Summary and Analysis
Book 2: Chapters 10–12
Chapter 10: When Francie is only three months old, Katie discovers that she is pregnant again. Francie remains a sickly baby, but Katie compares her daughter to the Tree of Heaven, which survives no matter what happens; Francie will survive as well. The second child is a big, healthy boy. Neeley is as strong as Francie is weak. Katie admits that she loves Neeley more than either Johnny or Francie, although she vows that Francie will never know that there is a difference in her mother's love for her.
Chapter 11: Johnny celebrates his twenty-first birthday with three days of drinking. When Katie locks him in her bedroom, his cries and screams are so terrible that the neighbors complain. Sissy tells Katie that drinking is simply Johnny's weakness, and everyone has something about them that must be tolerated. Therefore, Katie must learn to live with Johnny's drinking.
Chapter 12: Katie decides that the family cannot continue to live in the same area where so many people have seen Johnny drunk. Katie finds a place for the family to live on the outskirts of Williamsburg, and in exchange for janitorial work, the house will be rent free. Katie gives the ice-man a dollar to move their belongings in his wagon. After they move, Mary brings holy water to sprinkle on the new house, blessing it.
By the time that Neeley is born, Katie understands that she must be the strong parent, the one who supports the family. She is aware of Johnny's weaknesses — his drinking and his unreliability — and she instinctively takes charge. Johnny has begun to work even less, and the family is almost totally dependent on Katie for financial support. Sissy's advice in Chapter 11 that Katie must accept Johnny as he is suggests that Johnny will not change over the course of the narrative. Readers have already learned that all the Nolan boys die before age thirty-five, and thus it is only a matter of time before Katie is totally responsible for the family's support anyway.
When the family is forced to move, readers learn just how little they own. Katie must pay a dollar to move their belongings, which the author lists carefully in a very brief paragraph. Listing all of these items makes clear that the family has nothing of worth. They have even less after Katie must part with part of the $3.80 that she has managed to save.
When Mary blesses the new house, readers are again reminded of the role that religion plays in the family's lives. Katie refused an abortion when she had the opportunity to ease the family's burden. She also worries about her sister Sissy's soul, fearing that her multiple marriages and promiscuity have marked her for an eternity in purgatory. Katie hopes that God recognizes Sissy's goodness, which is far more important than the sins she commits. In times of abject poverty and extreme hardness, religion becomes a lifeline of hope for a better world. It is not enough, however, that her Catholic religion offers the promise of heaven in the future; Katie needs help in the present.