katie has completely stopped depending on Johnny for anything. He works one-night jobs, drinks away all of his tip money, and only brings home his wages to the family.
    • Johnny feels doomed. He had his children when he was too young, and he feels sorry for himself and stuck. Katie also had her children too young though, so in many ways she is doomed, too.
    • Here’s the difference: Johnny knows he is doomed and completely accepts it, but Katie will not accept this fate.
  • Chapter 11

    • Johnny celebrates his birthday by going out and getting stinking drunk.
    • The next day, Katie locks him in the bedroom so he can’t go out and drink. The plan doesn’t go as expected because instead of sobering up, he becomes very ill. He gets delirium tremens, which means his body is addicted to alcohol and is suffering the physical pains of withdrawal.
    • Katie thinks it will help to toughen him up and get him to quit, but he continues to wail and beg her all day long.
    • Katie is wicked embarrassed because all the neighbors can hear what is going on, so she decides that they will move at the end of the month.
    • When Johnny is still crying in the late afternoon, she goes to talk to Sissy at the factory, who says she will come over to help after work.
    • Sissy sneaks whiskey in to Johnny’s room and gives him little sips to help him get through this long, difficult night. She also sleeps in the bed with him, holding him as he cries in his sleep, comforting him the way a mother comforts a baby.
    • Sissy is a very compassionate person. Yes, she loves men, but she also loves women, children, and even animals. She has a big heart and would give anyone anything she has if they need it. She even left out cheese crumbs in a box for a mouse in her house once.
    • Sissy orders Katie not to nag Johnny about any of this when he gets up, and Katie agrees but ends up having a meltdown, too.
    • She cries out all her worries and frustrations to her sister, and her sister listens. When Katie calls Johnny a drunk, Sissy responds, “All of us are what we have to be and everyone lives the kind of life it’s in him to live” (11.30).
    • Sissy tells Katie to take the bad with the good, but Katie has a hard time remembering why she ever married him in the first place.
  • Chapter 12

    • Embarrassed by how the whole neighborhood knows about the whole scene with Johnny, Katie decides that they have to move away.
    • It is not like Johnny is any worse than many of the guys who live there, but Katie wants the Nolans to be better than that.
    • There is a problem, though, because they have very little money and two kids.
    • Katie solves this problem by finding a place where she can work for their rent. That way, even if they have nothing else, they will have a roof over their heads.
    • Johnny doesn’t want his wife to be a janitress, but Katie basically tells him to shove it. Katie is hardening—she is to be tough to survive.
    • Katie gets their few belongings packed and finds an ice deliveryman who could load everything in his wagon to move it to the new place.
    • The last thing she does before leaving is rip up the can in the closet. She has three dollars and eighty cents in it and will have to give the iceman one dollar for moving their stuff.
    • The first thing she does when Johnny is distracted helping move in the furniture, is nail the can down in the closet. Katie is a woman on a mission.
    • Her mother, Mary Rommely, comes over and sprinkles holy water around the apartment to make sure that no evil spirits lurk there, which Francie thinks is pretty cool. She ends up dumping all the holy water on herself and everyone has a good laugh, which Mary sees as a good sign.
  • Chapter 13

    • Their new place is on Lorimer Street, which is a bit nicer than their last place on Bogart Street.
    • This flat has a bathroom, which is a huge deal. Francie is amazed by the tub—this is the most water she has ever seen in her life, and is like the ocean to her.
    • They all like their new place.
    • During the summer, Francie and Neeley (the only kids in the building) spend most of their time on the stoop. Francie is just four, but she babysits Neeley, who is almost three. So what do kids do in the summer when they are four and three and have no money?
    • Francie does a ton of thinking as she sits on the stoop and watches her brother. She also talks to her brother a lot (he doesn’t talk much), and does some stitching that her Grandmother teaches her to do. She is pretty darn good at it.
    • The seasons pass, and Katie works harder and harder s Johnny works less and less. He starts drinking more.
    • Katie sticks to the big plan: She reads Shakespeare to the kids, and puts pennies in the tin bank.
    • When it is nice out, Francie plays outside by herself. She is a pretty lonely girl and doesn’t make friends very easily. Other kids think she talks funny because she reads so much Shakespeare and the Bible, and they pick on her which causes some fights and name calling. She really wants someone to play with.
    • Francie sits and pretends that she is playing with the other girls as they sing their songs or play a game called potsy.
    • There is music in the streets of Brooklyn throughout the summer, which Francie loves; Francie, along with many of the other neighborhood kids, follow the wandering street bands around the streets until late.
    • Francie is totally enchanted, and decides she and Neeley will start a band when they are older.
    • She also loves when the organ grinder comes around with his music and his monkey.
    • Francie loves the monkey so much and gives him a penny when he comes around so the monkey will tip his hat to her.
    • There is a lot of music, but life is still not joyful. There is something sad about the musicians and the people they entertain, especially the little kids who are so young and yet so good at taking care of themselves already. Their parents have to work long and hard and don’t have time to take better care of them.
    • Brooklyn is filled with lost people who have no hope for ever making better lives for themselves.
  • Chapter 14

    • The Nolans continue to like life on Lorimer Street, but then something happens to change all that. Aunt Sissy happens. Poor misunderstood Aunt Sissy. The narrator says it involves tricycles and balloons. (Sounds innocent enough, right? Just keep those balloons in mind.)
    • It all begins one afternoon when Sissy is off work and wants to go visit with Francie and Neeley since she knows they are alone at the apartment.
    • On the way over, Aunt Sissy sees this gorgeous, spectacular tricycle. It is huge and has a leather seat big enough for two… and it is just sitting there with no one around.
    • Yes, you know what’s going to happen: She takes it… not to steal it per say, but to give the kiddos a little ride.
    • The three of them are in the middle of a ride around the block when a small crowd headed by a woman yelling robber approaches. A nearby policeman notices the commotion and approaches too.
    • The angry owner of the tricycle tells the policeman about how Sissy stole it, and Sissy tries to explain that she just borrowed it to give the kids a ride and was planning on returning it. Well, Sissy is looking pretty darn good today (like usual) and the policeman’s eyes are fascinated with her large… um… eyes.
    • Instead of getting Sissy in trouble, he asks the owner why she is being so mean before making the crowd disperse and escorting Sissy and the kids around the block on the tricycle three times. People know exactly why he is talking to Sissy—he thinks she’s hot—and they whisper all about it as they walk by.
    • This little incident gets people chatting about the Nolans, which gets Katie considering moving again.
    • One day when Katie is working, Sissy comes over to hang out with the kids. When it is time for her to leave, the kids are upset, so to make them happy, she decides to leave a small box that has a really interesting picture on the front. She claims it has cigarettes in it and tells them not to open it. (Yeah, right. You know what’s going to happen—but you probably don’t have it totally figured out yet, so stay tuned.)
    • Anyway, of course the kids open it, but there aren’t cigarettes in it or snakes or anything else they thought might be cool.
    • Whatever is in the box is uninteresting to them, and they tie whatever it is to a string, hang it out the window, and forget about it.
    • Johnny is completely embarrassed when he sees this on his way home.
    • He tells Katie about it when she gets home, and they decide that Sissy may never come over again.
    • So just what was in the box? Not balloons exactly, but condoms. Katie decides it's time to up and move again after this incident.
    • She finds a place where she can be the janitor on Grand Street in Williamsburg. The tin-can bank has a little over eight dollars in it at this point, but two dollars has to go to the movers.
    • She nails the new can down in the new closet again.
    • This place is not as nice as Lorimer Street; the bathroom—just a toilet—is shared by two families.
    • They live on the third floor instead of the first floor, but at least this means that the roof is theirs.
    • Johnny takes Francie up on the roof while Katie is talking to the movers. Brooklyn looks like a whole new world from the roof, and Francie can even see the beautiful and mysterious Williamsburg Bridge.
    • Johnny tells her that he crosses the bridge to get to work sometimes, and she thinks this is fascinating.
    • They stand on the roof for a while talking and holding hands.
    • Johnny breaks the silence by talking out loud about how he has been married for seven years and that in that time, they’ve had three homes.
    • He says that this one will be his last home.
  • Chapter 15

    • The new apartment has a total of four rooms that lead one into the other; a style called railroad rooms.
    • The kitchen faces the yard, which has a sidewalk path surrounding a barren patch of ground. Even though it looks like nothing could possibly grow out of this, there is a tree there. (The tree we discussed in earlier chapters. It is smaller now, of course, because it is a few years earlier now.)
    • Also in the backyard is a pole that six clotheslines are attached to. Francie thinks it looks pretty when they are full and all the clothes are blowing in the breeze.
    • Four feet of the schoolyard borders their yard, and on the few occasions where Francie is allowed to play in the yard (it belongs to the downstairs neighbors), she watches the children through the fence.
    • She notices that even though it is recess, it really doesn’t look like too much fun since it is so crowded and loud.
    • One day a little girl is in the schoolyard clapping the erasers for her teacher. Francie is fascinated by this task and really hopes she gets to do this when she goes to school. The girl notices Francie watching her, so she shows off a little and then walks over to Francie and asks if she would like to see the erasers close up. Francie is just about to touch one, when the girl snatches it away and spits in Francie’s face.
    • The mean girl wants Francie to cry, but she doesn’t. Instead, Francie turns around and goes inside to sit in the cellar in the dark for a while. .
    • She gives a pretty thorough description of her new apartment, including the dreadful airshaft.
    • An airshaft is a really narrow opening between buildings. The reason they put them in is so that builders could say they follow the code that every room has a window in it.
    • While it does give a little light, it is really a nasty little invention: it makes noises carry, so everyone hears and knows everyone’s business, in addition to being a huge fire hazard. If someone throws a match down there, it can easily start a devastating fire on both sides. Plus, people also throw their nastiest crap down there since the bottom of it can’t be reached by anyone—we're talking the grossest of the gross stuff, like bloody clothes and rusty razors.
    • One day Francie looks down the airshaft and it makes her think of purgatory, a place kind of like hell that she learns about at church.
    • The airshaft totally creeps Francie out and she closes her eyes as she passes by the bedrooms.
    • After the bedroom is the parlor or “The Room,” as she calls it.
    • It is a dignified place with tall windows that face the street. There is a pretty fireplace there, but the best part of the room is the piano.
    • By some miracle, the woman who lived there previously couldn’t afford to move her piano, so she asks them to keep it until she can afford to move it.
    • Johnny, who can’t really play the piano but understands music well enough to fake it, plays some chords and sings along and Francie, who loves both her father and the piano so much, is touched by this and starts to cry a little for reasons she cannot quite put into words.
  • Chapter 16

    • Ah, retail therapy. There isn’t anything quite like it—and it really doesn’t matter to Francie that she can only window shop. It still hits the spot, and she has a few favorite neighborhood stores. 
      • The pawn shop: Francie likes this shop the best because of the three large and beautiful golden balls that sway in the wind above the shop. 
      • The bakery: Francie loves looking at all the treats that rich people can afford to buy. 
      • Gollender’s Paint Shop: This shop displays a plate that is glued back together with a hole drilled into it. A heavy rock attached to a chain hangs from the hole in the plate to demonstrate the strength of the cement they sell. (Fast fact: by cement they mean glue.) 
      • The tobacconist: Francie thinks this is the most interesting store. It is a small little shack-like place that has been there for many years, with a cigar store Indian out front that the neighborhood kids call “Aunt Maimie.” 
      • The tea, coffee, and spice shop: The exotic scents here are wonderful, emanating from bins and other containers of coffee, tea, and spices throughout the store. They all have interesting sounding names, and the shop has beautifully polished scales. 
      • The Chinese laundry: The Chinese man who runs the shop is very mysterious to Francie, and she is fascinated by everything about him: the way he wears his hair, how he writes, the delicate odor in the shop, the mysterious iron that somehow is always hot, and the lychee nuts he gives her when she comes to pick up the clean shirts.. She also loves how he uses an abacus to count on when he makes change.
  • Chapter 17

