Summary and Analysis
Chapter 40: As Katie nears the time for her new baby's birth, she relies upon Francie for help. Although Francie has long known that Katie does not love her as much as she loves Neeley, Francie now feels closer to her mother because she needs her help. When Katie goes into labor, she tells Francie to send Neeley for Evy. Francie tells her mother that maybe Neeley could be of more comfort and that Francie should leave. But according to Katie, men do not belong at a birth. Katie reassures Francie that she needs her and not Neeley.
As the birth becomes imminent, Katie insists that Francie be sent from the house on a lengthy errand to buy food. All the neighbors hear Katie screaming as she gives birth. This is a pain that all women understand and share, and it is a pain that Katie wanted to spare her daughter. To assuage Francie's hurt at having been sent away, Katie asks Francie to write the new baby's name, Annie Laurie, in the Bible.
Chapter 41: This chapter is primarily composed of partial conversations that Francie overhears from the men who crowd into McGarrity's saloon. The men worry about prohibition, women voting (although most men think their wives will vote as they are told), and whether the United States will enter the war in Europe. There are also concerns about being identified as having too German a heritage and about the new technology of machines that might replace people.
Chapter 42: Both Francie and Neeley graduate from elementary school and receive their diplomas. Their two graduation ceremonies are on the same night. Katie chooses to attend Neeley's graduation and rationalizes her choice by claiming that it was Francie's decision to attend a different school, so Neeley should not be punished. Aunt Sissy accompanies Francie to her graduation. Francie's final grades are all excellent, except for her grade in composition, which is a C minus.
Francie dreads entering her classroom, since the tradition is that each girl receives flowers for graduation. Francie knows the family cannot afford flowers, but when she looks at her desk, there is a large bouquet of roses on the top of the desk. The card says they are from her father. Sissy explains that Johnny signed the card a year ago and that he gave her the money to buy the roses before he died.
At home Katie is pleased with Neeley's grades, which are B and C grades. She ignores all of Francie's A grades. The whole family goes out for ice cream to celebrate. Katie knows that both children should go to high school, but she also knows that the shortage of money means that achieving that goal will be very difficult.
In these final chapters of Book 4, the family story begins the transition that will mark significant changes in all their lives. The addition of the new baby brings the family back to four people, and in a real sense, helps to cushion the blow created by Johnny's death. The birth process, from which Katie sought to shield Francie, instead pushes them further apart. When Katie sends Francie away to protect her daughter's innocence, she also severs the closeness that had developed between them in the final weeks of Francie's pregnancy.
With graduation, the children have achieved more than the children of many poor families ever achieve. It is not enough for Katie, though, who knows that the children need more education to escape the poverty of their childhoods. Instead of simply celebrating this milestone, Katie is also thinking about the future and all that still needs to be accomplished. For Francie, graduation provides a small moment in which she finally accepts Johnny's death. When she sees the flowers and the card with his signature and realizes that his death is real, she finally accepts that her life will continue without her beloved father.
Katie's choice to attend Neeley's graduation is further evidence to Francie that her mother loves Neeley more than she loves her daughter. Francie is surprised, though, to learn that the girls in her classroom all liked her and wanted to be her friend. Francie has spent a lifetime isolating herself from other girls, as a way to protect herself from hurt and disappointment. The friendship offered by her classmates suggests that Francie need not be as lonely in the future as she has been in the past.
Other changes are also in the air. Chapter 41 is a reminder that society is about to change for both men and women. Prohibition will be an unsuccessful attempt to eliminate alcohol from society and to change how people behave. Women will finally get the vote in a couple of years (in 1920), and although men worry about women voting, the political process will not really change. The war will change all their lives, as sons are sent off to fight a war. Women, like Katie, worry about the war and their sons, while men worry about war and technology, which threatens to change all their lives.