The unnamed narrator from the prologue (later revealed as Vivian) describes a night when she was nine years old. She stayed awake soothing the cries of her 18-month-old sister, Maisie, while her twin 6-year-old brothers, Dominick and James, slept nearby on a pallet. The narrator describes how poverty and her mother’s occasional neglect had left them thin and hungry. She also describes their emigration from Kinvara in County Galway, Ireland, two years before. Her family had been poor, and was promised that America was plentiful. Despite the difficult voyage on a ship called the Agnes Pauline, the narrator felt hopeful about the change. In New York, however, they moved into a slum on Elizabeth street where the landlord was prejudiced against the Irish. A family friend hired her father to work in his pub. Her Da’s drinking and her Mam’s “black moods” continued, but still the narrator remained hopeful. She reflects that Maisie’s wailing on that fateful night warned of danger that she wishes she hadn’t ignored.
The timeframe and continuity from the prologue further suggest that the narrator is Vivian Daly. In view of the prologue, it is clear that somehow the narrator is going to lose her family. This knowledge gives each detail of the narrator’s story a precious quality. At the same time, her descriptions of poverty, parental substance abuse, neglect, and prejudice illustrate that her suffering began long before losing her family. Nevertheless, so long as she had her family, she remained hopeful. Her hope also suggests her traits of resilience and optimism. Because of her mother’s depression and neglect, Vivian appears to have taken on a motherly role at a young age.