    • It's time for piano lessons, guys, and Katie calls a teacher who lives downstairs and barters her cleaning services for lessons. Katie directs the children to stay in the room and keep their eyes and ears open while she gets the lesson.
    • Miss Lizzie Tynmore dresses formally and arrives right on time for the lesson from her apartment downstairs.
    • She brings all sorts of neat stuff like an alarm clock (to keep track of how long the lesson lasts) and a metronome (to keep track of the beat).
    • When the lesson is over, Katie praises Miss Tynmore for being such a good teacher, and Miss Tynmore tells Katie that she isn’t fooling her by having the children in the room, but she won’t charge her extra for it.
    • She waits around awkwardly, and Katie doesn’t get why she isn’t leaving. Turns out, it is expected that she is offered a cup of tea after giving a lesson.
    • While Mama prepares a snack, Miss Tynmore asks Francie what she thinks about during those long hours when she sits on the curb.
    • Francie tells her she is just telling herself stories, and Miss Tynmore tells Francie she will be a storywriter when she grows up
    • Katie arrives with the coffee and bun, which Miss Tynmore tries hard not to wolf down.
    • You see, the Tynmore sisters live only on what they are given after lessons since they don’t earn enough money giving lessons to do much more than pay their rent.
    • After Miss Tynmore leaves, Katie teaches the children what she learns after each lesson; eventually, they all can play the piano pretty well.
    • Johnny hears that Miss Maggie Tynmore gives voice lessons and tries to arrange to do some handyman work in exchange for lessons for Francie. He really botches up a job for them though, so needless to say, Francie doesn’t end up getting any voice lessons.
  • Chapter 18

    • Francie is pumped to start school for a couple reasons: (1) She's lonely; (2) she is itching to see all the cool stuff at school; and (3) she can't wait to get school supplies.
    • But first things first, she must be vaccinated. Ugh and ouch.
    • Mama instructs Francie and Neeley to get washed and go to the clinic around the corner to get vaccinated. They have to go alone, because both Mama and Papa have to work like usual.
    • Francie tries to calm Neeley’s nerves, so they relax by making mud-pies.
    • The waiting room is full of scared parents who don’t really understand why they have to get the shots, who feel bullied and like they are being forced into poisoning their kids. The cries coming from the office make the children waiting feel even more terrified.
    • When Francie is called in, she is trembling with fear; she has never even seen a doctor or nurse before and everything looks so frightening to her.
    • The nurse pulls up her sleeve and cleans a spot on her arm. The doctor approaches with the needle.
    • Francie closes her eyes in anticipation of the needle stick, but none comes. She opens her eyes and sees the disgusted doctor staring at her arm. He yammers on about how filthy and nasty Francie is: “Filth, filth, filth, from morning to night. I know they’re poor but they could wash. Water is free and soap is cheap" (18.16).
    • The nurse agrees with him wholeheartedly, even though she grew up in Williamsburg. He goes on to tell the nurse that the world would be a better place if the poor were sterilized and unable to “breed” anymore.
    • Francie is so hurt by their words that she never even feels the pain from the needle.
    • On her way out of the room, she tells the doctor and nurse that her brother is coming in next and he is dirty too, but they don’t have to tell him because they told her. (You go, Francie.)
    • Francie starts to run a fever that night, and her arm gets painful and itchy.
    • Katie, who is very afraid that it will get infected, tells Francie that if she scratches it, her arm will turn black and drop off.
    • The next day her arm feels worse, and before bed she takes a peek at it under the bandage. It looks disgustingly gross. She is terrified that she must have scratched it in her sleep and prepares to have her arm fall off. She stays up all night until her father gets home. He removes the bandage and tells her that it isn’t as bad as she thinks. He washes her wound and looks for a cloth to use as a bandage. When he can’t find one, he uses a piece of his undershirt. She loves how it smells just like her dad, and in the morning her arm starts to feel better.
  • Chapter 19

    • Francie is so ready for school. She simply can’t wait, and expects that she will know how to read and write after the very first day.
    • Unfortunately, school is bummer after bummer for poor Francie:
      • She gets a bloody nose when a jerky older kid slams her face into the water faucet.
      • She has to share a desk (made for one) with another girl.
      • She realizes that only the kids with money are Mrs. Brigg’s teacher’s pets, which means there will be no eraser clapping for her.
      • Mrs. Briggs makes the poor kids sit in the back and share desks and snarls when she talks to them. She does not believe that the poor kids belong in school.
      • Instead of sticking together, the poor kids turn on each other. Most likely they do this because they want to imitate their teacher in the hope that she will like them better if they do.
      • Three thousand kids attend the school with the facilities for one thousand.
      • There are teachers who leave class to go have sex in the basement and the principal whips boys with their pants down. If kids go home and tell that they were whipped at school, they would just get whipped again at home, so they never tell.
      • Many teachers are only teaching because they have few other opportunities. They have little training and married women are not allowed to teach, so many of the teachers are bitter and love-starved and take out their misery on the children.
      • Leaving the room (polite code for asking to use the bathroom) is pretty much not allowed. Get this—these kids are told to go before they get to school, at recess, or at lunch. However, at recess there are evil kids who don’t let other kids into the stalls unless they pay them a fee. No one ever tells on these jerks, because they are afraid that if they tell the bullies will find out and kill the snitches.
      • When you ask to leave the room in class, most teachers will not let you leave, unless of course you are one of the wealthier, favorite kids. Many of the poor kids wet their pants frequently.
    • Poor Aunt Sissy misses Francie and Neeley very much. She is still banned from their house over the condom incident, so one day when she doesn’t have to work, she goes over to the school in hopes of seeing them.
    • Sissy buys Francie a chocolate soda, and they sit down on the stoop to talk about school.
    • She discovers that Francie has wet her pants because Mrs. Briggs ignored her, so the next day Sissy pretends to be Francie’s mom and goes to see Mrs. Briggs before school starts and talks to her about Francie.
    • Sissy tells her that Francie has a kidney disorder and she must be allowed to leave the room whenever she asks; she tells Mrs. Briggs that she could drop dead if she isn’t allowed to go. Sissy also convinces Mrs. Briggs that Francie’s father is a police officer who will beat her if she treats Francie poorly, in addition to leading Mrs. Briggs to believe that they are getting her a nice Christmas present in exchange for seating Francie closer to the front of the room.
    • Even though Mrs. Briggs figures much of what Sissy says is ridiculous, she doesn’t want to take chances so she moves Francie’s seat and pays attention to her when she raises her hand.
    • When Christmas rolls around, and she doesn’t get her gift, Francie’s desk is moved again.
    • Sissy writes a letter to Katie a couple weeks later to ask if they can let bygones be bygones, but Katie ignores it.
    • Later, when Katie hears from their insurance collector that Sissy had a baby who died only two hours after being born, Katie sends a message to her, and just like that, Sissy is back in the family.
  • Chapter 20

    • Katie is a total germ-o-phobe, a warrior woman battling an army of diseases. You see, the kids are packed in so closely together at school that they often catch stuff from each other—like head lice.
    • Katie hears about the whole lice situation in the classroom and gets on it, scrubbing Francie’s hair and scalp with strong soap and then brushing her hair with a comb dipped in kerosene and braiding it up very tight. (Shmoop’s head hurts just writing this sentence.)
    • Not only is it painful, but the poor girl reeks.
    • The teacher sends a note home instructing Katie to stop using kerosene on Francie’s head, but Katie ignores her and does it every day.
    • When there is an outbreak of the mumps, Katie germ-o-phobia gets even worse.
    • She makes garlic necklaces for her family to wear under their shirts… which means Francie now stinks of kerosene and garlic. Poor kid—everywhere she goes, crowds part like the Red Sea for Moses.
    • But, guess what? Katie’s plan works.
    • They can’t be sure why (perhaps it’s just because people stay far away from them), but Francie and Neeley are never sick. They never even get a cold. Amazing, right?
    • Unfortunately, though, Francie is stuck as an outsider because of how bad she smells. Her stink is a social disease though physically she stays well.
  • Chapter 21

    • Even though school sucks big time for Francie, she still likes going because she likes the comforting feeling of routine that she doesn’t get at home. In addition to the routine, there are a couple other highlights about school.
    • For a half-hour each week Mr. Morton comes to teach music. This guy rocks—he is chronically happy, and honestly loves children and his job. Even the nasty old teachers are happy to see Mr. Morton, and he makes learning fun so the kids love him. He is the highlight of school for Francie.
    • Francie also loves Miss Bernstone, the drawing teacher, who comes to school once a week. She wears beautiful dresses, and she is very sweet to the unwashed children. The nasty old teachers do not like her at all, but we know they’re just haters. Sometimes Miss Bernstone sketches one of the poorest kids in class, and her portrait brings out the innocence and beauty of the child.
  • Chapter 22

    • Francie can finally read. She doesn’t have to sound out words anymore and she now knows them by sight. Our girl starts reading and never seems to stop.
    • Reading solves her loneliness problem, and books become her friends and poetry her buddy.
    • On the day she realizes that she can read, she promises herself that she will read one book a day.
    • And she doesn’t just love reading—nope, she also loves numbers. Francie creates a special code wherein each number represents a different member of a family. For example, she imagines that the number 0 is a baby. She also thinks of 5 as being the mother. With this in mind, when she sees the number 50, she imagines a mother taking a baby out for a walk. In other words, whatever number she sees, she creates a little story behind it in her mind. (Our girl is wicked creative, huh? She is clearly a storyteller, right? She sees stories everywhere—even in math.)
  • Chapter 23

    • Francie goes for a walk and stumbles upon a nice neighborhood that is much different than hers. Instead of tenements, it has little old houses with shabby picket fences surrounding them. It is run-down, but really peaceful. This is a magical place to her.
    • Next she sees the neighborhood school, which is even more magical than the rest of the neighborhood. There is no fence surrounding the school, and there is grass in the yard instead of cement. There are flower-filled open fields across the street from the school, and Francie falls in love with the place. She simply must go there.
    • She and Papa walk there the next day. As they walk, a prostitute approaches Johnny, and when he turns her away, Francie asks if she is a bad lady. Johnny replies, “There are very few bad people. There are just a lot of people who are unlucky” (23.36).
    • When they arrive at the school, Johnny sings a little song in front of it. Francie picks flowers from the fields, and Papa tells about how he used to look for arrowheads in the same field when he was a boy. They look for some, but don’t find any, and Johnny says he never found any when he was little either, which makes Francie laugh.
    • Francie’s eyes start to tear-up as they head for home, but Johnny tells her not to worry—he has a plan.
    • He is going to write a note to the school that says she is going to move in with relatives at one of the houses in the good school district.
    • He explains to Francie that what they are doing is wrong; they are lying, but it is a lie that will really help someone, so it is not too bad.
    • Francie is happy at her nice new school, and she is very careful to always be good. When she walks by the house where she supposedly lives, she picks up any trash that might be in front of the yard in appreciation.
    • The only problem with attending the school is that it requires that Francie walk forty-eight blocks every day. Francie, however, doesn’t see this as a problem—she doesn’t care, so long as she can go to the school.
    • This opportunity makes Francie aware that there is a world outside of Williamsburg, a world that just might be attainable for her. There is hope for a better future for Francie.
  • Chapter 24

