He had sung many a song about ships and going down to the sea in them with a heave ho and a heave to. He wondered why it hadn't turned out the way it said in the songs. The children should have returned exhilarated and with a deep and abiding love for the sea and he should have returned with a fine mess of fish. Why, oh why didn't it turn out the way it did in the song?
This quote comes after Johnny returns home from the sea at Canarsie with Francie, Neeley, and Little Tilly. As these lines come from Johnny's thoughts, they help to develop his character; they also symbolize his trouble with life in general. Johnny always wishes that life were like a song. Anytime he sees something beautiful, he starts singing. At night when he comes home, he sings on the stairwell. When Katie first met him, she fell in love with him for his singing and dancing. Johnny's life is a quest for a dream that cannot come true. Like his songs, his dreams have no grounding in reality. But without Johnny, Francie would have nothing beautiful. In a way, he always delivers the song to her, instead of to the sea. Katie sends her kids alone to get vaccinated, knowing that they must learn the ways of a cruel world. Johnny just wants to show Francie as much beauty as he can. In a life such as the Nolan's, a little romance goes a long way.