As the chapter begins, the McCourts have received a letter from Malachy Sr.—he’s going to come home just before Christmas. In the letter, he claims that he’s become a “new man.” Just before Christmas, the family goes to greet Malachy Sr. at the train station. The family waits for hours at the station (they have no way of knowing which train Malachy Sr. is taking). Finally, after hours, the last train arrives, and Frank’s father isn’t on it. Angela wonders if Malachy Sr. is still on the train, having fallen asleep. Frank angrily claims that his father is a drunk who doesn’t care about his family.
Malachy Sr.’s promise feels just as empty as his last few. It’s telling that the children almost never speak badly about Malachy, despite his obvious failures as a father—the children are supposed to respect their father no matter what. It’s a big deal, then, for Frank to finally speak out in front of Angela and voice the harsh truth about Malachy.
The next day, Malachy Sr. returns to Limerick with two teeth missing. He claims that he’s not drinking much, and adds that there are few jobs in England. Angela shakes her head and accuses her husband of drinking away his wages. This time, Frank and his siblings join in yelling at their father. Malachy Sr. says nothing, but leaves the house. He comes home later, very drunk.
At this point, the children no longer feel so protective of and attached to their father (who looks more pathetic than ever with his missing teeth), and so they can join with their mother in shaming and criticizing him. It’s important to note that divorce is forbidden in Catholicism, so that “escape route” for Angela is cut off as well.
The next day is Christmas. Malachy Sr. doesn’t eat much at the dinner—he claims he’s not hungry. Afterwards, he says he’s going to sneak back onto a train and travel back to London. He kisses his children goodbye and leaves the house.
Malachy Sr. cuts himself off from his family—he doesn’t even show his “good side” as a father before he tries to escape responsibility once again.
Frank observes the rich boys who live in Limerick—they go to different schools, and wear tweed jackets and warm sweaters. He can already sense that they’re going to have good, successful lives while he and his brothers will end up working in factories or delivering mail. Frank also begins to pity Michael—he’s too old to play with Alphie and too young to be close with Malachy Jr. or Frank. One of Frank’s only comforts during this time is the radio that his neighbors play on Sunday nights. The radio broadcasts plays by Shaw and Ibsen, as well as Frank’s favorite, Shakespeare.
Frank’s coming of age is, essentially his recognition of his own place in the world. Here, Frank becomes conscious of how low on the totem pole of society he really is. One significant sign that he’s getting more mature is that he thinks of his siblings’ points of view—he tries to empathize with them and “walk in their shoes.” Finally, Frank is shown nurturing his passions for art and literature via the radio.
Angela falls behind on paying rent. The rent collector threatens to evict the McCourts unless Angela can come up with cash soon. The collector then notices that a wall is missing in the apartment (the McCourts knocked down the wall to make firewood for the winter). Outraged, he tells Angela to move her family out in a week, and leaves.
Angela will resort to almost anything to keep her family warm and dry, even knocking down an entire wall of the apartment.
Angela and her children go to stay with Angela’s cousin, Gerard “Laman” Griffin. They sleep in different corners of the same room, which reeks of whiskey. Over time, however, Frank realizes that Laman is an intelligent, well-read man. However, Laman is sometimes rude to Angela—he forces her to clean his chamber pot. Laman takes Frank to the Limerick Library and shows him books on Irish history. Inspired by Laman’s example, Frank begins visiting the library more often.
Laman is a somewhat puzzling character. Like Malachy Sr., he drinks, as evidenced by the smell of his house (though he doesn’t drink as much as Malachy), and yet he’s also intelligent and loves to read. Laman is an ambiguous father figure to Frank, embodying the qualities that Frank aspires to have (worldliness, being well-read), and also those he despises (drunkenness and anger).
As Frank turns thirteen, several tragic events occur. Margaret Sheehan dies of pneumonia, along with a number of Frank’s uncles and aunts—as a result, their children have to be sent to orphanages. Malachy Jr. volunteers to be a musician in the Irish army, and he’s sent off to Dublin to study. Angela weeps that her family is disappearing before her eyes.
McCourt alternates between slow, almost cinematic renditions of specific scenes from his life, and sweeping, fast-paced “recaps” of many such events. This section represents the latter: the death of Margaret seems to trigger several other important (and tragic) events in the family.