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Katie is Johnny's wife and the mother of Francie, Neeley, and Laurie. She is also the strong one in the family, who holds the Nolans together. She is also a source of strength and support to her two sisters, Evy and Sissy.
Through flashbacks, it is revealed that Katie learned from her own mother, Mary Rommely, the value of an education and saving money for a rainy day, two lessons that she practices throughout life. It is also learned that she literally stole Johnny away from her best friend, thinking he was the most handsome and best-dressed man she had ever seen. Even though Johnny proves to be an irresponsible husband and father, Katie still loves him and tries to support and comfort him. After he passes away, she misses him desperately.
Katie is a devoted wife and mother, who does whatever is necessary to provide for her family. While Johnny is alive, she watches every penny and struggles silently to make ends meet. After he dies, she holds down two jobs in order to stay afloat. When Francie offers to quit school and work full time in order to help support the family, Katie will not hear of it. She knows that the only way to escape poverty is through an education; she wants to make sure that both of her children graduate and can get a good job, unlike the one she has cleaning houses.
Throughout the book, Katie reveals that Neeley is her favorite child. From the moment he is born, she knows she is partial to her son. As a result, she pays him much more attention than Francie and prefers his company. She also treats him with partiality. Francie is very hurt when she chooses to go to his graduation rather than her own; she also resents that Katie permits him to continue in high school, while she is forced to quit her education and work. Katie is not trying to be mean to Francie. As she tells her daughter, she believes that Francie is stronger and more capable than Neeley; therefore, she needs to pamper him more. In truth, Francie is just like her mother - wise and practical.
Because of Katie's determination, sacrifice, and ability, her children are successful young people. Additionally, she attracts the attention of Sergeant McShane, who asks Katie to marry him. At the end of the novel, she is moving out of Williamsburg, beginning a new life with her new husband. For the first time ever, Katie will escape poverty.
Johnny is an irresponsible husband and father, who cannot hold down a job because of his drinking problem. In spite of his weakness, he a tender and loving man, whom Francie loves dearly. He is truly her favorite parent because of the kindness that he shows her.
As a young man, Johnny was handsome and well dressed. As a result, Katie fell in love with him the first time she saw him and succeeded in winning him away from her best friend. Even though he proves himself to be weak provider, she continues to love, support, and comfort him, always attracted by his good looks, his kind ways, his creativity, and his musical ability.
Johnny has a very close relationship with his daughter, Francie. He seems to understand that she needs lots of attention from him since she gets little from her mother. He always tries to do nice things for her and spend time with her. In return, Francie loves to do little things for him, like ironing his shirts and waiting up for him to come home from his job as a waiter. When Francie wants to change schools, she goes to Johnny, not Katie, to gain his support. He comes up with a plan to allow her to transfer.
After Johnny's death, Francie misses him terribly. Aunt Sissy, sensing her loss and grief, tries to comfort her. She also buys Francie flowers for her graduation and puts Johnny's name on them, telling Francie that Johnny had given her the money a year earlier. Francie never questions Sissy's story, confident that her father had been so thoughtful.
When Katie begins to see Sergeant McShane, Francie feels a twinge of resentment when she sees him sitting in Johnny's place. Even though she gives her permission for Katie to marry McShane and is delighted that Katie will be able to escape her poverty, Francie knows that no man will ever take Johnny's place. She even realizes that the reason she loves Neeley so much is that he is a lot like her father.
Although Johnny dies when Francie is a young girl, his kindnesses make a lasting impression on her. His loving ways are far more important to her than the fact that he drinks himself to death.