    • Francie thinks of the year in terms of its holidays, and since the first holiday after school gets out is the Fourth of July, she thinks of that as the start of a new year.
      • The Fourth of July: She keeps firecrackers hidden in a box under her bed. It’s so cool to have them that she even feels kind of sad when it’s time to use them.
      • Halloween: Francie and other girls go out with white chalk and mark a cross on the back of anyone who walks by in a coat. This ritual may have started back in the Middle Ages to mark places where the plague struck, but the kids don’t know this. They just perform the ritual without knowing why. (What? This isn’t how you spent your last Halloween?! Our Halloween traditions have really changed since then, huh?)
      • Election Day: Francie thinks this is the greatest holiday because it belongs to everyone in the whole neighborhood. Aw…
    • Francie loves to listen to Mama and Papa talk politics. Papa is a die-hard Democrat and thinks that the party does a lot of good for the people. Mama, however, looks on it all with a very critical eye. Whatever good they do for people usually has an ulterior motive, namely getting re-elected. Mama believes that once women get the right to vote, they will really change the corrupt nature of things.
    • The Democrats try to influence the women and children by holding a fun carnival to help re-elect Mattie Mahony. The carnival is a real thrill for the children, and Francie is no exception. She can’t wait to get on the boat that will take them to the carnival. A week before the carnival, each child is given a strip of tickets to get a free hotdog and stuff, but Francie loses hers. Luckily for her, a policeman notices her looking longingly at the hot dogs and figures out what happened. He gives her some tickets and tells her that her mama is pretty. Francie hears her mother ask who the policeman is, and she finds out his name is Sergeant Michael McShane from their precinct. The Sergeant is still looking at her. (Uh oh.)
    • Papa tells Mama about Sergeant McShane—who is known as "The Honest Cop"—on the way home. He is an Irish immigrant who ended up married to a woman out of a sense of duty; now he’s a hard worker with a sick wife. They had fourteen children, and all but four died young of consumption, which they caught from their mother. Mama is a bit harsh and wishes this woman would die so that Michael can go on to marry a healthy woman who can give him more children. Francie (just like Shmoop and maybe you, too) senses something is up here, and a fear rises in her.
  • Chapter 25

    • Johnny is the type of guy who goes through spurts of heavy drinking, and spurts of good parenting where he works hard and spends all his spare time with Francie and Neeley.
    • Just like Mary Rommely and Mama, he believes that education is the key to a better life. He takes his kids places and teaches lessons about whatever he happens to be thinking about. One day they go to Bushwick Avenue, a well-to-do neighborhood, and he shows them a whole new world. Even though cars are starting to come into use, most of these families still have their horses and beautiful carriages; Francie thinks that if she was a man, she would love to drive one of these carriages as her job.
    • When they see a cab, Johnny comments on the beauty of democracy.
    • He tells Francie that anyone can take a ride in the cab if he has the money, and that is what being in a free country means.
    • Francie doesn’t get it. If it costs money, how is it free?
    • He explains that it is free because in the old countries, even if you have enough money to take a ride, only certain people are allowed. There is no upward mobility in the old countries—if you are born a servant, you stay a servant. In the United States though, there is the hope that you can make a better life.
  • Chapter 26

    • We are back to learning about their holidays. Next up: Thanksgiving.
    • On Thanksgiving morning, the boys and girls put on cheap costumes and go to the local businesses to get treats.
    • Shop owners who have something to gain by keeping the children’s good favor, like the candy-store and the baker, give out little treats. The shop owners that have nothing to gain from their business throughout the year either lock their places up or give them lectures about how bad it is to be beggars.
    • They eat a lovely meal of pot roast and listen to Papa talk about Thanksgiving days when he was a boy.
    • Francie learns a very powerful lesson one year on the day before Thanksgiving.
    • At school, some children put on a performance that involves holding some Thanksgiving symbols like corn, a turkey leg, apples, and a small pumpkin pie.
    • At the end, the teacher asks if anyone would like the pumpkin pie. No one raises her hand because they are taught by their families not to accept charity.
    • Finally, Francie can’t take it anymore and raises her hand.
    • The teacher gives her the pie, but to save face, Francie says that she’s going to give it to a poor family.
    • She eats the pie on the way home for lunch, and she thinks it tastes pretty gross, kind of like soap.
    • When she returns after lunch, her teacher asks if the family enjoyed the pie, and Francie starts telling a very unbelievable story about these twins who would have died had it not been for the pie she gave them.
    • She realizes that she took her story too far and feels remorse. When the teacher (who definitely knows Francie is telling a tall tale) gives her a hug, Francie comes clean about lying. The teacher says she will not punish her for having an imagination. Instead, she gives her a strategy: tell people what happens the way it actually happens, but then write down the story as she would like to tell it—with all the exaggerations and additions. The teacher says, “Tell the truth and write the story” (25.32), which is the best advice Francie's ever received, and she starts writing.
  • Chapter 27

    • We are moving right along into the Christmas season in this chapter.
    • The first sign Christmas is approaching is when Mr. Morton (beloved music teacher) gives the students Christmas carols to learn, followed by all of the stores decorating their windows and displaying awesome toys. Just looking at these toys is a thrill for Francie; all the dolls and sleds and roller skates are things of beauty.
    • Christmas tree vendors start coming in and the streets are lined with trees resting on ropes stretched from pole to pole.
    • But cruelty sneaks its way back in, too. The tree vendors have a problem with what to do with the trees that don’t sell, so the nasty solution is that poor kids who don’t have a tree line up at midnight on Christmas and beg for the chance to have a tree thrown at them (literally). If the kid stays standing after the tree hits him, he can take the tree, but if the tree knocks him over, he does not get the tree. They start with the biggest tree and work their way down to the littlest.
    • Even the littlest kids line up waiting for the littlest trees, and when they stand up to the tree, they squeal in delight.
    • Francie wants the biggest tree, and she and Neeley ask for the chance.
    • At first the vendor says they are too little, but eventually he lets them try.
    • Looking at skinny little Francie and Neeley, the vendor considers just giving them the tree, but he knows if he does that, then no one will buy a tree from him next year; they will just wait for them to be handed out on Christmas Eve. So he gives the tree a powerful throw.
    • They are both hurt by the tree, but they aren’t knocked over, so they get their tree.
    • It is the best tree in the whole neighborhood.
    • Papa makes a big fuss over it when they get home, all the neighbors come out to see their prize, and all are happy.
    • Except for Mama. She stands alone at the top of the steps and thinks about the horrible meanness of the whole situation. The children are happy that they had a tree thrown at their heads? They don’t realize the filth and dirt of their surroundings. She feels even more resolved that she has to get her kids out of this life.
    • Even though they are having a particularly poor year, Christmas does have presents. Francie receives the following:
      • From Mama: some warm long underwear.
      • From Aunt Evy: a box of dominoes for Francie and Neeley to share.
      • From Granma Mary Rommely: two hand-made, blessed scapulars. (A scapular is a type of necklace that Catholic people sometimes wear as a devotion to Jesus.)
      • From Aunt Sissy: a tiny matchbox filled with ten individually wrapped pennies that were painted with some gold paint. They are beautiful and Francie adores them. She somehow loses two of them throughout the day, so Mama suggests putting them in the tin can for safekeeping. She agrees, even though it is painful to put them away.
      • From Papa: A postcard with a beautiful stained-glass church on it.
    • Francie also has gifts for everyone:
      • A handmade hatpin for Mama.
      • A handmade watch for Papa. Even though Papa has no watch, he wears it and pretends.
      • A five-cent shooter marble for Neeley, so he can enter the more important marble games. Neeley has a lot of really inexpensive marbles, but this one is very nice and he likes it very much.
    • Neeley has a bag of candy canes for everyone to share, and Francie tries not to be jealous that Mama makes a bigger deal over his present than she did with hers.
    • A week later, Francie tells another big ol’ lie.
    • The kids go to a special Christmas celebration given by a church, and at one point a nicely dressed little girl holding a beautiful doll comes on stage.
    • The little girl’s name is Mary, and the doll is named Mary. Mary (the girl) wants to give the doll to another little girl also named Mary. A lady says: “‘Is there any poor little girl in the audience named Mary?’” (27.60).
    • The word poor stops them all from raising their hands, and all the Marys in the crowd murmur to those around them that they aren’t poor and have better dolls at home than that one anyway.
    • Francie can’t take it—she wants that doll more than anything. Finally she raises her hand and is called up on stage.
    • She gets the doll and is escorted back to her seat. The lady explains that the rich Mary is a good little girl for not being selfish by sharing with poor Mary. Francie is humiliated and starts to cry. To make matters worse, all the other little girls in the audience start calling her a beggar. Francie pays for the doll with her pride.
    • When they get home, she tells Mama that the doll was given to her as a prize. If Mama knew it was charity, she would have made her throw it out. Neeley does not snitch on her.
    • Francie feels awfully guilty about the lie and tries to make it better by writing a story, but it doesn’t help. She decides that she will do triple the penance the priest gives her when she confesses the lie.
    • But wait—she has a great idea. She asks Mama if she can take Mary as her middle name when she makes her Confirmation. This way, it wouldn’t be a lie; her name would actually be Mary.
    • Mom says no she may not and explains how she is named after Francie, Andy’s girl. However, she is also named after Mary Rommely. She finds out that her official name is Mary Frances Nolan, so her name really is Mary after all.
    • She sleeps with her doll that night and from time to time whispers Mary to her.
    • It is the only doll she ever has.
  • Chapter 28

    • To Katie Rommely life goes by very quickly, and she often says things like “Christmas will be here before you know it” (28.1). To a small child, this is definitely not the case—it feels like nothing short of forever between Christmases.
    • When Francie is eleven, time starts to speed up for her too, which she thinks might have to do with Henny Gaddis dying. She knew that he was going to die, but she thought it would happen in the distant future. Now that this future has arrived and soon will become the past, Francie realizes how fast time actually goes by.
    • Francie’s life changes in other ways, too:
      • She realizes that Mama is not necessarily always right like she used to think, and that there are some things she loves about her father that other people don't necessarily love too.
      • The beautiful scales at the tea store aren’t as beautiful as she once thought, and she sees that the bins where they keep the spices and coffees are kind of shabby.
      • She starts thinking of Mr. Tomony (the rich man who she used to watch come home late from his adventures in the city) as a weirdo.
      • She feels like everything is changing, but eventually realizes that everything is the same; she is the one who is changing.
    • Papa says it is because she is growing up, but growing up spoils a lot of things for Francie. She realizes that the expedition game Mama plays is just a trick to get them to stop thinking about how hungry they are, and growing up also makes her more aware of when a show she is watching is terrible. She is a more informed audience member now who doesn’t just love everything like she did when she was less informed.
    • One good thing about not liking some of the shows she sees is that it inspires her to go home and rewrite some of them. By doing this, she realizes that she wants to be a playwright when she grows up.
  • Chapter 29

