Francie works as a stemmer for two weeks until she is laid off. She sees an ad in the newspaper for a file clerk at the Model Press Clipping Bureau. The desired applicant is to be sixteen. Francie writes a letter to them, saying she’s sixteen, though she’s only fourteen. She gets a reply two days later, asking for an interview. Sissy goes shopping with Francie to help her pick out a grown-up outfit for the interview. Francie talks again about cutting her hair and Katie refuses. The interview is short and Francie is hired on trial. The readers read papers from every state in the country, mark and box the desired news items, and write down the total of marked items and their ID numbers on the top of the front page.
Francie goes shopping for “a grown-up outfit” so that she can look more like a sixteen-year-old. To aid with her look of maturity, Francie wants to cut her hair. Shorter hair is also increasingly becoming a symbol of modernity and independence. Katie may balk at the prospect of Francie cutting her hair for these reasons, though she makes it a matter of not wanting Francie to spoil her beauty. This, too, is a way for Katie to control how Francie presents herself to the world.
Francie works easily. By the end of August, she’s reading more papers and marking more items than any other reader. Francie is the fastest reader and the poorest paid. She makes ten dollars per week, while the others make twenty or twenty-five. At first, she’s excited to work in New York. She figures that, if a tiny thing like the brown bowl excited her, surely the great city would. However, this proves not to be so.
The job comes easily to Francie who is making money doing the thing that she loves the most. She is paid less than the others because of her age and, perhaps, her relative inexperience. Francie is underwhelmed by Manhattan, which seems to lack the beauty and mystery of the brown bowl.
Miss Armstrong is the special city reader. Once, in the washroom, Francie overhears someone saying that Miss Armstrong is the boss’s mistress. Francie thinks this may be on account of Miss Armstrong’s lovely legs. Francie looks at her own “long thin legs” and thinks she would never “make it” as a mistress.
Francie is becoming aware of her sex appeal—or perceived lack thereof—as she develops into a woman. She doesn’t think that she has the physical attractiveness to convince any man to give her special favors.
Francie learns that there’s a class system at the Bureau. The division is between the better-educated readers and the working-class cutter, printer, delivery boy, and other laborers who make up a group called The Club. The Club members use her as a go-between to spread rumors and stir up trouble among readers. However, Francie isn’t friendly enough with any of the readers to share rumors, so they die with her.
The class system at the Bureau is reminiscent of the division Francie witnessed in the classroom at her first school. This time, she’s unsure of where her class loyalties lie. This is another way in which Smith illustrates the complexity of class, which is not always about money.
Just before Labor Day, the boss at the Bureau tells Francie that he and Miss Armstrong are getting married; therefore, she is leaving her job as city reader. He says that Miss Armstrong recommended Francie for the job and asks if Francie would be interested. Francie is delighted. Her boss thinks to himself about how to negotiate a raise for Francie. He offers her twenty dollars per week, which is a lot of money to Francie but ten dollars less than what he would normally pay someone in the position.
It’s possible that Francie’s boss doesn’t negotiate a wage that is based on the value of her work because she is female. This, along with her youth, would make her less likely to fight for a higher wage. Though Francie’s other co-workers are women, they’ve been working in this field for some time and are better equipped to know the value of their work.
Francie knows that the family’s troubles would be over with that money, but she wants to go back to school. Later that evening, Francie tells Katie about how much she wants to go back to school, while Neeley says that he doesn’t want to go. Katie insists that he will be a great doctor. Francie doesn’t like how her mother insists that Neeley go back to school, while she thinks it fine for Francie not to go. Francie finally tells her mother about the job promotion. She also expresses her anger about how Katie favors Neeley, but she softens when she realizes how much she is like her mother in her willingness to fight for herself.
Francie uses her job offer to test Katie. She suspects that Katie places more value on Neeley’s education, though he’s an inferior student, because he’s a boy. Francie turns out to be right. However, in fighting with her mother over her belief that she has an equal right to an education, she realizes that she has inherited her strong will from her mother. Thus, the more Francie resists Katie, the more she reveals the same tendencies.