Summary and Analysis
Book 3: Chapters 15–17
Chapter 15: Much of this chapter describes the family's new apartment, which is set up like railway cars, each room leading into the next. The kitchen looks out over a courtyard, where the Tree of Heaven grows out of the cement. The previous occupants could not afford to move their piano, and Francie is quite happy when her father sits down to play a few chords.
The new apartment building is near the school. Francie watches a girl clean the erasers each day and thinks that she would love to be given such an important job. One day, Francie approaches the fence as the girl is slapping the erasers together. The girl also approaches the fence, and Francie thinks she will be allowed to touch the erasers; instead, the girl spits at Francie, hitting her in the face with spittle.
Chapter 16: This chapter describes the neighborhood in which Francie will grow up. There are a number of stores, including a cigar store, bakery, and paint shop. There is also a pawnshop, which is Francie's favorite store because of the three gold balls hanging outside the shop. There is also a wonderful tea, coffee, and spice shop, with a pair of scales that Francie admires. The narrator also describes the Chinese-owned laundry where Johnny takes his shirts to be cleaned.
Chapter 17: Katie is determined to learn how to play the piano. The two Tynmore sisters live on the first floor of the same building as the Nolan family: One gives piano lessons, and the other provides voice lessons. So Katie trades cleaning services to Miss Lizzie Tynmore in exchange for piano lessons.
The incident with the girl cleaning the erasers awakens Francie to the cruelty of other children. Her understanding of what it means to be a teacher's pet also suggests to her that not all education is equal. Some children, especially those who are the teacher's pet, will receive more. Francie will wait an extra year to start school because Katie wants Francie and Neeley to begin together, but already, Francie has learned that not everyone receives the same education.
The narrator spends quite a bit of time in the first two of these chapters describing the apartment and the neighborhood stores. These details are important influences in Francie's life. The lengthy description of how pianos are moved explains how the Nolan family, which is quite poor, becomes the possessors of a piano. The bartering of goods that Katie arranges with Lizzie Tynmore enables three members of the family to learn how to play the piano. As a result, Miss Tynmore becomes an important and constant presence in Francie's life. The shopkeepers in the neighboring stores are people Francie sees frequently and with whom the family deals. Each of these people is seen through Francie's eyes. For instance, she is much taken with the Chinaman who owns the laundry; in her imagination, she sees herself as a Chinaman. Because Francie is a storyteller, she is able to create stories and histories for each person, which helps to feed her imagination and ultimately influences what she will do later in life.
The need to provide tea and some sort of small snack after the piano lesson is a necessity for Miss Tynmore's survival. The 25 cents that she is paid for each lesson is not sufficient to support the two maiden sisters; the tea and crackers helps to keep them from starving. Katie's coffee and sweet roll is a huge step up in food, since they normally receive only crackers, and so Miss Tynmore is especially appreciative of the opportunity to give lessons to the Nolan family. The small snacks that Miss Tynmore receives (readers should assume that her sister receives similar snacks after providing voice lessons) demonstrates how important it is for the poorest of citizens to help one another. Working hard is not enough to guarantee success for the poor; they need the assistance of others. The grocery store owner who provides credit each week does his part, as do the other shop owners, who offer a similar system of credit and barter. In this way, the community works together to ensure that all members of the community survive and succeed. In contrast, Johnny's attempt to barter for voice lessons fails because he has nothing of value to give in exchange. His only talent is as a singing waiter, a talent that is of no use to Miss Tynmore.