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The novel is really a story of coming of age; of Francie's growth into maturity; therefore, the conflict is really the maturing process. Her growth, however, is made more difficult by the poverty that surrounds her.
Protagonist: Francie Nolan, the protagonist of the novel, is a bright, creative, and determined young lady. Her entire growth, from a young girl to a mature teenager, is explored in detail.
Antagonist: Francie's antagonist is the poverty that surrounds her. Although she must struggle against its burdens, she never allows the poverty to overcome her.
Climax: The climax occurs with the death of Francie's father, Johnny. Even though he was an alcoholic who seldom worked, he held the family together with his emotional support. His death makes Francie and the family face many traumas, and his absence is felt keenly by everyone in the family, especially Francie, who felt closer to him than to her mother. Francie is forced to grow up after Johnny's death, for she and Neeley must take jobs to help support the family.
Outcome: Although Francie's life becomes more difficult after Johnny's death, she is too resilient to be permanently damaged by the loss of her father. She and her brother continue their education and eventually raise their standard of living to a comfortable existence. As a result, Francie's story ends as a comedy.
The entire novel revolves around the Nolan family, which consists of Johnny, his wife Katie, and their two children, Francie and Neeley. Eventually, there is a third child, Annie Laurie. The family is close in spite of the fact that they live in the slums of Brooklyn and constantly fight poverty. In particular, the novel traces the growth and development of Francie from a little girl to a young sensible woman.
Katie, Francie's mother, is one of the four daughters of Mary Rommely. At a young age, Katie falls in love with Johnny Nolan, who is a dashing and handsome young man; she virtually snatches him from the hands of her own friend and marries him. She soon gives birth to a daughter, Francie, and then to a son, Cornelius, who is usually called Neeley.
The novel begins with an explanation of Francie's outlook on the world around her. As a young girl of eight, Francie's life revolves around the neighborhood, particularly the candy store, the junkyard, the school, and the butcher's shop. Her keen interest in reading also takes her to the library every day, and she usually checks out one or two books.
Francie's father drinks too much and seldom has a job; but he has a big heart and genuinely loves his family. Francie's mother is the practical one. She teaches her children the importance of saving money for the emergencies in life; she also teaches them the importance of education and encourages them to graduate so they will be able to find good jobs. Francie is closer to her father than to her mother, largely because her mother is partial to Neeley.
Even though she has been reared in a poor, shabby neighborhood, Francie is a gracious child who wants to learn everything she can; as a result, she has developed a wisdom beyond her young years, as seen in the way she approaches life and treats others. She does, however, have several difficult experiences during the novel. She is forced to come to terms with death and dying when her father passes away; and she also has a horrible experience with a sex offender. Fortunately, neither of the incidents leaves her permanently scarred.
The story of Francie is interspersed with comic incidents relating to Sissy and Evy, Katie's sisters and Francie's aunts. Francie often turns to these two aunts when she is seeking answers to her questions. They are definitely contributors to her maturing process, which is closely followed throughout the novel. At the end of the book, she has become a successful young lady, who helps her family to rise above their poverty.