Summary and Analysis
Book 5: Chapters 43–45
Chapter 43: During the summer after graduation, Francie and Neeley both get jobs. Francie begins to work at a factory, where she makes tissue flowers all day. At the end of their week working, Francie and Neeley stop at the bank to change their wages into brand-new dollar bills. Katie is overcome with tears when the children give her their earnings, and she goes into the bedroom so they will not see her cry.
Chapter 44: Francie's work at the factory is seasonal and she is laid off. Francie wants to work in an office but needs to be 16 to do so. After she buys more grown-up clothing and puts her braids up, Francie looks old enough to pass for 16, even though she is only 14. She gets a job as a reader at the Model Press Clipping Bureau in Manhattan.
Francie is very good at her job and is given a large raise. Francie does not want to tell her mother about the raise, since she assumes quite correctly that her mother will want her to keep working instead of returning to school. Francie wants to begin high school in the fall, but Katie decides that one of the children will need to work. Even though Neeley does not want to go to high school, Katie decides that he is the one who will attend school. She reasons that Francie loves school so much that she will find a way to continue her education, but Neeley will make no effort. Accordingly, he must be forced to attend school. This decision results in a serious family fight, but in the end, Katie forces everyone to do as she wants.
Chapter 45: It is Christmas again and one year since Johnny's death. Because of Francie's job, the family has the money to celebrate the holiday this year. At Christmas services at church, Francie is once again accepting of God and her Catholic religion. They all join in saying a prayer for Johnny's soul.
Francie's two jobs have proved to her that she is capable of helping the family survive. Although she is only 14, she has had to pretend to be 16. This is an age at which many girls are considered adults and are engaged or married. Although she is not really 16, Francie reasons that looking older and pretending to be older have made her older. Letting go of the romanticized view that she had of the world outside of Williamsburg has also made her more mature. Although Johnny never gave up his romantic view of the world, Francie is, indeed, her mother's daughter. She is pragmatic and a realist at heart. Her success in her job also proves that she has learned her mother's lessons about hard work. It is easy for readers to see how much Francie is like her mother. Francie understands what her mother does not — that mother and daughter are very much alike.
Francie already knows that she does not want a lifetime of working in a factory like so many of the girls who work there. She imagines the dreary existence of factory work and knows that she needs an education. Francie is not tempted by the higher salary she is earning, but she also understands that her wages make a huge difference in how well the family lives. In spite of the financial incentive, Francie does not want to make the sacrifices her mother asks of her. The ensuing fight with her mother changes forever the relationship between the two. Francie sees her mother fumble as she picks up a cracked cup and realizes that their family, which at one time seemed whole, is also cracked. Her mother's fumbling reminds Francie that her mother is not as strong as she thought. In a sense, Katie's momentary weakness makes it easier for Francie to do as her mother wishes. Katie cannot continue to support the family and hold things together as she has in the past. She needs help. Katie reasons, quite correctly, that Francie will be able to complete her education in spite of the interruption that working creates. Francie finally accepts her mother's decision, even though she hates the choice that was made for her.
The family is also better able to deal with Johnny's death. The pain is no longer as fresh. In the year since his death, the family has had to endure many celebrations, birthdays, and holidays without Johnny. They have learned that they can survive such a devastating loss. The easing of their financial problems also makes it easier for the family to live with Johnny's death. Katie wants her children to have an easier life than she and Johnny provided. The extra money, especially the extra money that Francie earns, makes Katie's goal of a better life for her children seem more of a possibility.