    • This summer Johnny becomes obsessed with the idea that his children must know the ocean, so even though he knows nothing about the ocean himself, he decides to take them deep-sea fishing on a rowboat at Canarsie.
    • He also believes that they should take little four-year-old Tilly along with them; he feels bad for Tilly because she has a mean brother named Gussie.
    • After a fun trolley ride, they find a man who rents boats. The man offers Johnny some liquor as an “eye opener,” so Johnny leaves the children outside and goes inside for the drink. He comes out with fishing poles and supplies, and helps the children get in the boat.
    • As he instructs them on the proper way to enter a boat, he pushes it away and jumps in, but ends up falling in the water.
    • When he comes up from under the water, he warns the kids not to laugh, and they don’t, but Francie is laughing hard on the inside. Johnny finally gets himself into the boat, and they are on their way. The horrified children watch Johnny put a worm on a hook and they start getting sunburned; after what feels like forever, they go ashore for lunch.
    • Johnny tells them to wait in the boat while he gets lunch. He comes back (drunk) soon after with hot dogs, pies, and sodas for them all. After lunch, they start to go back out to sea, but Johnny ends up rowing them in circles until he has blisters on his hands and the kids are sick. They head back to shore, where little Tilly falls in the water getting out of the boat. Johnny scoops her out of the water and comforts her.
    • He goes back to the place where they rented the boat, has more to drink, and buys some fish that they can take home. He doesn't tell the kids to lie, but it is clear to them that he wants Mama to think that he caught the fish.
    • They get in the trolley all disheveled, wet, and sunburned. Tilly vomits all over Johnny’s coat, which causes the other two kids to vomit too. Good times.
    • Johnny takes little Tilly home, and when her mother sees her, she goes nuts and screams at him. Katie is pissed at him, too—the kids are horribly sunburned, it will cost a dollar to clean his jacket and it will never be quite right again, and the fish he bought are rotten and have to be thrown out.
    • The kids go to bed feeling horrible from the burn and nausea, but still giggle thinking of Papa falling in the water.
    • Johnny sits at the kitchen window and wonders why things didn't go as he expected. Things always work out well in the songs he sings about the sea. The children were supposed to come home with a deep love of the sea and tons of fish, and he feels like the songs betrayed him.
  • Chapter 30

    • Francie has a story published for the first time, at thirteen years old.
    • Her story is the best in the entire seventh grade, and it is published in a magazine.
    • She tries to show it to Mama, but she’s too busy to read it. Mama is pretty dismissive about the whole thing saying “‘Yes, yes. I know. I saw it coming. There’ll be more stories printed and you’ll get used to it. Now, don’t let it go to your head” (30.6).
    • Papa is at the Union headquarters, so he won’t see it until Sunday, but she knows he will love it.
    • She can’t take her eyes off her name in print.
    • Just then, she sees Joanna, a young unwed mother, coming out of her building to take her baby for a stroll. The gossiping women are horrified—they believe that she should be ashamed of her baby and keep hidden away.
    • Joanna takes great care of her baby and smiles at everyone. Some of the kids smile back, but when she walks by Francie, she doesn’t smile back at her.
    • Women start harassing Joanna verbally and then throw stones at her. One hits the baby, prompting Joanna to cry, pick up her whimpering baby, and go back inside.
    • Francie is wracked with guilt because she didn’t smile at Joanna.
    • As a punishment to herself, she leaves her beloved first published work in the stroller. She goes home and has a really good cry over the whole situation.
    • She calms down and thinks about the hypocritical behavior of the women, some of whom were definitely pregnant before they got married. She decides that women are not to be trusted, ever.
    • Suddenly uncomfortable, she rushes upstairs to her room.
    • Mama comes in and talks to Francie. After realizing what was going on with Francie, she explains that she is having her first period and will be okay. She warns her that this means she is able to have a baby now, so she must always be a good girl and remember Joanna.
    • Francie will always remember Joanna, but not for the reasons her mother expects.
  • Chapter 31

    • Francie is thirteen and two important things happen this year: war erupts in Europe (the start of World War 1), and a horse falls in love with Aunt Evy.
    • You remember how Aunt Evy’s husband, Uncle Willie Flittman, is always battling with his horse? According to Willie, the horse likes to pee on him on purpose.
    • On cold winter days, Evy thinks it’s really mean that Willie washes the horse with cold water. Drummer—the horse—seems to know that Evy is sticking up for him.
    • One day while washing the underside of the horse, Willy thinks he is going to get peed on and punches Drummer. In return, the horse kicks him in the head, knocking Willy unconscious.
    • Willy’s boss decides to hire someone else, but Evy begs and pleads with him to let her do the job until Willie is well again. Eventually, the boss agrees, and Evy becomes the first milk woman on the route.
    • She does a fine job, and she treats Drummer wonderfully.
    • She covers him with a blanket when she leaves him outside to eat her dinner, heats up his oats, gives him a treat after his meal, and washes him in the stable with warm water and mild soap. The horse never pees on her. He loves her and all the other workers love her, too. But Willie eventually recovers and comes back to work.
    • Drummer refuses to take Willie back and won’t move with him in the seat. The boss ends up giving Willy another horse and another route.
    • They try other drivers, but Drummer still won’t budge without Evy.
    • Finally, Drummer consents to being driven by a man who is a little more feminine than the others.
    • Every afternoon, Drummer pulls the wagon out of its way to stop by Evy’s house on the way back to the stables. He won’t continue to go back to the stable until she comes out and gives him a treat. It's true love.
  • Chapter 32

    • Francie starts a diary on her thirteenth birthday. She hopes she’ll write poetically on topics, but her entries pretty much just stick to the facts of the day. The rest of this chapter is made up of entries from the diary. At one point Mama finds her diary and makes her edit the parts about her father coming home drunk. She makes Francie replace the word drunk with sick. That explains why many of her entries say Papa came home sick. Papa struggles with his alcoholism throughout this year, and Francie notices that sometimes he shakes and has nightmares in the daytime
    • Some highlights from her thirteenth year:
      • Uncle Flittman’s new horse does something worse than pee on him. (So gross.)
      • Sissy claims to be pregnant again.
      • Francie continues to get good writing grades, and they finally finish reading the Bible.
      • They have read Shakespeare four times.
      • Sergeant McShane brings Papa home “sick.”
      • They play the North Pole game for several days. (This is how Katie tries to distract the kids from the fact that they don’t have anything to eat.)
      • They are forced to use all of the money in the tin can bank in order to eat.
      • Mama brings in more work; she does laundry.
      • Francie gets a job washing dishes at a restaurant.
      • Papa goes back to work and makes Francie quit her job, but he is fired soon after.
      • Francie starts her last year of school in September, and her teacher is so pleased with her writing that she says Francie will probably be able to write a play to be performed for graduation.
      • Francie notices that her body is changing and developing.
    • She is tired of writing in her diary and feels that nothing has happened this year. (That is a bit ironic, because quite a bit happened.)
    • Her last entry is about how everyone her age is very interested in sex, and she admits that she is curious, too.
  • Chapter 33

    • The teens in Williamsburg are very curious about sex, but no one really talks about it, though. People keep it all on the down low.
    • Uneducated parents often don’t even know the correct words to explain sex and the sex organs to their children, so they don’t say anything to them, leaving the kids to their own devices to figure it all out.
    • One day Francie and Neeley ask Mama where they came from, and Mama tells them from God, but that isn’t enough for them. They want to know how God got them to Mama and they want to know the difference between boys and girls. Mama tells them that the main difference is boys stand when they go to the bathroom and girls sit, which leads to more confusion since sometimes Neeley sits and sometimes Francie stands.
    • As Francie ventures deeper into puberty, Mama tries to be as honest as she can be with her limited knowledge, which spares Francie from having to hear these things whispered and distorted by peers. Sex is still pretty mysterious to her, though. What isn’t mysterious, however, is the fear of sexual predators. They are all too common and scary.
    • There is a predator in the neighborhood when Francie is fourteen. Some scum has been molesting little girls, and one little girl on their block has even been murdered.
    • Needless to say, there is great fear among everyone in the neighborhood. No one plays in the street anymore, and mothers anxiously wait for their children to return from school.
    • Johnny is so freaked about it that he gets a gun, which he keeps under his pillow.
    • Time passes without any more incidents, so people’s fears slowly start to ease up a bit. And that is exactly when the predator strikes again.
    • One day, Katie is upstairs as Francie arrives home from school. She enters the building and gets to the bottom of the stairs when she first sees him. He approaches her with his pants all undone and genitals exposed. Horrified and unable to scream or run, she is paralyzed in her fear.
    • Mama comes out of the flat and sees what is going on, and she runs for the gun and shoots him in the stomach.
    • Francie is not hurt by him, with one big exception: She is totally disgusted because his penis touched her leg.
    • In fact, she wants to cut her leg off, which she repeats over and over again.
    • Neeley hears the talk on the street that Francie has been attacked by the pervert. He runs to the house and pounds on the door until they let him in. When they tell him what has happened, he runs to find Papa, who is drinking at McGarrity’s saloon. (No surprises there, folks.) They both come rushing home.
    • When Papa comes in, he picks Francie up and rocks her like a baby. Francie keeps saying that she wants her leg cut off.
    • Mama explains why she is saying this, and Johnny goes to work. He finds some carbolic acid and puts it on her leg. It burns her skin, but she welcomes the burn. It feels like the man’s touch is being burned off her.
    • At this point, the policeman pounds on the door and enters with a doctor, who gives Francie an exam.
    • When questioned about the gun, Johnny tells him an unlikely story about how he found the gun in the gutter, and he doesn’t have a permit.
    • Katie is disappointed to find out that she didn’t kill the man, but the good news is that he confessed to everything—even the murder of the little girl.
    • The scar on Francie's leg never goes away completely, but it shrinks up quite a bit.
    • Johnny is fined five dollars for having a gun without a permit.
    • Sergeant McShane comes over to see Katie soon after the incident. His wife is in a hospital now, and Katie wonders if he will ever get married again when his wife dies. He hands her an envelope full of money as a reward for helping the police catch the guy.
    • In true Katie form, however, she refuses it. McShane doesn’t press the issue too much and puts the envelope back in his pocket.
    • She’s so beautiful and full of pride, he muses. When they are both free one day, he will marry her.
  • Chapter 34

    • Francie notices that Sissy tells Mama that she is going to get a baby. The word get makes Francie very curious. Why doesn’t she say have? Hm…
    • Poor Sissy has buried ten children at this point and is desperate to have a living child. She is thirty-five, which was kind of old to have children back then.
    • She tries to convince her husband John (the third John) to let her adopt a child, but he refuses.
    • As luck would have it, she hears about a beautiful sixteen year old who is pregnant with a married man’s baby.
    • This girl’s horrified father, a recent Sicilian immigrant, has locked her up in a room and is trying to starve her and the unborn child to death.
    • Sissy decides she must adopt this child and goes to their place to chat.
    • After struggling for a while to communicate due to language barriers, the mother and pregnant daughter finally understand that Sissy wants to adopt the child. The shamed family is incredibly thrilled about this. Sissy takes care of Lucia, the daughter, bringing wonderful food over after the father leaves for work and taking her out to the park on nice days.
    • As soon as everything is settled about the pending adoption, Sissy starts telling people that she is pregnant again.
    • Johnny doesn’t understand what is going on, since to him it is clear that she isn’t pregnant, but Sissy is very convincing with her symptoms and behavior.
    • When Lucia goes into labor, Sissy also pretends to go into labor. John is very confused, and he goes off to work.
    • While he is at work, Sissy goes over to see Lucia and the beautiful healthy newborn baby girl. They decide that they should wait ten days for Sissy to take the baby home.
    • When John returns home from work, Sissy tells him that their premature baby is at the hospital for ten days since she is so small. He doesn’t believe her at all and starts getting really frustrated with all of this nonsense.
    • Ten days later, she brings her baby home and convinces John that it is their baby.
    • She names the baby Sarah, but people end up calling her Little Sissy.
    • Katie knows the truth, and because she eavesdropped on the convo, so does Francie.
    • Katie tells Johnny about it, and he thinks that they should tell John that Sissy is deceiving him, but Katie convinces him not to interfere. Sissy and John are happy, and because of the baby, Sissy will be a better wife now. This gets Johnny nervous that maybe Katie tricked him, too. They go and look at the children together, and he sees that they are unquestionably his.
    • At this point, Katie whispers something into Johnny’s ear and he says “No!”
    • We don’t know what was said. (Hmm.)
    • Johnny goes out that night, and when he comes home Francie hears him singing the final verse of the Molly Malone ballad.
    • He never sings that last verse, so this freaks her out. She greets him at the door, and they chat for a few minutes. He isn’t drunk.
    • Francie goes to bed and cries, but she doesn’t really know why.
  • Chapter 35

