Summary and Analysis
Book 6: Chapters 55–56
Chapter 55: Francie passed her college entrance exams with Ben's help, and as soon as her mother is married, she will be leaving Brooklyn to attend the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Ben chose the college because he believes that leaving home is an important part of maturing and attending college. Francie knows that, in her heart, she will always be a girl from Brooklyn. Ben has given Francie a ring with their two sets of initials engraved on the inside, but he is not pressuring her to make a decision about loving him. He has another five years before he can finish law school and marry, and he is willing to give Francie that long to know what she wants. Readers learn that Willie simply disappeared one day, leaving Evy as the sole supporter of their family.
Chapter 56: In this final chapter, Francie says goodbye to her neighborhood and to the life the family lived in their apartment. The next day, Katie and Mr. McShane will marry and leave the apartment for good. Katie insists on working on the last day, even though McShane gave her $1,000 as a wedding present.
Francie visits many of the neighborhood stores that she visited in the opening pages of the novel. She also visits her old school and is surprised at how tiny it looks. Francie next visits the library to turn in the last of her books. When she returns to the apartment, Neeley comes in looking for a clean shirt to wear to work. He calls her Prima Donna, just like Johnny used to, and sings, just as her father once did. He hugs her goodbye and kisses her.
Francie packs up her things, including her diary and the four compositions that she saved from school. She thinks she may try writing again. When she is finished packing, Francie prepares for her date with Ben that evening and admits that she does not love him, but she is willing to give it time and perhaps she will learn to. As she dresses for her date, she sees a young girl sitting on the fire escape watching her, just as so many years ago she watched other young women dress for dates. It is the end of one part of her life and the beginning of another.
Book 6 provides a final resolution for many of the people and events in Francie's life. Francie is leaving her job and going away to college. She has allowed Ben to make the decision about her college, but there can be little doubt that Francie is strong enough to make decisions when they are needed. Ben has given her a ring and is willing to give her five years to decide whether she loves him. She says that she wants to love him, but he never stumbles, never seems to need her. Francie wants someone to need her and does not yet understand that if Ben loves her, he also needs her.
Evy's fate is not unlike Katie's. With Willie's disappearance, Evy must be strong enough to survive and support the family. She takes over Willie's job, and not for the first time. When Willie was hospitalized in Chapter 31, Evy took over his milk route and proved that she could perform a man's job. Similarly, Katie is to be married, and although McShane has given her money as a wedding gift, the money is not really hers until they marry the next day, so she continues to work. Katie will always insist on doing the right thing.
Neeley has grown up to become a handsome young man. He has his father's good looks and his singing voice as well. What is certain, though, is that Neeley will not succumb to his father's weakness, because Neeley has his mother's strength and determination. When Francie asks Neeley whether he thinks she is attractive, his answer is honest and kind: "you'll pass." Neeley and Francie have survived a great deal together and although they will be apart after the next day, their bond is firmly established.
Like the Nolan family, the little Tree of Heaven in the courtyard has survived. The tree was chopped down and the trunk set on fire, but the tree has sprouted a new branch from what remains of the trunk. The tree symbolizes the Rommely women and their families. Regardless of the tragedies they endure, the family will continue to survive.