Once the children start attending school, Katie constantly battles against them catching head lice or illness. The measures she takes to protect them from such things are outlined in Chapter Twenty, as she puts kerosene on Francie’s hair and insists that each of them wears garlic around their neck. The children were never ill and never caught head lice, but this may be because other children kept away from them because of the smell.
The lighter side of school is given in Chapter Twenty One, as although cruelty is rife there Francie enjoys the routine and particularly likes the music teacher and drawing teacher. By Chapter Twenty Two, Francie has learned to read properly and from then on is never lonely again. When she realizes she can read, she vows then to read a book a day.
Whilst out walking in Chapter Twenty Three, Francie sees a school that looks preferable to the one she attends. Johnny comes to see it with her and writes to the school. They have to use a false address as she is supposed to live near the school in order to be able to be a pupil. She is accepted there and it is an improvement. The standards are higher and there is no corporal punishment and the kindness of the janitor, Mr Jenson, makes it an especially welcome place. Francie has to walk a greater distance, and Katie insists she comes home for lunch, but she is still pleased with the transition.
Chapter Twenty Four begins with a description of the holidays Francie enjoys, such as Halloween. Election day is, however, the greatest day of all for her. The local Democrats woo the children of the district and the wives are also taken into consideration, because, although women cannot vote at this time, it was thought that they could influence their husbands. The Nolan family attend a picnic organized by the Democrats along with other families of the area. This includes a boat trip, free beer and music and games. Mattie Mahony is the sponsoring Democrat up for election and his name is mentioned frequently during the picnic.
On the way home, Katie asks Johnny about Sergeant McShane, who had been looking at her during the picnic. She learns that he has had a difficult life and married out of kindness rather than love. Katie sounds somewhat jealous when she says she hopes his sick wife dies.
Analysis These chapters continue to give details of Nolan’s family life, and demonstrate Katie’s pride in protecting her children from illness and lice. Francie’s pride and desire to improve her situation is reflected in her wish to move schools. She has absorbed the importance of education.
Francie’s list of favorite holidays in Chapter Twenty Four gives the reader a glimpse of happier times for the children of the tenements. This is also an important chapter in terms of the plot as this is the first time Sergeant (later Mr) McShane is mentioned. Katie’s interest in his background demonstrates that, although she is loyal to Johnny, she is also aware that he will not live to an old age because of his drinking. This is not made explicit in this chapter, but this is the reason she initially expresses an interest in McShane’s private life.