After Frank’s vomiting, Angela and Margaret Sheehan barely talk—Angela is furious with her mother for being so harsh to Frank. Frank begins to notice that everyone in Limerick has a policy of “not talking to someone else,” as there are so many rivalries and family feuds. Many of the people in town don’t talk to Malachy Sr. because he’s from Northern Ireland.
As Frank grows older, he becomes more conscious of the rivalries and social tensions—most of them petty—in his community. He’s old enough to recognize these rivalries, but not old enough to feel himself to be a real part of any one rivalry.
Margaret Sheehan gets word that a man named Bill Galvin needs a place to stay. Bill has a good job, and has a reputation for being a decent man. He stops by Margaret’s home one afternoon, and points out that Margaret would have to take down a statue of the Virgin Mary if he were to live there—he adds that he is a Protestant. Margaret is at first reluctant to do so, but after Bill explains that his wife—a Catholic—hung Virgin Mary statues everywhere, she gives in. Bill begins living in Margaret’s home, paying a weekly rent.
Although Margaret is clearly a very strict Catholic, she’s not unreasonable when it comes to dealing with non-Catholics. She’s downright gracious to Bill Galvin, allowing him to take down the Virgin Mary statue in her house (although there’s also the fact that she’s going to make money off of him). Based on the last few chapters, it seems that Margaret is harsher to lapsed Catholics or poor Catholics (like Frank, supposedly) than she is to outright non-Catholics like Bill.
Margaret Sheehan offers to pay Frank six pence a day for bringing Bill his dinner. Frank is reluctant to accept, but Angela insists that he do so—the McCourts need the money. Every day at noon, Frank brings food for Bill. One day, Frank is so hungry that he eats Bill’s food—bacon, potatoes, and cabbage. He tells Bill that a dog snatched the food from him while he was walking over—a lie that Bill sees through immediately. Bill sends Frank to tell Margaret exactly what he did. Margaret is furious when Frank tells her. She hits him hard on the head, and sends him back to Bill with more food.
Frank’s coming-of-age is in no small part the story of how he finds ways to support himself. Frank’s success in taking a part-time job makes it even more pathetic that his father couldn’t do the same. Frank tells an obvious lie here and is disloyal to his “employer,” but it’s also easy to sympathize with the starving child. Although Margaret’s behavior in this scene may seem harsh, corporal punishment was the norm for most of the world at the time.
Although money is tight among the McCourts, Angela and Malachy Sr. always find the cash to buy cigarettes. Angela’s teeth get worse and worse, to the point where her gums bleed horribly. When some of her teeth fall out, she goes to buy false teeth at the local hospital. The false teeth, which she wears for the rest of her life, fit badly, and make her mouth “clack.” One evening, Malachy Jr. steals the false teeth and sticks them in his own mouth—but then finds he can’t remove them. His parents have to rush him to the hospital to remove the false teeth. While at the hospital, doctors notice that Frank has an odd habit of keeping his mouth open, and they realize that he needs to have his tonsils removed.
Angela is not free from addiction herself, and she (like Malachy Sr.) sometimes allows her addiction to overcome her compassion—it’s suggested here that she spends money on cigarettes that could be used for food. By comparison to Malachy’s drinking, of course, Angela’s cigarette use seems downright minor, but it’s important to note that Angela isn’t free from her own “sins.” For Frank and his peers, medical care is spare and intermittent—if Frank gets medical treatment at all, it’s usually the result of a lucky accident, rather than a specific doctor’s visit.
Shortly after he has his tonsils removed, Frank goes to learn how to dance, sent by his mother. At a local dance hall, Angela forces Frank to practice dancing steps with other young boys and girls every Saturday. Word gets out that Frank dances, and soon the other boys are whispering that Frank is a “sissy.” Frank tries to sneak out of his lessons to go to the movies. One Saturday, Malachy Sr. catches him, and sends him to church to confess. The priest tells Frank that he’s a “hooligan” for going to the movies.
As Frank grows up, he develops a sense for what it means to be a man, an Irishman, and an Irish Catholic. At this point, Frank doesn’t seem to be modeling his life after his society’s definition of masculinity or piety, but nevertheless, he’s aware of what the concepts of masculinity and piety are. McCourt suggests that masculinity is often the result of teasing and peer pressure, rather than any natural process of development.
Years pass, and Frank is now almost ten years old. A local boy, Brendan Quigley, tells Frank that he should join the boys’ division of the Arch Confraternity. Quigley explains that everyone in Limerick is a member of this old, Catholic organization, which helps its members get jobs and find wives. Soon after, Frank begins attending Confraternity meetings on the weekends. At the meetings, the priests lecture the boys about the importance of Catholicism—the lectures are very dull.
McCourt jumps ahead by three years in only one sentence, reflecting the monotony of Frank’s life. In a way, Catholicism itself is a close-knit club in Frank’s community, and even in his country. Catholics help each other out (the de Paul Society, for example, is named after a Catholic saint and intended to help poor Catholics), and even arrange for each other’s marriages. In this sense, the Confraternity is a microcosm for the Irish Republic itself.
Malachy Sr., who’s been watching Frank’s progress at the Confraternity with some interest, tells Frank that he should become an altar boy soon (Malachy Sr. himself was once an altar boy). With his father’s help, Frank practices Latin and the rituals of Catholicism. Malachy Sr. takes Frank to the church and explains that his son is prepared to become an altar boy. The priest, a man named Stephen Carey, explains, irritably, that there’s no room for another altar boy. Afterwards, Malachy Sr. never mentions the matter again.
Frank doesn’t have many opportunities to demonstrate his talent or intelligence, but when he does, he impresses others. Even Malachy Sr., who’s often oblivious to other people, can see that his child is talented. Yet it’s likely that Malachy’s presence in this scene is what prevents Frank from being admitted to the church—Stephen Carey takes one look at the alcoholic Northern Irishman and turns his son away.