Analysis

These chapters further develop the motif of falling from innocence. In just a few pages, Francie learns about sex from many different sources. First, there is the cruelty directed at a woman who became pregnant without a husband. Francie starts to mensturate, and finds out she too could get pregnant; finally, she herself is the victim of sexual violence. These chapters also explore the idea of gender. In each, one woman is the central character for the chapter: first Joanna, out in the street; then Evy, who the horse loves; then Francie pouring over her diary; and last, Katie, shooting the rapist.

Joanna's situation confuses Francie because of the numerous contradictions involved. Joanna is kind to Francie, but Francie feels that she shouldn't be kind to Joanna. Joanna is a good mother, but mothers far inferior criticize and stone her. Francie remembers how happy and pretty Joanna used to look standing next to her boyfriend, and can't understand how that innocent happiness ended in shame. Through Francie's childlike perspective, the author demonstrates the hypocrisy inherent in shaming a woman who had a child without getting married. The stone-throwing ritual is an obvious allusion to the Biblical passage, in which Jesus encounters a group of people about to throw stones at a prostitute. He declares the one who has never sinned should cast the first stone. No one throws stones because none can say he hasn't sinned. In this book, Joanna plays the part of the prostitute. The hypocrisy of the women throwing stones is obvious when Francie mentions that one of them was six months pregnant before she got married.

Francie's observations about women turning on each other show that she is conscious of gender relations. Francie has a feminist instinct that women ought to "love and protect each other against the man-world." She notices that men always defend other men, but women only criticize other women. This camaraderie gives men a power that women do not have. The strong women in Francie's family never exhibit cruelty toward other women. In fact, Aunt Evy and Katie both take part in activities in these chapters that could make them the object of cruel gossip. As the first woman on the milk route, Aunt Evy is entering a male realm. Evy's strength comes not only from her willingness to act like a man, but also her motherly instinct. The reader remembers that she is able to drive Drummer because he loves her so much, and he loves her because she has treated him in a kind and gentle way. Maternal values win out over masculine force. Uncle Willie has tried to make the horse cooperate by punching him in the belly, for instance. Evy's kind care—traditionally thought to be a woman's trait—is in fact what propels her into the male domain, and is the source of her success with the horse.

Katie faces sex in all its forms head on. At the beginning of Chapter 33, the narrator describes the way Katie confronts the sex conversation with Francie head on. This detail foreshadows her ability to confront the rapist by the end of the chapter. The narrator has mentioned earlier that the prowler is on the loose, partly because when he attacks a young girl, no one says anything, in fear of tainting their daughters' reputations. Katie represents the opposite extreme; she is so unfearful, she catches him herself. The narrator writes that Katie is the subject of gossip after the shooting.

The Nolan women live in a realm on the other side of the gossip circles, more often becoming the subject of gossip themselves. The Nolan women defy traditional stereotypes of women. Francie is not shamed, but was tainted by sexual violence. Both Katie and Evy defy the stereotype of a good mother by taking matters into their own hands. Sissy of course is considered by some to be a stereotypical whore, but she is so good that no one who knows her thinks ill of her. When Francie writes that the only women she wants as friends are her mothers and aunts, she is choosing strong women as role models instead of cowardly gossips.