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Written by Claire Cornwall
Francie is the main character in the novel and we see everything through her eyes. Although the author has denied the book is an autobiography, Francie and she have many similarities; both grew up in poverty in Brooklyn but both feel like their childhood was a blessing not a curse; they are both passionate Brooklynites and love their environment, finding joy on simple things and in spending time with their family. Both Francie and the author are joyously reminiscent when it comes to their Brooklyn suburb of Williamsburg. Francie's character is an interesting combination of both her mother, Katie, and her father, Johnny. From her mother she takes her strong will, her determination and her strong work ethic; her mother decides to send Francie's brother to high school when there is only the money to send one, because she knows that Francie will find a way to attend. She is resourceful and diligent and quickly proves her mother correct. From her father Francie takes her love of music and anything that has a simple beauty, and she sees beauty on the most mundane, everyday things. It is also seeing her father's tendency to drift aimlessly from one dead-end job to the next that shows Francie that it is really women who need to have strength for all the family.
As Francie becomes older she begins to notice the inequity of a woman's lot in life and is shaping herself as a young woman who will no longer accept this treatment; she is smart and ambitious, eventually attending college without first graduating high school - another thing she has in common with the author. Francie values and treasures education, partly because of its ability to offer a better life and partly because she finds beauty in learning.
Katie is said to have a string of invisible steel inside and this steel is what enables her to be the backbone of the Nolan family. Katie is determined to provide a better future for her children than the life she endures and consequently will go without something she needs in order to provide for them. Katie does not have time or energy for daydreams or indulging in wishing or longing because the reality of her daily grinding poverty means that none of these things have a place in her consciousness. Katie recognizes her husband's failings but recognizes also that he is a good man and a loving husband and father, so takes on the provider role herself whilst Johnny pursues his own passion for music. Katie shares his love of music and singing and one of the backdrop's to Francie's childhood is the sound of song in the Nolan household.
Katie is an intelligent woman who is determined and pragmatic. She is a great believer in education as a tool for betterment and this is why she decides that Neely will be the child who returns to school; Francie will get there on her own, but Katie knows Neely needs to be pushed. Katie is devoted to her family but her life is too difficult and exhausting for anything like devotion to be recognized or expressed.
Johnny is a drinker and a singer with great talent for both pursuits. Unfortunately neither drinking not singing enables him to provide for his family, and although he does have a job, working as a singing waiter, it is definitely not enough to make ends meet or to enable him to be the primary provider. Johnny is recognized as feckless and as someone who cannot hold down a job, but he is also recognized as a much-loved father. He teaches Francie about art, music and beauty, and he is convinced that one day the pursuit of one of these things will result in his ship coming in. Johnny's death is something Francie never really comes to terms with, illustrating the fundamentally important role in her emotional life that he plaus.
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Neeley and Francie to get their vaccination. When they get there the doctor comments to the nurse about how filthy poor families are. The nurse plays a long with his remarks not wanting the Doctor to know that she too is from Williamsburg.
Although her family lives in poverty, Nolan finds joy in the small things in life. She loves to sit on her little perch on the fire escape and watch the world (in her neighbourhood) go by. She likes to wander the neighbourhood stores and do...
Francie learns that school and an education mark the "way" out of the poverty she lives in. Unfortunately, she has a hard time making friends, and she replaces people and relationships with books. She also learns through experience that...