    • It is a week before Christmas, and Francie has just turned fourteen while Neeley is getting ready to turn thirteen very soon. It’s going to be a bleak Christmas since Johnny isn’t working at all. To make things even more confusing, he isn’t drinking either. Something is really wrong with Papa. He is sober, but he is acting like he is drinking. Very bizarre.
    • There is no money for heat, so they wear their coats and hats inside.
    • Neeley hears Francie swear, and reminds her that God can hear her, which sets Francie off questioning about God and his mercy. If God can hear all things and do all things, why doesn’t he do something about their life right now? Why doesn’t he help Mama? Why doesn’t he fix Papa? This kind of talk makes Neeley uncomfortable, so she stops talking about it.
    • Mama comes home and tells them that they are having oatmeal again for supper tonight, but since they have condensed milk and bananas, it won’t be so bad.
    • Mama doesn’t eat.
    • Francie convinces her to play the piano for them while they eat, so it feels like they are eating in a fancy restaurant. Katie hesitantly agrees. Francie and Neeley listen to the music and talk about silly times from their younger days.
    • They are almost happy—the kitchen is warm, their bellies are full, and Mama’s piano playing makes them feel safe and comfortable. A violent pounding on the door snaps them out of this reverie.
    • It’s Johnny. He has always taken such pride in his appearance, and now he looks like he rolled out of the gutter. Trembling terribly, he vows that he isn’t drunk. Things don’t look good for Johnny at all. He is very upset—in fact, he weeps. Katie tries to calm him down. He tells her that he has been thrown out of the Waiters’s Union for being a bum and a drunk. Sobbing uncontrollably, he tells her how he cannot sing anymore; he has lost his voice.
  • Chapter 36

    • Johnny dies three days later.
    • After he goes to bed with Katie, he gets up and leaves and never returns; they can’t find him anywhere.
    • On the second night that he is gone, Sergeant McShane comes to the door to take Katie to the hospital. He tells her that Johnny was found unconscious huddled in a doorway and didn’t have any identification on him. McShane recognized his description and went to the hospital to make sure it was in fact Johnny. He is in the final stages of pneumonia.
    • Doctors tell Katie that he only has a few hours to live, and she sits with him until he dies.
    • He never knows she is there.
    • Katie returns home and tells the children in the morning.
    • They are not to cry for their father because he is “out of it now, and maybe he’s luckier than we are” (35.11).
    • An undertaker comes to talk to Katie first thing in the morning. This undertaker is pretty unscrupulous—he takes advantage of people as they mourn. He uses some trickery to find out just how much they have in life insurance ($200), and then quotes a price for a funeral that is just a little bit less than the amount ($175).
    • Katie realizes this guy is a scammer but is just too wiped out to care.
    • She goes back to the hospital later to provide the information for the death certificate. The official cause of death is listed as acute alcoholism and pneumonia, though she fights to have the acute alcoholism part taken off.
    • Later, the undertaker asks her for the deed to their cemetery lot. Katie is angry—she assumed that was part of the cost of the funeral. Nope. He assures her that it is a separate cost.
    • They have to pry up the tin can and give him everything that remains, $18.62. The undertaker says he will let the rest slide. (What a peach.)
    • She says she will not give him the money till he brings her the deed and she can read it. (She remembers the story about how her mother was cheated many years ago.)
    • At this time in history, the bodies of the dead are brought home for a few days so that people can pay their respect till the burial. It was not very common for most people to use funeral homes like we do today.
    • Francie and Neeley avoid the front room the whole time the coffin is in there, even going so far as to sleep in the kitchen.
    • Before they close the coffin, Katie comes out and tells the children that some of the neighbors believe the reason that the children won’t look at their father one last time is because he was a bad father. Not wanting them to think that, Francie takes Neeley’s hand and they go out.
    • Neeley looks very quickly then runs out. He doesn’t want to cry.
    • When Francie summons the courage to lift her eyes up from the floor to look, she is amazed at how peaceful and young he looks. His usually trembling hands are now so still.
    • At the funeral mass, there is a woman sobbing uncontrollably in another pew. Turns out that this is Hildy O’Dair, the woman that Katie stole Johnny from many years ago. At first Katie is jealous, but then decides that someone should cry for Johnny, especially when she can’t.
    • On the way home, Mama stops the coach in front of the barbershop and tells Francie to go in and get her father’s cup. (Back then, some men went to the barber several times a week for a shave. The wealthier men had the barber use their own mug to work soap into a lather to shave with, and Johnny had his own as his little luxury.) The barber cleans out his mug and offers Francie some heart-felt, kind words about her father.
    • Mama tells her that the mug is for her to keep, and Neeley will get his signet ring. Francie is so very grateful for this gift. Besides a few waiter’s aprons at home, these are the only objects that Johnny leaves behind. He is buried in all his clothes and with his beloved union pin.
    • Aunt Sissy, Evy, Mama, Francie, and Neeley all sit around the table, and Mama—who up till now has been so strong— starts weeping.
    • Sissy embraces Mama and tells her not to cry or “the child you’ll soon be bringing into this world will be a sad child” (37.105). (Does this mean Mama is pregnant? It certainly sounds like it, doesn’t it? Could this explain the mysterious whispering at the end of chapter 34?)
  • Chapter 37

    • Katie urges the kids to go out for a walk the day after the funeral.
    • The streets are pretty empty since it is just a couple days after Christmas, and most kids are home playing with their new toys.
    • Francie and Neeley have grown out of childhood in the past few days.
    • As they wander the streets, they happen upon a sign advertising a performance by a “sweet singer of songs” (37.5). This makes them think of their own sweet singer of songs, Papa. Trying hard to fight back tears, they head to a dark side street where they sit on the curb and have a good cry. They weep for a long time, and when they finish, Francie questions Neeley about God. She is angry and wants answers. Neeley believes that maybe God punished Papa, but Francie doesn’t believe it.
    • Neeley is really uncomfortable with this kind of questioning, but Francie continues. She believes in Jesus Christ, because he is someone she can relate to. For example, he was poor and, just like them, he didn’t wear shoes all the time. God, however, she no longer believes in.
    • They go home, and it is clear from the look in her eyes that Mama had a good cry, too. No one mentions it, though.
    • Mama surprises them with a wonderful treat of hot chocolate with marshmallows. She explains that Neeley is going to move into the room that was Mama and Papa’s. Mama says that Neeley is too big to be sharing a room with his sister now.
    • He is pumped to get his own room, but hhis excitement is also tinged with sadness considering the reason why.
    • Mama and Francie will share the other room now. This disappoints Francie, of course, but she doesn’t say anything. Mama reads Francie feelings and tries to make her feel better by telling her that in the summer; she will be able to set up a bed in the front room and sleep there.
    • The three of them do their nightly reading, and in the middle, Mama sighs.
    • Francie looks questioningly at her, and Mama says it is nothing.
    • The truth is that she is thinking about her pregnancy. She wonders if finding out about the pregnancy and trying to straighten himself up for the new child is what killed Papa.
    • In a move that is pretty out of her character, Katie hugs and kisses both of her children before they go to sleep.
  • Chapter 38

    • Francie figures that since she is fourteen years old now and able to get her working papers, she should go to work to help support the family.
    • Mama isn’t having it, though. They will get by somehow until summer, and she can work then.
    • Mama sounds confident, but actually isn't sure how they are going to make it.
    • She talks to her sisters, but they have little extra money to help. Evy says there is no other option—Francie will, in fact, have to drop out and work.
    • Nope. Mama knows no grade school diploma = no high school. (Back in these days, not everyone went to high school. It was a privilege if you could go.)
    • Evy mentions Catholic charities, but Katie would rather kill herself and all the children than accept charity.
    • Things are looking bleak, and Katie prays to God but feels unheard. She prays to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and again she doesn’t feel heard. Finally, she prays to Johnny and gets a warm feeling.
    • Johnny comes through.
    • Mr. McGarrity, the guy who owns the bar, misses Johnny. He misses him because he loved listening to Johnny talk about his wonderful family life and pretending to have this life for himself. McGarrity liked the way Johny distracted him from his own lousy life.
    • McGarrity has tons of cash, and wants to hire the kids for a couple hours after school. (His hope is that the kids will talk to him like Johnny did, and he won’t be as lonely for him anymore.)
    • Francie and Neeley have really busy days now, and Francie is glad for it. This way she doesn’t have time to miss Papa. Here is a typical day:
      • They wake up two hours early and help Mama clean the building. Mama is too far along in her pregnancy to do hard work.
      • They go to school.
      • After school they go to church for Confirmation classes.
      • After Confirmation they go to McGarrity’s to work.
      • And after this, Neeley delivers the newspaper.
    • Things are going okay at McGarrity’s, though the kids don’t talk to him like he expected.
    • Mrs. and Mr. McGarrity have a conversation at dinner one night (a true rarity) and decide that it isn’t going to work out with the Nolan kids working there. After the baby is born, they will let the kids go.
    • One day coming home from a visit with her aunts, Francie realizes that Sissy doesn’t wear her signature perfume anymore.
    • She has her baby and a man to help her take care of her now, Mama explains, so she doesn’t need to wear it anymore.
    • Their conversation makes Francie laugh for the first time since Papa died, and Mama smiles.
  • Chapter 39

    • It is the neighborhood tradition to make three wishes on your Confirmation day:
      • An impossible wish: Francie wishes for her hair to be curly and golden like Neeley’s; Neeley wishes for wealth.
      • A wish that you can make come true yourself: Francie wishes for a nice speaking voice like Mama; Neeley wishes for better grades.
      • A wish for when you are grown up: Francie wants to travel all over the world; Neeley wishes that he won’t drink like Papa did.
    • It is also tradition to have your picture taken by a photographer on Confirmation day. They can’t afford a professional photographer, so Flossie, who has a box camera, takes a snapshot for them. This is a really big deal, and it is the first time the kids have had their picture taken.
    • Neeley’s Confirmation name is John, after Papa. Mama remarks that Cornelius John Nolan is a nice sounding name for a surgeon.
    • Francie’s Confirmation name is Kathleen, after Mama. Mama doesn’t say anything about the name.
    • Her new English teacher, Miss Garnder, is giving her a hard time about her writing. Since her father died, Francie writes less about nature and beauty and more about real life stuff, specifically her dad. Miss Garnder tells Francie that good writing is about beautiful things. Ironically, Miss Garnder also says that she should write about the truth. Francie argues with her that these stories are the truth—her truth—but her teacher has a different definition of truth than Francie does. Francie can’t win this battle, and her teacher is adamant about her position.
    • In another big wave of disappointment, Miss Garnder tells Francie that her play will not be used for graduation. It is not happy enough, so instead she wants Francie to take another student’s idea about fairies and holidays and help her write rhymes for it. Francie is heartbroken and does not want to do this at all. Miss Garnder calls her work sordid, and says that she should burn it. Francie doesn’t burn the stuff her teacher told her to burn, but she does burn all of the other silly “pretty" stuff that she has ever written.
    • She’s angry, plus she feels like a failure as a writer and like she should just give up.
    • Francie goes to find her Mama and hopes she can make her feel better. Instead, Francie feels guilty watching Mama scrub the floor super pregnant, and offers to help. Mama says no, that she doesn’t want Francie’s hands to be destroyed by the strong soap like hers are.
    • Francie stays and chats with Mama as she finishes with the floor, and when she's done, Francie helps her stand up.
    • As they walk, Mama tells her that she is going to need Francie very much in the next few months. Mama tells her that she needs to check on her often when she is working to make sure that she hasn’t gone into labor; she is counting on Francie, and she can’t count on Neeley for this.
    • This warms Francie’s heart, and she promises to stay by Mama’s side.
    • Francie wonders if being needed might be even better than being loved.
  • Chapter 40

