The incident with the blackboard erasers in the schoolyard is a moment in which Francie begins to lose her innocence. Before she meets up with this unkind girl, Francie adores blackboard erasers. In the previous chapter, Francie has told her father that Katie will keep her out of school an extra year so that she may enter with Neeley, and they can protect each other from the other kids. Francie's extreme excitement over the erasers mirrors her extreme excitement about starting school. Francie's disappointment when the girl with the erasers spits in her face foreshadows how she may feel at school.
This novel often describes everyday objects in a new light. The piano is one such object. Like the huge quantity of dresses in Flossie Gladdis's closet, the piano is impressive mostly because of its size. The narrator explains the laborious process of getting it into an apartment room. Francie tries to wrap her arms around it. While an old stand-up piano may not be inherently impressive, we can appreciate the way size and quantity impress a little girl whose life is filled with scarcity. In fact, its size is nothing less than a "miracle," and the narrator goes on to devote an entire other chapter to the first piano lesson.
The piano is one example of how the set and scenery of the novel, are more than a backdrop for the story. They are the medium through which the story is told. That is, the characters' hopes, disappointments, and dreams are often symbolized by material objects in their geographical space. The tree is a symbol of hope; in Chapter 15 at least, the erasers symbolize shame and disappointment. Katie's dream of owning her own land is symbolized by the tin-can bank. Material things are sentimentalized because they are scarce. The author has a way of representing beauty more often in material objects, than in grandiose abstractions. In this book, the conch shell which has a lovely roar inside it, is much more remarkable than the sea. This idea is especially true through a child's eyes. The details of the neighborhood in Chapter 16 once again present a barrage of tiny treasures that make each individual place magical to Francie as a little girl.
The Chinaman contributes to the themes of the story since he represents other immigrant groups living in Brooklyn. Even though these groups may live side by side, their lives do not mix in any way, except in the transactions of goods and money. Francie exoticizes the Chinaman, thinking up stories about him akin to urban legends. Even Katie says he wears his hair the way he does so that they will let him back into China.
The Tynmore sisters remind us of the community of poor people in Williamsburg. Most of this novel is told through the events and lives of one family—the Nolans. In Chapter 17, the author breaks from this structure for a short time, to let the reader into the life of the Tynmore sisters. They actually complicate the story, providing a view of the whole micro-economy among the poor community. Not only must a poor family make rent and buy food, but they do so by depending on other poor families, hence Lizzie Tynmore's consternation when Katie doesn't serve her tea. It is important to note that Katie's responds with eager generosity; never stingy, she offers more than was asked, despite her meager rations.