Malachy Sr.’s drinking continues. He collects his unemployment benefits, then goes to spend almost all of it at the bar. When Frank is nine years old, he spends most of his free time with his friend, Mickey Spellacy. Mickey’s family members keep dying of consumption, and Frank is jealous that Mickey gets a week off from school every time a new loved one dies. One year later, McCourt notes, Mickey himself would die of consumption.
As with the end of the last chapter, Frank is remarkably frank when he discusses death and misery—he’s been surrounded by these things for so long that they’re almost banal to him now. The deadpan way that Frank reports his friend’s death also reminds us how humor—even if it’s bitter, sardonic humor—is the last defense he has left.
Margaret Sheehan tells Angela that Frank is now old enough to begin working for the family. Angela protests that Frank is still in school, and needs to learn, while also staying in the Confraternity. In the end, Margaret wins the argument, and Frank goes off in search of odd jobs. He ends up working for his feeble-minded uncle, Patrick, delivering mail. One day, Frank delivers mail to an old man named Mr. Timoney. Timoney, who remembers Frank’s mother and grandmother, asks Frank to read to him for money. Frank accepts, since he’s eager to make another 6 pence.
In this section, we get a sense for the “smallness” of life in Limerick. We’ve already met Patrick, pages ago, when Frank described how Patrick’s father dropped him on his head. Similarly, Mr. Timoney already knows Frank’s entire family, it would seem. The older Frank grows, the more apparent it becomes that everyone else knows each other already.
The next day, Frank goes to Mr. Timoney’s house to read him “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift. Frank reads the story, and when he’s finished, Mr. Timoney asks Frank what he thinks of eating babies. He gives Frank 6 pence and sends him on his way, saying he should come next Saturday. At home, Angela explains that Mr. Timoney is a slightly odd man, but good-natured.
Jonathan Swift’s story sarcastically proposes that the Irish should solve their hunger problems by eating their own children, thereby killing two birds with one stone. Frank seems attracted to Mr. Timoney’s eccentricity, his darkly whimsical sense of humor, and his outsiderness in a community that’s often too tightly knit for Frank’s taste.
Soon afterwards, Frank has a run-in with Declan Collopy, a boy at the Confraternity. Declan says that Frank needs to give up his job at once—he’s destroying the Confraternity’s perfect attendance record. Frank is so furious with Declan that he hits Declan—an older and stronger boy. They fight, and Frank is injured, but he’s proud of himself for standing up for himself.
In contrast to Mr. Timoney’s outsiderness, Frank here gets a nasty reminder that the closeness of the Limerick community has its downsides—anyone outside the group is automatically an enemy. Frank proves that he growing up, as he’s willing to stand his ground and defend himself instead of giving in.
At his next meeting with Mr. Timoney, Frank reads Timoney more stories. Timoney is an odd man, and Frank feels comfortable talking to him. This goes on for a few more weeks. Then Patrick tells Frank that he’ll have to find other work—there’s just no need for a mail delivery boy at the moment. Soon afterward Mr. Timoney is taken away to a nursing home, and Frank goes back to being unemployed. Nevertheless, Frank still goes to read to Mr. Timoney at his old folks’ home when he has the chance.
Frank’s interests in both social outsiders and in reading are confirmed when he agrees to keep working for Mr. Timoney, even after he has no financial motive for doing so. He reads to Timoney because he wants to understand someone who’s lived in Limerick all his life, and yet clearly doesn’t fit in with the rest of the people in the city. This suggests that Frank is feeling uncomfortable and claustrophobic, and is looking for a way to escape.
In July, Frank is startled to learn from his parents that Angela has given birth to a new baby—he now has three siblings, Malachy Jr., Michael, and the new child, baptized Alphonsus Joseph or “Alphie.” Malachy Sr.’s father sends 5 pounds to help with the child. Angela tries to ensure that Malachy Sr. doesn’t spend the money on beer. She tries to find him on Saturday night, and sends Frank to as many pubs as possible. Angela wants Frank to shout (when he finds his father) for the entire bar to hear, “that five pounds is for the new baby.” Frank searches for hours. He sees a drunken man passed out in the streets with a plate of fish and chips in front of him. Starving, Frank eats the fish and chips.
Amid all the financial setbacks affecting the family, Angela and Malachy Sr. continue to have children, even though common sense says that they have enough already. Once again, here we see the “Malachy Sr. versus the rest of the family dynamic.” Now that Frank is older, Angela uses him as a weapon to humiliate Malachy Sr. into giving up drinking at least for one night. Evidently, Angela has run out of options—she’ll use any means necessary to ensure that she has enough for her baby.
Frank realizes that since it’s Saturday, he can go to the church to confess his recent sin. He goes to confession and tells the priest that he’s stolen the fish and chips. The priest asks Frank why he doesn’t go home to eat with his family, and Frank explains that he’s been sent out to find his father, even though he’s starving. The priest is quiet for a long time, and then says, “I should be on my knees washing the feet of the poor.” He tells Frank to leave the church and “pray for me.”
In this moving scene, it begins to become apparent that even the most devoted and pious members of the community have their doubts about their place in the world. The priest, it’s implied, recognizes that he’s failed in his mission: to provide aid and comfort to the poor on earth. This scene is a poignant way for McCourt to acknowledge that the strict emphasis on obeying the rules, piety, and strict codes of behavior often wind up being cruel and repressive.
Frank leaves the church, and finds his father singing drunkenly in a pub. He’s not sure what to do, but he wants to kick his father in the leg—he’s furious that his father is wasting the money. Eventually, he turns and goes home, where he finds his entire family, except for his father. He knows that Malachy Sr. will be home soon enough, drunkenly singing.
Frank is old enough that he’s now absorbed the pattern of his life: Malachy Sr. goes off to drink, then comes home, drunkenly professing his love for Ireland. Frank’s anger with his father is a sign that he’s almost ready to begin earning his own money, planning his own life, and making his own decisions.