The chapter opens with an argument between Malachy Sr. and Angela. Angela insists that she won’t have any more children—Alphie is the last one. There’s a sense in the McCourt family that things are changing. Angela refuses to have more children, and Malachy Sr. faces the reality of World War II. Because Ireland is a neutral country, Malachy Sr. doesn’t have to fight. In fact, he could easily move to England and get work there, since so many young Englishmen are off in battle. In Limerick, many families have been sending their fathers to England, and in England, the fathers send back large sums of money. After much thought, Malachy Sr. decides to go to England after Christmas. He tells Frank that Frank will have to be the man of the house while he’s off making money in England.
Frank’s vague understanding of Angela and Malachy Sr.’s disagreement reflects his own growing understanding of sexuality. Clearly, Malachy Sr. wants to keep having sex with Angela, but Angela knows that this wouldn’t be a wise choice at all, as it would inevitably produce more children to feed. As McCourt frames it, Malachy Sr.’s choice to leave for England seems to stem from his juvenile desire for sex without consequences, rather than his mature recognition of the job opportunities abroad and his family’s need for money.
Shortly after Christmas, Malachy Sr. leaves for England by train. He promises to send his family lots of money. Even at the time, Frank senses that Malachy Sr. is leaving to find women in England, not just to make more money. At the train station, Frank wishes his father goodbye, and sees hundreds of other families saying their own tearful farewells.
We can sense that Malachy Sr. isn’t going to send much money to his family, and that he’s going to have sex with women other than Angela while he’s in England. Frank continues to gain a wider view of the world, as evidenced by his perspective on the many farewells at the train station.
Frank describes the weekly ritual of waiting for a telegram from his father. Every family in Limerick with a father in England goes to the telegram office on Saturday, hoping that they’ll receive money before the end of the day. If the telegram doesn’t arrive by then, the families have to wait an entire week to buy food. The first time they go to the office on Saturday, the McCourts don’t receive a telegram.
We know Malachy Sr. well enough by now that we’re not surprised by his callousness—it always seemed inevitable that no telegram would come for the family.
Shortly after Malachy Sr. leaves, Frank develops an eye infection that makes his eyes look red and swollen. Frank goes to the hospital, where he’s given eye drops to use every day. There, Frank reunites with Seamus, the hospital janitor, who’s aged considerably. Being back in the hospital makes Frank think about Patricia Madigan, the girl who died. Frank also crosses paths with Mr. Timoney, who is at the hospital as well. Frank offers to read to Timoney, but Timoney insists that he’s “past reading now.” Frank finds this sad and begins to cry, further damaging his eyes.
The misery never ends for Frank and his family—as soon as he’s recovered from typhoid, he’s suffering from swollen eyes again. As with many of the other episodes, what was tragic at the time becomes somewhat funny in retrospect: every time Frank gets out of the hospital, he ends up crawling back—and this isn’t always a bad thing, as the hospital provides him with warmth and food he often can’t find at home. Despite his harsh surroundings and tragic life, Frank’s childlike spirit hasn’t yet been crushed, and he can still cry over the loss of someone else’s hope and curiosity.
After a month, Frank is released from the hospital. He returns to his house. See after, he learns from a man who’s come back from England that Malachy Sr. has been squandering his wages in England by drinking. Angela realizes that she won’t be able to get charity from the de Paul Society for much longer, and it’s increasingly difficult for her to convince her mother, to lend her money. She decides to go to Mr. Coffey and Mr. Kane at the Dispensary Office and ask them for relief benefits.
Ironically, Malachy’s stint in England makes it harder, not easier, for Angela to feed her family, since Angela can no longer claim unemployment benefits. And yet unlike Malachy Sr., she doesn’t give up here—she marches her children to the Dispensary Office. Angela is so desperate for food that she’s willing to try anything.
Angela takes her four children (Frank, Malachy Jr., Alphie, and Michael) to the Dispensary Office early one morning. She greets Coffey and Kane and gives her name. Coffey and Kane are reluctant to help Angela because her last name is McCourt—a Northern Irish name. After mocking her, they eventually agree to give her some money, but only on the condition that she refuses to accept anything from her husband. Angela promises that she’ll only accept Dispensary money until the time when Malachy Sr. sends her money.
Coffey and Kane’s dismissive attitude toward Angela and her reminds us of the adversity that Malachy Sr. has faced in Limerick as a North Irishman. Angela is forced to choose between her husband and her community loyalties, and because her priority is taking care of her family, she chooses her community. Furthermore, she is forced to laugh along with the men who try to humiliate her, or else risk not receiving food for her children.