    • Francie stays home after lunch because Mama must spend most of her time in bed now. It feels good to be needed, and Francie cleans the apartment and prepares food. Neeley comes home at three to see if Mama is in labor and needs him to get Evy or Sissy. He then goes to McGarrity’s to work both his and Francie’s jobs before delivering the newspaper.
    • Mama is being harsh with Francie today. She refuses to drink or eat anything, and she keeps asking Francie what the time is. Finally, she tells Francie that as soon as Neeley gets home, he must take a nickel and grab a trolley to go get Evy. There is no time to lose by walking—Mama is in labor.
    • Francie apologizes for not being able to comfort Mama as well as Neeley can. Mama explains that men shouldn’t be present during childbirth. She believes it is not right, and that it is mean to make men share the pain.
    • Francie runs up and down the stairs looking for Neeley and checking on Mama. When he finally gets home, she gives him his stuff and his instructions.
    • Francie returns upstairs, and Mama has a lot of blood on her face from biting through her lip in an attempt to silence her screams. While she wipes up Mama’s face, Mama tells her that she would love to read one of her compositions now that she has a little bit of time.
    • Francie explains that she burned them all, and Mama feels horribly guilty that she never read any of them.
    • Francie reads aloud to distract her from her pain, but her face is gray and contorted. After what feels like an eternity, Evy arrives, followed by Sissy
    • They decide among them that since they all have had so many children they will be able to deliver the child themselves.
    • Francie is pretty resentful that she is being left out, and after a while, Evy comes out and orders Francie to go to the store to buy a few groceries.
    • When she returns with the stuff, the baby has been born, and both the baby and Mama are fine.
    • Mama names her Annie Laurie after one of the songs that Johnny loved to sing.
    • Francie thinks the name Laurie is pretty, and Laurie is what they call her.
  • Chapter 41

    • Luckily for the family, McGarrity doesn’t follow through with his plans to fire the kids after the baby is born because his business is suddenly booming. There are big changes going on in the country in 1916, and people need a public place to get together to discuss; those who aren’t rich enough to belong to clubs go their local bars. Francie hears the loud conversations as she works in the apartment above the bar.
    • Nobody seems to support prohibition (making alcohol illegal) or women's suffrage (giving women the right to vote), though automobiles and moving pictures (a.k.a. movies) are pretty popular. The general consensus is that airplanes are a silly passing phase, radios are super cool, and everyone's excited for electricity to come to the tenements soon. Folks have mixed emotions about the rise of machines and whether or not to enter World War I, but everyone agrees that the kids these days are pretty crazy with their dancing.
    • Francie listens to all of this and tries to make sense of everything. So much is changing in such a short period of time.
  • Chapter 42

    • It's grade school graduation day, which is a pretty big deal since this is as far as many kids will get with their education.
    • Francie and Neeley are graduating from two different schools, and that means Mama can only go to one kid's ceremony. You guessed it: she goes to Neeley’s. Sissy goes to Francie’s, and Evy stays home to watch Laurie.
    • After receiving her diploma, Francie has a dreadful task to do—cleaning out her desk. She knows that her desk will be the only one that won’t have flowers on it, and she never even told Mama about the custom because she knows they can’t afford it.
    • Francie stops to pick up her report card from the teacher’s desk. A C- in English? She’s heartbroken, but her sadness quickly turns to hatred. She hates Mrs. Garnder and the whole school in general. She storms to her desk, and is shocked to see flowers there.
    • Two dozen dark red roses await her along with a note that reads: For Francie on graduation day. Love from Papa.
    • It is written in Papa’s handwriting.
    • What?
    • Seeing this makes Francie think that Papa’s death has been a dream, but she goes out to the hall and sees only Sissy there.
    • Papa prepared for this day a year ago. He gave the card and two dollars to Sissy for Francie on graduation day in case he “‘forgets’” (42.18). It's a pretty bittersweet moment.
    • Francie cries not only because Papa is definitely dead, but also because she is totally spent. She’s beat from working hard and worrying about Mama, not writing the graduation play, and the lousy grade in English.
    • Sissy takes her to the bathroom, and Francie cries it out.
    • When she composes herself, she goes out to say her goodbyes. Many of the girls crowd around her to tell her to come over to their houses to play; some tell her that they hope she goes to the same high school that they are attending next year. They all want to sign her autograph book. Francie is shocked to realize that these girls are all really nice and maybe she could have had friends after all.
    • She goes to see Mrs. Garnder, who explains that instead of failing her for not doing her work, she gave her the C- so she could graduate. Instead of explaining herself, Francie just offers her hand in goodbye. She no longer hates Mrs. Garnder; instead she kind of pities her.
    • They all head out to the ice cream parlor for a special graduation treat. The place is packed with other graduates and their families. They have a great time-but Francie notices Mama appears in deep thought. And she is.
    • Mama is thinking about how far her kids have come and how much farther she would like them to go in their education. Her thoughts turn again to McShane. She wonders if he will remarry when his wife dies.
    • When the waiter comes and lays down the bill, everyone silently wonders if Mama will tip him the five cents that is customary on an occasion like this one. The bill is for thirty cents, and Mama gives him the fifty cent piece she has. When he comes back with the change, she grandly tells him to keep it.
    • Francie thinks this is fabulous. Evy asks her whether that was the last of her money. Yes, it is, but Mama says that if spending twenty cents can make them feel like millionaires, it is well worth it.
  • Chapter 43

    • Francie works in a factory where they make artificial flowers. Her job is to roll some green fabric onto a long wire—making the stem part of the flower. Needless to say, it's really boring work. Francie rolls stem after stem after stem for what feels like forever, but when she checks the clock, only an hour has gone by.
    • Since the work is so repetitive, soon she doesn’t have to think about what she is doing anymore, and this leaves her mind free to think. She thinks about how someone could end up doing this for her entire life to make money so that she can eat and live, in order to come back and work again. This thought frightens her.
    • Her fellow workers give her a hard time. They pick on her and sing mean songs, but when Francie laughs with them at something that Mark, a fellow coworker says, this breaks the ice. The girls accept her now and give her the inside scoop, like that the faster she works, the faster they will all be out of work. It is only temporary work to fill an order. And even more importantly, they tell her where the bathroom is.
    • On Saturday afternoon, she waits for Neeley before walking home. They want to give Mama their first pay together. They each earn five dollars a week.
    • Neeley works in the city at a brokerage, and Francie is super jealous that he gets to go across the bridge every day and eat in restaurants. It all seems very exotic and wonderful to her.
    • They stop at a bank to get fresh, crisp dollar bills to present to Mama.
    • They decide to start a tin can bank of their own and use the savings to buy Christmas presents.
    • Mama gets emotional when they present their money to her, and she leaves to go to her bedroom. Probably so the kids don’t see her crying, Francie speculates.
  • Chapter 44

    • After working for two weeks, Francie and the rest of the factory workers are laid off.
    • Francie opts to find other work and gets an interview for a file clerk position at a clipping agency. She has to lie and say she is two years older than she is, but Mama thinks she can pass for sixteen and Sissy helps by taking her shopping to get some grown-up looking clothes. Francie really wants to bob her hair like many of the girls are doing, but Mama forbids it.
    • She is hired on a trial basis, and she will earn $7 a week to start.
    • It is her job to file clippings from newspapers, and she is outstanding at her work and soon gets trained to be a reader. As she proves herself more and more, she gets more and more responsibilities. That said, she is the best reader there and the poorest paid.
    • She earns $10 a week now, while everyone else who does her work makes at least $20. But Francie never talks enough to anyone to realize just how poorly paid she is.
    • She is bummed that life across the bridge in the big city is not as awesome as she expected it to be. She worked everything up in her imagination to be so fabulous, that nothing measures up; she wonders if everything in life is just one big fat disappointment.
    • She hears a rumor that she is going to be promoted to the head reader’s position when Miss Armstrong resigns, but she doesn’t believe it.
    • At the end of August, Francie is nervous because she wants to go to high school more than anything in the whole world. The hustle and bustle of the city is not for her, plus she should be with girls her own age instead of competing with women much older than she is. One time, a man pinched her on the crowded train, and now she dreads getting on crowded trains.
    • She tells Sissy and Mama about the pinch one day and Sissy turns it into a big joke, thinking that Francie should feel flattered. Mama disagrees, of course, and tells Francie to learn to stand on the train with her hands down and carry a pin. She should jam the pin into any hand that dares pinch her.
    • Francie is stunned when her boss calls her into his office and offers her the job, which includes a pay of $20 a week. This is more than what most of the men around her make, and enough to get out of the tenements and rent a small house.
    • Francie is torn between the promise of good pay and her desire to return to school, and wisely concerned about her eyesight failing and then being stuck with no job and no high school education.
    • Mama says she only has enough money to send one of them to school this year, and the other will have to start next year. Since Neeley does not want to go back to school at all and is happy working, Mama decides that Neeley must go to school. Wait—what? Francie has trouble accepting this and is seeing red (so are we). Mama explains that Neeley is the one who must be forced to better himself, since he is too comfortable with how things are now. She knows that Francie will fight to get back to school somehow, but Neeley will never go back if he doesn’t start now. Needless to say, everyone is pretty mad about this decision.
    • When it is clear that this is the way it will be, Francie tells Mama about her raise. She also tells Mama that she is sick and tired of Neeley being favored in everything. At the end, they make up, but they both realize that things are never going to be quite the same between them.
  • Chapter 45

    • It is Christmas, and this year there are presents, lots of food, and plenty of heat.
    • Francie feels better about not going back to high school since life is so much easier due to her income.
    • School isn’t as bad as Neeley expected. In fact, he likes it since so many of his old buddies are there. McGarrity rehires him, and Mama lets him keep $1 a week. This means he has lots more spending money than most of his friends, plus he already knows Julius Caesar very well.
    • They all go Christmas shopping one day with the $10 Francie and Neeley saved in the can.
    • First they take Mama hat shopping and insist that she pick something out that isn’t a mourning hat; then they get Annie Laurie an outfit.
    • Neeley and Francie continue to shop when Mama and Annie Laurie go home. Neely wants spats because he's fancy like that now.
    • Francie wants a dance set, which seems to be code for sexy lace panties and a bra. Neeley makes her buy it herself; there is no way he is going to go buy that.
    • They show Mama the presents they bought for each other, and Francie is disappointed that she doesn’t get mad about her black lace lingerie. Mama thinks it is no big deal—just a phase that she will grow out of.
    • They set off for church as a family Christmas morning. Some boys make fun of Neeley’s spats on the way, and he decides to put them away till he can move away from the low-class neighborhood of Williamsburg. For her part, Francie is freezing without her warm underwear on, and she decides to put away the lace stuff until summer.
    • As mass progresses, Francie thinks about how beautiful and mysterious her religion is. She realizes that she isn’t perfect and struggles with faith sometimes, but through it all, she is pretty happy being a Catholic.
    • She is snapped out of her private thoughts when the priest asks the congregation for prayers for the soul of John Nolan.
  • Chapter 46

