Summary and Analysis
Book 5: Chapters 46–48
Chapter 46: On New Year's Eve, Francie is convinced that the coming year, 1917, will be an important one. McGarrity has given the family a bottle of brandy, and Katie prepares a punch with the brandy. She is worried that the children might have inherited Johnny's love of drink, but Francie does not need alcohol; she gets drunk on life. Neeley already knows that alcohol makes him vomit, and he does not like throwing up.
Chapter 47: Neeley has been playing the piano and singing at the ice cream shop. Unlike his father, who was forced to sing what people requested, Neeley plays only what he wants to sing. Francie's evenings are lonely, and she wishes for someone to ease that loneliness. Sissy, however, is not as lonely. After her first husband dies and she finds out that the second one has divorced her, Sissy and Steve are married in the Methodist church, and Steve is finally happy and convinced that Sissy will not leave him. Sissy finally tells Steve that she adopted their baby girl, but he is not upset. It was Steve who told Sissy about Lucia and her situation, which was that she had become pregnant after having an affair with a married man. Sissy is also pregnant again, for the eleventh time.
Chapter 48: It is April 6, 1917, and the United States enters the war in Europe. One of the clipping bureau's biggest clients turns out to be a German spy. Soon, the business is shut down and Francie is out of a job. She sees the loss of the job as an opportunity to try something else. Francie's new job brings in less money, but the family still manages. Francie wants to sign up for summer college courses and explains to her mother that she will never go to high school. She is too old and knows too much to sit in a classroom with children, who have no experience with life. Francie has been reading the papers at the clipping bureau, and she has already educated herself.
1917 does bring many changes to the world and to the family's lives, as Francie predicted on New Years Eve. The German immigrants, who so loudly claim their right to sing the loudest and to sing the words they want to sing to "Auld Lang Syne," are a reminder that, as Francie notes, the Germans always "got to be ahead." Another change in 1917 is the legitimization of Sissy's third marriage. Steve proves that he is finally the man to stand up to the Rommely women, as his insistence that he and Sissy be married in a church proves. Sissy's response is to love him even more. Since the adoption of Lucia's baby, Sissy has changed dramatically. The old flirtations and the need for men to adore her have been replaced by her love for her daughter. The narrator suggests that perhaps Steve might know more about the paternity of Lucia's baby than initially suggested, but this point is not explored.
Francie may not be writing as she did in school, but she continues to see herself as a writer. Her quick memory and attention to detail have served her well in each of her jobs, but they will also be of value in the future. Her desire to enroll in college is Francie's effort to be a part of the changing world. She is no longer content to stand on the roof and watch the world, as she and her father used to do when she was younger. She and Neeley reject their father's love of alcohol, and Francie makes clear that she will not be limited to the restrictive view of the world provided from their roof. Although enrolling in college courses is so frightening for Francie that she is literally sick to her stomach, there is never any doubt that she will succeed.