Charlie returns to his neighborhood and from outside hears his baby brother Jack is crying from hunger. Charlie reflects that rich people have music at their houses, while poor people have only “the piercing screams of hungry babies.” Mrs. Redmond and Mr. Redmond greet Charlie as he walks down the street, and they give him a bowl of broth for Jack. As Charlie comes to his house, he sees little girl brings some scraps to Mrs. Feehan (Charlie’s mother). When Mrs. Feehan learns that the scraps were meant for the girl’s dog, she rejects the food, offended that the girl’s family thinks of the Feehans as no better than dogs.
Charlie remains angry at the traumatic effects of poverty and wealthy disparity that he witnesses in his daily life. The Redmonds’ kindness does not dismantle the systems that keep the slums’ residents impoverished, but it does help the Feehans survive those systems. Mrs. Feehan’s conflicting responses to the Redmonds’ broth and the little girl’s scraps also highlights the difference between community aid and charity that comes from pity. The Redmonds never lose respect for the Feehans and extend their help as neighbors on equal footing, while the little girl’s family gives to the Feehans because they see themselves as above the Feehans.
Charlie lies to his mother that his injuries from the race came from a schoolyard accident, then he goes inside to patch himself up and put the Redmonds’ broth in the kitchen. He then gives his mother a letter from Squizzy Taylor. The letter reassures her that Squizzy is a businessman, not a criminal, and asks her permission to employ Charlie. Mrs. Feehan protests that she wants Charlie to be respectable, but Charlie argues that this job could pull the family out of poverty and allow them to start “really livin[g].” Still, Mrs. Feehan refuses to give permission.
Charlie wants his mother to believe that he is obeying her and staying in school while in reality he has left school and childhood behind. However, Charlie’s determination to present himself as obedient in order to make his mother happy suggests that he is still, at his core, a child who wants to please his parent.Charlie also demonstrates his faith in Squizzy and his criminal enterprises. He doesn’t believe that living in poverty is “really livin[g],” and he trusts that Squizzy can help him achieve a better life for himself and his family.
That night, Charlie dreams of his family living comfortably in a house with pink walls. The cold air wakes him. In his bed, Charlie promises himself that one day he will live in a house with pink walls. He walks down the hall and sees Mrs. Feehan in bed, which reminds him of watching Mr. Feehan die of Spanish Flu in that same bed. After Mr. Feehan’s death, Charlie and Mrs. Feehan had to immediately turn their attention to the future, which taught Charlie that the poor have no time for “the luxury of grieving.” His father’s death forced Charlie to take on so many responsibilities that he sometimes gets confused about whether he should be a child or an adult.
The cold air that wakes Charlie contrasts his fantasies of a comfortable life for his family with the reality of the Feehans’ poverty. That poverty affects every aspect of the Feehans’ life. It forces them to prioritize the basic necessities for survival at the expense of working through their shared grief. Poverty further undermines the Feehans’ emotional and mental health by requiring Charlie to take on adult responsibilities after Mr. Feehan’s death, despite Charlie not yet being mature enough to confidently support his family.
Charlie goes to the yard to tend to Harriet, the family’s duck who has yet to lay any eggs. He bids goodbye to his mother and goes to the timber yard to meet Mr. Peacock, who gives Charlie scraps of wood in exchange for Charlie raking the yard, as a favor to the late Mr. Feehan. Mr. Peacock asks if the family needs any more help, but Charlie’s pride prevents him from accepting the offer. He rakes the yard and steals a few large logs by hiding them under smaller scraps. He lies to his mother that he only got a few small sticks, wanting to see her surprise when she discovers the logs. When she does, she smiles, and Charlie feels like “the luckiest boy alive.”
Though Mr. Feehan is dead, his influence still lingers as the Feehans call in his favors. Charlie struggles to reconcile his pride with the necessity of asking for help, and his discomfort with the powerlessness of poverty establishes why he is so eager to take the power that Squizzy’s job grants him. He wants to be able to support his family, and when he is able to do so, his satisfaction briefly overpowers his resentment and frustration. Charlie believes that luck is uncommon in the slums, but bringing joy to his mother makes Charlie feel lucky.