Chapter 49

Francie finds her chemistry and Restoration drama classes easy, but has more trouble with French. She befriends a boy named Ben Blake who gives her good advice about buying books. A senior in high school, Ben plans to go to college in the Midwest, then to law school. He is a class leader, and works at a law firm. He offers to help Francie study for her final French exam, and takes her to an empty theater to study. Francie falls in love with the theater, but also learns enough French to pass the class. Ben does not have time for a girlfriend since he must take care of his mother in his free time. Francie is in love with him. With her job moved to daytime hours, her evenings are lonely.

Chapter 50

Katie and Evy refrain from talking about Sissy's baby with her, fearing another stillbirth, until one day Sissy announces she will give birth in a hospital, with a Jewish doctor. No Rommely woman has ever given birth in the presence of a doctor, let alone a Jewish one.

When the baby is delivered, Sissy sees its blue stillness and begins to grieve when all at once she hears a word she does not recognize: "oxygen." Dr. Aaron Arronstein gives the newborn oxygen, and it lives. Sissy names the baby Stepen Aaron after the doctor and her husband, Steve .

Uncle Willie Flittman tries to enlist in the army and is turned down. He begins to give up on life, quits his job, and tries to teach himself to become a one-man band. Steve gets him a job working at a munitions factory, but he still thinks himself a failure.

Chapter 51

This chapter gives snippets of many minor events and conversations. Francie enrolls in sewing and dancing classes. She studies to pass the college entrance exam. Sissy pays "endowment" insurance for her babies. Evy and Willie move to a house close to Queens on account of Willie's drumming. Mary Rommely begins to die. "Sauerkraut" changes to "Liberty Cabbage." Neeley is supposedly dating a wild girl, and also informs Francie that he overheard her sex talk with Katie years ago. Katie finds cigarettes in Francie's purse and refuses to lecture her. Katie decides the Nolans should buy food for the Tynmore sisters for Christmas since they do not have enough to eat. Francie decides to send Ben a Christmas card. To celebrate New Year's, Francie and Neeley want café au lait instead of brandy. Katie remembers that Johnny used to put butter in his coffee if they had run out of milk.


Francie's thoughts about chemistry show the religious underpinnings of the novel. She thinks of how wonderful it would be to have a religion founded on conservation of matter. Like Francie's approach to arithmetic, here again she humanizes the natural sciences, transforming them into something that seems more familiar to her. Not only does she show her bent toward humanities, but she also demonstrates she is a good learner. She thinks of new ideas in terms of what she already knows.