    • It is just minutes until the start of the New Year, 1917, and Francie and Neeley are hanging out in the kitchen. Francie believes this is going to be the most important year ever, and Neeley reminds her that she says this every year. She is pretty sure that she is right this time, though, especially considering that the United States will be joining the war very soon. She knows—she reads hundreds of newspapers a day.
    • There is noise from people outside, so it must be past midnight now; people cheerfully sing out "Auld Lang Syne."
    • But then the sound of German verses start ringing through the streets—keep in mind that at any moment war will be declared against Germany, so this creates a pretty tense mood.
    • The Irish retaliate by loudly singing a version that makes fun of the German song, and then the whole sing-off devolves into a battle of wills with each side trying to out-sing the other until eventually the Germans win.
    • When things quiet down, the Nolan family leans out the window and screams “‘Happy New Year, everybody!’” (43.34 ).
    • Mama, who is pretty scared that her children will become alcoholics like their father, is very careful about how she approaches the whole drinking thing. She doesn’t want to nag them about it being wrong to drink or anything like that—she knows this may make them think it is mysterious and glamorous to drink. She also doesn’t want to be too easygoing about it though, and she definitely doesn't want her children to think that it is normal and natural to be drunk all the time. Since New Year’s Eve is an appropriate time to have a drink, she carefully makes them up some brandy eggnog concoction that she calls milk punch.
    • She makes a toast that their “family will always be together the way it is tonight” (43.54), and then Mama nervously watches for their reaction to the drink.
    • Neeley takes one sip and pours the rest down the sink. Francie drinks the whole thing and says it is good, but not as good as ice-cream soda. Phew—Mama is totally relieved.
    • Francie and Neeley go up to hang out on the roof, and Francie feels truly in love with the moment. She wants to reach out and hug the world and the night and everything around her. Neeley accuses her of being drunk, and she steps to him with hands clenched. Luckily, he diffuses the situation by telling her that he got drunk once, that it made the world tip upside down and everything seemed pretty amazing, but that mostly it made him dizzy and vomit.
    • If this is true, Francie realizes that she has been drunk before too, even though she has never had much to drink. She recalls how she felt like this when she saw a tulip last spring; it is also how she feels now at this very minute.
    • They know Mama was testing them on their reaction to the drink earlier, and both agree that Mama has nothing to worry about. Neeley says he isn’t going to drink because he doesn’t like throwing up, and Francie doesn’t need alcohol to feel drunk.
    • Francie wishes Papa were with them and Neeley starts to sing.
    • As they look out over the rooftops of Brooklyn, Francie believes that it is a magical place unlike any other in the world.
  • Chapter 47

    • Soon after the holiday season ends, the Nolan family resumes their regular schedule that they have been on since Johnny died.
    • Neeley plays the piano most nights in ice cream parlors for free sodas, which scares the heck out of Francie since it is just one step away from living the life that her father did. Mama believes it is not the same at all because Johnny never played the songs he wanted to, and Neeley only does what he wants. In other words, says Francie, Mama believes that Neeley is an artist whereas Johnny was only an entertainer. Francie thinks that might be pushing it a little.
    • Loneliness haunts Francie in the evenings. Mama and Laurie go to bed right after dinner and Neeley goes out with his friends, but Francie doesn’t like going to the movies because they hurt her overworked eyes, and there are no plays to go see. She really wishes that she had a boyfriend.
    • All everyone talks about in March 1917 is how the war will start at any minute.
    • And then Sissy spices things up with tons of Drama—that's right, with a capital D.
    • Even though Sissy is not living like a wild woman anymore, her wild past catches up with her, causing her to get “widowed, divorced, married, and pregnant—all in ten days’ time” (47.23). Plus, there is something else too . . . maybe. Possibly.
    • The drama starts when her first husband, the firefighter, dies in a fire. Since he never remarried, she is listed as his widow and her picture is in the paper. Her new John believes she was officially divorced, so Katie and Francie run over to Sissy’s house because Katie thinks that new John may throw her out or something.
    • When they get there, new John is pretty mad that Sissy tricked him into living in adultery, and insists that she gets a formal divorce from her other ex-husband.
    • He also demands that they all start calling him Steve—you know, his real name—and not John.
    • He storms out to go buy ice cream for the guests, and Sissy is very happy that he has finally become a man in the relationship.
    • They write to Sissy’s old husband and ask him for a divorce. A week later, they get a response from him that they were formally divorced seven years ago. He got married and has three children.
    • Steve and Sissy get remarried in a Catholic church. He knows that Sissy will never leave a marriage that is blessed by the church, and Sissy is madly in love with him again.
    • But wait, it doesn’t stop there.
    • Sissy comes over to talk to Mama one night, and Francie eavesdrops.
    • Among other things, Sissy tells Mama that she is pregnant again and sure that this baby will live because she is married in the church now. There is also something else, though, kind of buried between the lines, so pay attention.
    • Sissy tells Katie that she told Steve the truth about how she got their baby.
    • He says he knew it wasn’t her baby, but he got very confused with all of her games.
    • Sissy says it’s funny how much the baby looks like Steve.
    • She also says that they never found out who the father of the child is.
    • Now add to this that Steve is the one who told Sissy about the pregnant young woman in the first place.
    • (Are you putting these pieces together? Go back and reread the last few sentences if not.)
    • Then Sissy remembers how Steve said he would never take on another man’s baby.
    • (Are you with us?)
    • Katie tries to stop Sissy’s mind from going there. She repeats that all of this is merely accidental… and struggles for another word when—from the other room—Francie offers coincidental as the possible word she is looking for.
    • There is a shocked silence when the sisters realize that Francie has heard them. The conversation continues but is too quiet for her to hear now.
    • (So, what do you think? Who has tricked whom in this situation? Is this a giant ball of irony? Or is it possible that Sissy is just feeling suspicious because she tricked her husband and feels guilty? )
  • Chapter 48

    • On April 6, 1917, a newspaper with ink still wet is delivered to Francie's desk. The newspaper headline is just one, giant word: WAR
    • Immediately, she thinks about how she will be talking about this moment one day to her grandchildren. She wants to keep this historical moment alive by collecting as many details about the moment as possible, so she collects bits and pieces and puts them into an envelope that will be like a time capsule. In fifty years, she will open this envelope and not just remember, but relive the moment.
    • Something strange happens at work: their biggest client turns out to be a German spy, and is caught by officers right in their office. The company ends up losing lots of money and has trouble attracting new clients at this uncertain time; soon after, the boss gives up and closes.
    • Francie finds work at a communications corporation that will teach her how to use a teletype machine.
    • She will start at $12.50 a week, so she won’t be making as much as she did at the clippings bureau; plus the hours are a bit strange. She starts work at 5:00PM and ends at 1:00AM, but this may help her since she is pretty lonely in the evenings.
    • Francie is worried that she will never be able to return to high school, and her family depends too much on her income to do so at this time.
    • Just like at her old job, she does great at this job, too. Her pay is increased to $15 a week, and she doesn’t think it’s a bad job.
    • Mama has an idea: Maybe Francie can start high school in the morning while also working at night. It will be tough, but it is do-able.
    • Nope—Francie says she has learned so much by reading all day at work for the past year that going back to high school would be a step backward. It is all too babyish for her now, and she has her eyes on college classes.
    • The plan is to register for summer school classes at the best college in Brooklyn. Since it is open to high school students who want to take advanced classes, Francie hopes they will consider letting her take classes if she doesn’t want credit or a diploma. She just wants to learn. She asks Mama if she can have sixty-five dollars to attend college, and Mama is so pumped that she jumps up right away to go to the bank.
    • Francie breathes a big sigh of relief when the college doesn't question her about her qualifications. At the college bookshop to buy her books, a nice guy helps her by telling her that she should buy second hand books for some of her classes and just read the others in the library.
    • She is very grateful to him and notices that he is good looking. This place looks better and better.
    • With her books in hand, Francie gets on the el train and heads off to work. Suddenly, she feels very sick and has to get off even though it will make her late for work. She concludes that she is overwhelmed because she, the grandchild of illiterate immigrants, is officially taking college classes.
    • It is all very amazing.
  • Chapter 49

    • Here’s how the classes are going:
      • Chemistry: Francie loves it, and the whole idea that nothing is really destroyed but instead just changed into something else fascinates her.
      • Drama of the Restoration: After reading so much Shakespeare in her life, this class is totally do-able for Francie.
      • French: Oh, heck no. This class is for people who already have a little background knowledge in French; there is no way she will pass the class, but she still goes and tries to learn vocabulary at least.
    • Ben Blake, the guy that Francie talked to in the bookstore, ends up being her guardian angel. This guy is your classic overachiever—an honor high school student, excellent athlete, president of the class, editor of the school magazine, takes college courses, and works at a law firm in the afternoons.
    • Ben has his whole life planned out, and his ultimate goal is to be the governor of the state; anyone who knows him believes he will achieve whatever he sets out to achieve.
    • Everyone loves him, and Francie is no exception. In fact, she has it pretty bad for him.
    • She sees him every day, and they talk a lot.
    • When she tells him that she is going to fail French, he helps her prepare for the exam for an entire day.
    • It works and she passes. Yay.
    • She and Ben meet to get their transcripts a week later and go out for chocolate sodas.
    • He tells her that he likes her a lot, but he has no time for girls at all right now and will see her next summer. (How wonderful and how awful for poor Francie.)
    • Francie applies to a college; however, they will not accept her for full time study without a high school degree. But all is not lost. If she passes an exam, she will be accepted without the high school degree. She takes the exam but fails.
    • It isn’t over yet, though: Now that Francie knows what to expect to be on the exam, she will teach herself what is needed and pass the exam next summer.
    • They put her on the day shift at work, but tell her she can go back to nights in the summer if she wants to.
    • She is painfully lonely again and thinks of Ben often.
    • The neighborhood seems somewhat changed now that gold stars are appearing on tenement windows (meaning a son has died in the war). The boys that stand around on the corners don’t seem quite as happy anymore either, even though they sing happy songs.
  • Chapter 50

    • In shocking Aunt Sissy news, she announces that she is having her baby at a hospital and will have a doctor deliver the baby. This is unheard of. Women have their children at home with a midwife; the only time you go to the hospital is to die.
    • Sissy tells everyone to get with it, and that the times are changing.
    • She shocks them again by telling them that she will have a Jewish doctor because they are more sympathetic and smarter than Christian doctors. Minds = blown.
    • When the time to have the baby arrives, Sissy goes to the hospital and the baby is born looking like all the others—blue and lifeless. Sissy despairs.
    • But then the doctor says oxygen—a word Sissy has never heard before, and right before her very eyes the child changes color and starts to cry.
    • The doctor is sure he is fine and will live. Sissy is overcome with happiness.
    • She names him Stephen Aaron, and he is all the family talks about until Uncle Willie Flittman changes the subject with his odd behavior.
    • Willy enlists in the army but is rejected, which depresses him so much that he quits his job and goes to bed. In grand dramatic flourish, he proclaims himself a big failure and plans on staying in bed until he dies.
    • They call Sissy in since she is so good with people in these situations. Sissy convinces him that working in a munitions factory would be a meaningful way to help the war effort, and in no time at all he is pumped and ready to take on the world.
    • Steve works at a factory and is able to get Willie a good job there. With his overtime pay, he buys himself musical instruments, though under it all he still feels like a failure.
  • Chapter 51

    • When the temperature turns colder, Francie enrolls in some fun evening classes. She takes sewing and ballroom dance and really likes them.
    • The rest of the chapter is made up of little vignettes, or short little scenes, from the rest of the year. Here are some of the greatest hits:
      • Mama encourages Francie not to study too long into the night for her college entrance exam.
      • Sissy starts an endowment for her children so they are able to afford college.
      • Evy and Willy Flittman have to move around a lot due to his drumming hobby.
      • Mary Rommely, 85, is ill and pretty sure she will die soon.
      • Francie shares snapshots of her family with the girls at work.
      • Francie catches Neeley with a wild woman.
      • Mama goes into Francie’s purse and sees cigarettes, but isn’t really mad.
      • Mama convinces them that instead of Christmas presents, they will buy wonderful food for the Tynmore women.
      • Francie decides to send a Christmas card to Ben.
      • The Nolans decide to drink coffee instead of milk punch to celebrate the arrival of 1918.
  • Chapter 52

