Summary and Analysis
Book 4: Chapters 30–33
Chapter 30: Francie watches as an unmarried mother takes her baby out for a walk in her buggy. The older married women are aghast that the girl is proud of her baby and begin to call the child a bastard. At first the girl, Joanna, ignores the women, but eventually their harassment is so loud that it cannot be ignored, and when Joanna stands up to them, the older married women begin to throw stones at her. One of the stones hits the baby on the head, drawing blood. At that moment, the women become ashamed and walk away. Francie is deeply ashamed.
Alone in the cellar of her apartment building, Francie remembers the women's cruelty to Joanna and wonders how women, who share the pain of childbirth, can be so cruel to another woman, a mother just like them. Francie does not understand why they would not stick together and help one another. She vows never to have a woman friend.
Chapter 31: Uncle Willie's horse, Drummer, is the star of this chapter. Willie is mean and abusive to the horse, which finally retaliates by kicking Willie in the head and knocking him out. Willie must stay in the hospital, but the family needs his earnings to survive, so Evy begs to be allowed to deliver the milk to Willie's customers. Drummer loves Evy because she is good to the horse. The horse works hard and helps Evy with the milk route. Women are not permitted to work these kinds of jobs, though, so as soon as Willie is well, he returns to work. Drummer, however, refuses to work for Willie, and eventually Willie is given another horse.
Chapter 32: Francie began writing in a diary on her thirteenth birthday. It is now a year later, and she is reading the entries. Francie's mother finds the diary and insists that Francie change the entries in which she wrote that her father was "drunk" to say that her father was "sick."
Chapter 33: Francie is curious about sex, so her mother tells her everything that she knows about the subject. This is unusual, since in this neighborhood, sex is the one subject that no one discusses. Katie is much more matter-of-fact about the topic than the other parents.
A rapist-murderer is in the neighborhood, and all the parents are very concerned. Johnny has borrowed a gun from his friend, Burt, and keeps it under the pillow in their bedroom. One day, Francie walks into the building and the rapist, who has been hiding under the stairs, grabs her. When Katie sees the man attacking Francie, she quickly goes back to their apartment, grabs the gun, and shoots him in the stomach. The police doctor gives Francie a sedative, telling Katie and Johnny that when Francie wakes up they are to tell her that it was just a bad dream.
These chapters focus on sex and the relationship between men and women in several different ways. Readers learn that a woman who has a child out of wedlock, regardless of the circumstances, is an outcast and not fit for any kind of decent society. Joanna's lover claimed to love her, but after she became pregnant, his family convinced him that if she would have sex with him, she would have sex with anyone. The lack of logic in this response is unimportant; what is important is that once a woman's reputation is lost, that mistake can haunt a woman's life. When the women were harassing and stoning Joanna, Francie remembered that one of the women had barely been married before her first baby was born. That she was pregnant at marriage is not unusual — it was actually very common — but once married, the sin of the baby's conception is erased. Poor Joanna never had the opportunity to have her sin erased, so she is a pariah in the community.
Francie cannot understand how women cannot support one another. She understands what hard lives women have, so their lack of sympathy for Joanna and their ability to turn on one another are shocking. Francie also wonders why the sweet love that she noticed when she saw Joanna and her boyfriend together ended in this shame. The hypocrisy of women is also something she discovers. Francie notices that men stick together, helping one another and defending one another. Women, on the other hand, attack one another. Francie decides that except for her mother and aunts, she will have nothing to do with women.
In earlier chapters, readers saw how Sissy was unafraid of gossip, and in these chapters, readers see that Evy and Katie are equally brave in facing gossip. Evy takes on the milk route because the family needs the income and because she knows that she is capable of doing the job. The potential for gossip about a woman performing a man's job is significant. Katie is equally brave in answering Francie's questions about sex, even though doing so leaves Katie vulnerable to gossip. The next generation is also learning that gossip is destructive. Katie had previously warned Francie not to speak to Joanna, but after the stoning incident with Joanna and her baby, Francie wishes that she had been brave enough to smile and say hello to Joanna. There is little doubt that she would be brave enough in the future.
What's more, these chapters illustrate how strong women can be when personal strength is required of them. Previous chapters have focused on Mary's and Sissy's strength, but these chapters illustrate that Evy and Katie are just as strong. Evy takes on Willie's milk route, and she does the job well. She is able to do the route because it is done in the dark and no one will see that she is a woman. It is not proper for a woman to work a man's job, but the reason Evy is able to do the job is because she is a compassionate and caring individual. If Willie had been as good to his horse as Evy is, the horse would never have kicked him. Katie is strong and brave enough to answer her daughter's questions about sex and shoot a rapist-murderer who attacks Francie. All the Rommely daughters are strong women, and all understand that the need to survive and to protect their children is their first priority.