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.