    • On a sunny spring day one of Francie’s colleagues, Anita, begs her for help. You see, she is engaged to this guy who is about to leave for war the next day and they want to spent some quality time together (wink-wink), but there is this other guy tagging along. Could Francie please keep this guy company? She looks at the guy, and while not drop dead gorgeous or anything, she does like his shy smile, so she agrees.
    • Lee Rhynor is the guy who is the third wheel. He tells Francie that he understands why his friends ran off because he has a fiancé back home too, and he can just go back to the hotel room. Francie says since she already told her mother that she will not be home for a while though, she might as well show him around town a bit.
    • They go out to dinner and have an outstanding time. They spend four hours talking over their meal, and both admit that they have been so lonely, but that now neither of themfeels lonely at all.
    • It is late; Francie says she must head for home.
    • Lee wants to walk her home, and since he has always wanted to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, they decide to go that way.
    • They have a wonderful walk, and when they get into Brooklyn, Francie shows him how to get back using the el train, and she waits for the trolley to take her to her neighborhood. When the trolley arrives, he grabs her and kisses her. Heavenly.
    • Francie dresses up for work the next day because she just knows he will show up to see her after work even though they have no plans. She tells Neeley to tell Mama that she won’t be home for dinner again, and he picks on her for having a boyfriend.
    • Her suspicions are correct, and he is waiting for her when she gets out of work. They eat and then go out dancing. Turns out he's a wonderful dancer too.
    • She decides then and there that she wants to marry him. (This is very similar to how Katie felt dancing with Johnny many years ago.)
    • Lee tells her that he has to leave in the morning to go see his mother for a few days before he goes to war, and then he tells Francie that he loves her.
    • She asks him about the comment he made about an engagement when they first met. He blows it off by saying everyone is engaged in a small town because it is the only thing to do; he has no plans to marry her.
    • Lee tells Francie that he is scared that he will die a virgin in war and tries to get her to sleep with him. She says that she really wants to, but she is a virgin, sixteen years old, and not allowed to spend the night with him. He tries to get her to make up a story to tell her mother, but she says she’s not going to lie. He whispers that he is sorry he asked, and that he had no way of knowing. No way of knowing? Francie is confused about what this means and so is Shmoop.
    • He asks if they can get married if he returns home from war.
    • Francie says that when he returns they will get married.
    • He wants her to write every day. She promises.
    • He asks her to promise to not go out with anyone else till he returns home. She promises this, too.
  • Chapter 53

    • When Francie gets home, she writes Lee a long love letter in which she repeats the promises she made to him earlier that night, and mails it right away.
    • She waits and waits for his reply.
    • Finally, a letter arrives on Friday; she rips into it.
    • It is addressed to “Miss Nolan” which is odd. It must be from someone else, because Lee would have called her Francie. She turns it over and notices that it is from Mrs. Elizabeth Rhynor. His mother? No, after reading it twice, it becomes clear that his new wife wrote the letter. They got married the day he went home. Mrs. Rhynor read the letter that she sent to him, and she’s very sorry that he pretended to be in love with her. Lee is just dreadfully sorry about it too.
    • Francie trembles, moans, and calls for her mother. Her heart is fully and completely broken. Mama feels helpless; she can’t protect her child from the pains of heartache.
    • Mama doesn’t know what to say. She won’t lie to Francie and tell her that in time she will forget him, because she won’t. She will always remember her first love.
    • Francie asks her mother if she should have slept with him like he wanted her to. Mama says that there are two answers to that. As a mother, the answer is that it would have been terrible to sleep with a stranger. It might have destroyed her whole life. As a woman, however, she says it would have been beautiful since you only fall in love for the first time once.
    • Francie regrets not sleeping with him.
    • Katie tells her that she received a letter from someone, too. Mr. McShane. Would she like to have him as a new father? Francie thinks her mother may be getting a tad carried away here. He just wrote a letter; it is not a marriage proposal. Katie, however, is pretty confident that they will get married. It’s a gut feeling.
    • Francie doesn’t want to talk about it anymore and asks if she can just be alone.
    • After crying for a good long while, she prepares some food and is surprised by how good it tastes, but then she sees the letter again and starts to cry.
    • She takes the letter to the sink, burns it, and then she finishes breakfast.
    • She considers writing to Ben, but decides that she doesn’t want to need anyone. She wants someone to want her.
  • Chapter 54

    • McShane comes over to have coffee and cake with the whole family. Francie notices that he is sitting at Papa’s place at the table, and this hurts her heart a bit.
    • Although he is not nearly as handsome as Papa was, he is good looking in his own way. He is fifty, though, and fifteen years older than Mama.
    • They discuss Francie and Neeley’s achievements, and then they go get Laurie out of her crib to introduce her to Mr. McShane.
    • Mr. McShane tells Mama that he has come to ask her a personal question. The children get up to leave, but he says it concerns them too, so they should stay.
    • Just as Katie expected, he asks if he may spend time with her with the intention of getting married in the fall.
    • He is in a financial position to be able to take care of them all and wants to put all the children through college.
    • Katie asks if he has really thought it over. She reminds him that she is just a scrubwoman, and he is a political figure. Doesn’t he want someone more refined? Someone who can help him with his political ambitions?
    • He says no, he wants her. Does she want time to think it over? No, she wants to marry him. Not for his money or his position, but because he is a good man.
    • Katie’s feelings for McShane are not as wildly passionate as they were for Johnny, but she knows she will be a good wife to him.
    • McShane asks the children if they approve. Neeley nods, and Francie says that they would be happy to have him as a… she struggles to say the word. He tells her not to worry; he doesn’t expect them to call him father or to take his last name. He would like it if he could adopt Laurie since she never knew her father.
    • They all agree.
    • Neeley and Francie decide this is a very good break for Mama. Now Laurie will never know hard times like they did, though neither will she know the kind of fun that they had.
  • Chapter 55

    • It is Francie's last day at her job, but none of her co-workers know that. She doesn’t want to do the whole good-bye thing, and is afraid she will break down and cry, which she doesn’t want to do.
    • She joins some of the girls as they sing and play the piano in the break room and takes one long last look out the window at the view she will never see again. She considers how the last time you do something feels like a little death, in a way. She thinks about what Granma Mary Rommely used to say. It was something like if we could live every moment like we are seeing things for the first or last time, life would be filled with glory.
    • Mary’s last illness lasted for several months, and she eventually died from it.
    • During all the upheaval of mourning, Uncle Willy Flittman leaves the family.
    • Rumor has it that he spends his time playing his instruments all over Brooklyn as a one-man band.
    • Francie finishes summer school and passes all four of the classes she took. Ben helps her study for the Regents examination to get into college, and she passes this time. He helps her decide on a college to attend; Francie is going off to Ann Arbor, Michigan to attend the University of Michigan.
    • Ben gives her his high school ring. It is engraved with his and her initials. It is supposed to serve as an “understanding” ring: He wants to marry her in five years. In five years, he will be ready to marry her, and she will be old enough to be able to make such a decision.
    • Even though she knows that Ben is a great guy, she still thinks of Lee.
    • As she leaves, she sees a tall man in the shadows of a doorway. She thinks she is seeing the ghost of Lee, but it is Ben who has come to take her out to dinner on her last day of work. He had a feeling that she would be feeling down.
  • Chapter 56

    • It is the last Saturday in their old home. Katie and McShane will marry the next day, and then the family will move into their new house immediately. They are leaving most of their stuff behind for the new janitress, only taking their personal belongings and the furniture in the front room. Francie wants the rug with the big roses, curtains, and the piano for her new room.
    • Francie takes Laurie down to Cheap Charlie’s store. (Remember this place from earlier in the novel? It is where all the kids spend their pennies they make after selling their junk. They pick a number off the board in the hope of winning one of the fabulous prizes that no one ever wins, and they always get candy instead. Remember how Francie dreamt of going in with fifty cents to buy all of the numbers in order to win all the prizes?)
    • Francie marches in and slaps her fifty cents on the table and demands all the prizes off the board. Charlie starts stumbling for words, and she catches him in his scam to rip off the little kids. He argues that he isn’t really scamming them because he always gives them candy in return. The picking just makes it more interesting for everyone.
    • Francie buys a fifty-cent doll from him and tells him to put it up on the prize board. She wants him to let a kid actually win this one, and though he argues with her at first, he ultimately promises to do it.
    • After lunch, she returns books for the last time to the library. When she does, she asks the librarian to look at her. When she looks up, Francie informs her that in all the years she has been coming into the library she has never once looked at her. Annoyed, the librarian defends herself by saying there are too many kids to look at them all. Francie tells her just how much the brown bowl with the flowers has meant to her through her life. The librarian seems confused about this at first, but eventually realizes what Francie is talking about. The janitor or someone puts the stuff in the bowl, not her. Francie hands in her card, but takes it back when she sees that the librarian is just going to tear it up.
    • Francie looks around the shabby little library one last time. She knows that if she ever returns, it will not look the same to her as it looks now, and this is the way she wants to remember it.
    • She decides she will never return to the old neighborhood. It will be very changed soon when they tear down the tenements and replace them with different housing projects.
    • At home, Mama goes off for one last dress fitting. She will be married in a jade-green velvet dress.
    • Francie collects her personal possessions in a box, including the crucifix Grandpa Nolan made her, the picture of her and Neeley on their Confirmation Day, her First Communion veil, Papa’s two waiter’s aprons, the shaving cup with John Nolan written on it in gold, the old blouse that she wore the time she was with Lee, the doll named Mary, the pretty box Aunt Sissy gave her with the ten pennies in it, her books, her diary from when she was thirteen, an envelope with her diploma, the envelope of stuff she collected when war broke out (not to be opened until 1967), and the four stories that her teacher told her to burn. To this last envelope, Sshe adds her library card.
    • Francie thinks about the time she told God that she would stop writing if he let Mama live. She has kept her promise so far, but she realizes that God won’t be upset if she writes again sometime.
    • Neeley whistles a song as he comes up the stairs. He asks Francie if he has a clean shirt, and Francie finds one and starts to iron. After Neeley is dressed, he asks her how he looks; Francie realizes just how much he looks like Papa. They talk for a while, and then Neeley tells her that since there will be so much commotion in the upcoming days what with the wedding and the moving, that he wants to say goodbye to her now. She reminds him that she will be home at Christmas, but agrees it will never really be the same. She holds out her arm, and he surprises her by going in for the hug. She cries, and Neeley jokes that girls are way too mushy (while fighting back tears himself). Francie thinks he is so much like Papa in so many ways, but that he also has more strength than Papa ever did.
    • Francie dresses for her date with Ben before making supper.
    • As she gets ready, she thinks about how many times she watched girls get ready for their dates when she was just a little girl sitting on the fire escape with her books. She looks out to see if there are any little girls watching her now. Yes, there is—little Florry Wendy is watching her through the bars of her fire escape. Francie calls out the window to her Hello, Francie, and Florry responds in a huff that her name is Florry not Francie.
    • Francie looks out into the yard and thinks about the tree whose branches curled around her fire escape that she loved so much. It was chopped down because it became a nuisance. The cool part is that even though this tree was cut down, it did not die: a new tree sprouted up from the trunk and is growing strong.
    • She looks over again at Florry on the fire escape, whispers “Good-bye, Francie,” and closes the window.