Francie meets Ben at summer school and he helps her to pass her French examinations. By the end of the novel, they are boyfriend and girlfriend and Ben has asked Francie to consider marrying him in five years time.
Evy is a sister of Katie Nolan and is married to Willie Flittman. She, like her sisters, is capable and hard-working. She is also notable for her storytelling skills.
Henny is a neighbor of the Nolan family and is the brother of Floss. He is dying of consumption when first introduced in the novel. He is only a minor character, but his condition and circumstances help to emphasize the type of environment that Francie grows up in.
Floss is one of the neighbors of the Nolan family. She supports her family (her mother and brother) by ‘turning’ gloves in a glove factory. Her pleasure comes at the weekend when she attends masquerade balls.
Francie (Mary Frances) Nolan
Francie is the central character of this novel. It is her view of the world and desire to survive and eventually escape the life in the slums that constitutes this work. Because the novel traces her development, from child to a young woman who is preparing to leave for college, this work is a Bildungsroman.
She loves to read as a child and is also proud and imaginative. She is afraid that she will be trapped in poverty when she is older and takes the advice of her mother, father and grandmother and recognizes she must have an education to escape from this world.
This is the father of Francie and Neeley. He works sporadically as a singing-waiter and is addicted to alcohol. Francie loves her father dearly and accepts that he is flawed in terms of providing for the family. Despite his shortcomings, he is a loving and caring father who is greatly missed after he dies of pneumonia.
Katie is Francie and Neeley’s mother and is characterized by her desire to work hard. She is the main breadwinner of the family when her husband is alive and she ensures that her children are provided for as much as she is able to. It is suggested that because she has to be the one to always consider practical matters, she becomes less tender as she grows older. Francie also senses correctly that Katie favors Neeley.
This is the baby of the family and is the sister of Francie and Neeley. She is born after the death of their father.
Francie meets Lee on a ‘blind date’ and she falls in love with him almost immediately. Unfortunately, his lies break her heart as he marries someone else.
Mary is the mother of Katie, Evy and Sissy. She is a devout Catholic and is an immigrant from Austria. She urges the benefits of education for her grandchildren as she understands this can offer the means of escape from grinding poverty. She is unable to read and write and understands that this has been a handicap to her.
This is one of Francie’s teachers and is remarkable for the cutting criticisms she makes of Francie’s compositions. Miss Garnder declares that the essays that tell of poverty and drunkenness are ‘sordid’ and this has a devastating effect on Francie. She loses her desire to write and burns her ‘A’ grade compositions that Miss Garnder approved of.
He owns the saloon that Johnny used to frequent. After Johnny’s death, McGarrity gives Francie and Neeley a little work after school and this helps the family to avoid dire poverty.
McShane is Katie’s second husband. He proposes to her two and a half years after Johnny’s death and a year after the death of his wife. He is prosperous and kind and wishes to adopt baby Laurie. He also promises to send Neeley and Francie to college.
Neeley (Cornelius) Nolan
This is Francie’s younger brother. Although he is obviously favored by their mother, he is loyal to his sister too and is notable for his loving nature.
Sissy is the elder sister of Katie and is notable for her flirtatious nature and desire for fun when she was younger. Her life is also marked by tragedy as she gives birth to ten children, which all die shortly after coming into the world. By the close of the novel, however, she is happily married and has an adopted child and a biological one. She is unable to read and write as her mother Mary did not realise education was free when she was of age to attend school.
This is Katie’s father and is described as a monstrous parent and husband. The reader is told that he ‘hated everybody and everything’. He emigrated from Austria and hated his old country, but also hated the United States. He would only speak German and forbade the speaking of English. His wife, Mary, insisted their daughters only speak English so that they would not understand what he was saying and so not be harmed by his cruelty.
This is the husband of Evy. After delivering milk for years with an antagonistic horse, and then working in a factory, he eventually decides to become a one-man-band and leaves his wife by the end of the novel.