Summary and Analysis
Book 2: Chapters 7–9
Chapter 7: In the first chapters of Book 2, readers learn the story of Katie's and Johnny's courtship and wedding. Johnny was the boyfriend of Hildy O'Dair, Katie's best friend. One evening, Hildy arranged for Johnny to bring a date for Katie, so that the two friends could double-date. Katie did not like her date, but she did like Johnny, and soon enough, she set out to win Johnny for herself.
This chapter also provides some background information about Katie's family. Her father, Thomas Rommely, describes himself as a devil. He hates Katie's marriage because he expected all four of his daughters to work and pay him their earnings. He fed his children when they were young, but once they are twelve or thirteen years old, they are to work and support him. He has no plans for any of them to marry, ever.
Katie's mother, Mary, made sure that all her children were taught to speak only English, so that they could not speak to their father, who speaks only German. In this way, she protects them from their father. Mary is a devout Catholic. She has a smooth, soothing voice, which all the women in her family have inherited. Sissy, the oldest of the daughters, married for the first time when she was only fourteen years old. She called her husband John because she liked the name, although that was not his given name. She blamed him for the four babies who died, and then left him and married a second man, whom she also called John. Sissy had four more babies with the second John, but these were also born dead. Her current husband is also called John.
The second Rommely daughter, Eliza, is not as pretty or vivacious as her three sisters. She was encouraged to become a nun and did so, changing her name to Sister Ursula. Because she has facial hair, Francie thinks that all nuns grow facial hair.
The third daughter, Evy, married Willie. Evy lives near the border of a nicer neighborhood. She watches the people in the better neighborhood and tries to better herself and her children. She admires people who can play music and has arranged for music lessons for her oldest son and her daughter, who received lessons on the fiddle.
Chapter 8: This chapter provides readers with the stories of the Nolan men. Ruthie and Mickey Nolan were immigrants from Ireland. Johnny was one of their four sons. The Nolan brothers are described as talented but weak, and all were dead before age thirty-five. Johnny was the only one to live long enough to marry and have children. The oldest boy, Andy, died of consumption before he could marry his fiancée, Francine Melaney. The third son, Frankie, died a year later in an accident while drunk, and three years later, the youngest son, Georgie, died.
Chapter 9: This chapter returns to the story of Katie and Johnny, who spend their first year of marriage working as night janitors at a public school. They are happily in love, but when Katie discovers she is pregnant, Katie worries because she already understands that Johnny needs her to be with him to make sure he succeeds. Katie works with Johnny at the school until her labor begins. While she is in labor, Johnny becomes drunk and loses his job. They name the baby Francie.
Katie's mother, Mary, advises her daughter to begin saving money so that she can buy land. Owning land is the only way that poor people can escape poverty. Mary also tells Katie that she must read to her children and make sure they learn to read. Sissy visits and makes the first deposit in the new tin can bank and brings a used Shakespeare and a Gideon's Bible, so that Katie can begin reading to her daughter right away.
These chapters are the first of several flashback chapters that fill in the background story of Francie's family. The chapters in Book 1 take place in 1912; the chapters in Book 2 begin in 1900, twelve years earlier. Chapters 7 and 8 tell the stories of the Rommely and Nolan families. The women are all strong survivors who can withstand anything. In contrast, the men are either bullies, like Katie's father, or weak underachievers, like the Nolan men. None of the Rommely women marry strong men. Sissy's husbands just fade into the background when she is finished with them, and Evy and Katie both marry men with no sense of self-worth, self-respect, or backbones. Their stories also make clear that these men will not change as they grow older. They will always be weak and unsuccessful, and their wives will always have to be strong women capable of propping up their husbands.
Mary Rommely's story is a typical immigrant story of hope that the next generation will have better lives than their parents. Each group of immigrants came to the United States with the hope that they could create a better life for themselves and their children. These immigrants were willing to work hard and make great sacrifices to have a better life. Katie's mother desperately wants her daughter and new grandchild to have a better life. Like many immigrants, Mary knows that education is one way to achieve success. She also believes in the American dream of owning a home, and so advises Katie to immediately begin saving money to buy land. As these chapters make clear, it will be up to the women to ensure that the family is able to survive and to give the best life possible to their children. As the next generation of Rommely women, Francie can be expected to have inherited some of the strengths of those women. At this point in the narration, it is unclear whether she has inherited any of the men's weaknesses.