Frank explains the snubs and silent treatments that are a constant presence in his neighborhood. These resentments can be long-held: a family might have alienated itself hundreds of years ago by helping the English or by converting to Protestantism to avoid dying from starvation. It is said that those in the latter group converted for a bowl of soup, and so they are called “soupers.”
McCourt contrasts the lack of communication within his own family (his grandmother doesn’t speak to his mother, his mother doesn’t talk to her siblings, his father doesn’t talk to Angela’s family, and no one talks to his uncle’s wife) with Angela’s conversations with her neighbor Bridey Hannon, which are open and affectionate. During one of the conversations, Angela recites a poem that reminds her of herself and Malachy, because its subject is a girl and her lover from the north of Ireland. Frank notes in bewilderment that his mother “goes into hysterics” over the poem’s ironies, particularly the third verse:
But there’s not—and I say it with joy and with pride
A better man in all Munster wide
And Limerick town has no happier hearth
Than mine has been with my man from the North.
Malachy writes letters for neighbors, who exclaim over his nice handwriting and his way with language.
A Protestant man, Bill Galvin, moves into Frank’s grandmother’s house on the advice of Uncle Pat. Angela persuades her mother to let Frank deliver Bill’s lunch every day at the limekiln. Frank is so hungry that he eats Bill’s lunch on the first day; in consequence, he has to deliver the lunch for two weeks without pay.
In part because of their constant smoking, Angela and Malachy must get their teeth pulled and buy false teeth. As a joke, Frank’s brother Malachy puts his father’s set of false teeth in his mouth, and they get stuck. He must be rushed to the hospital to have them removed. The doctor sees Frank breathing with his mouth open and determines that Frank needs to have his tonsils removed.
The chapter takes a humorous turn when Angela tells Frank that he is to take Irish dance lessons every Saturday. Frank feels foolish at his first class, and he spends the money for his next lesson going to the movies with Billy Campbell. He continues skipping classes and using the money to go to the movies and eat sweets. When he gets home after his trips to the theater, he invents his own dances so that his parents won’t suspect his ruse. Angela and Malachy finally confront their son after his teacher sends them a note asking where he has been. Malachy forces Frank to confess his sins to a priest.
Three years pass with this sentence: “I’m seven, eight, nine going on ten and still Dad has no work.” Malachy constantly loses jobs because on Friday night he drinks away his weekly pay, and then he oversleeps and misses work on Saturday. Angela discusses her woes with Bridey Hannon as the two women sit around the fireplace smoking Woodbine cigarettes.
Frank has to join the Arch Confraternity of the Redemptorist Church in Limerick so that his mother can tell the St. Vincent de Paul Society of his membership and impress them with the fact that she is raising her boys to be good Catholics. Members of the Confraternity must go to every meeting or risk getting in trouble with Father Gorey, which would shame the member’s family. Frank’s prefect, Declan Collopy, boasts that his own service for the Confraternity will help him get a job selling linoleum.
Malachy wants Frank to be an altar boy. He spends hours teaching his son the Latin Mass, which he has memorized. Frank and Malachy go to the church one day and ask the man who comes to the door whether Frank might become an altar boy. The man looks at Frank and Malachy, says there’s no room, and slams the door. Angela blames this behavior on class snobbery.
Malachy’s intelligence becomes apparent in this chapter. He writes letters for people in the neighborhood, most of whom are illiterate, and everyone commends him for his lovely handwriting and command of the English language. He also knows the Latin Mass in it entirety. He is a natural scholar, demonstrating his reverence for words when he says, “Latin is sacred and it is to be learned and recited on the knees.”
As Frank matures, he begins to notice the vagaries of religion and class. He reports on some of the perceived differences between Catholic and Protestant, and although he simply observes the differences without commenting, the observation itself is significant. He notes that heathens go to hell, along with all of the Protestants, and that there is a specific place in hell reserved for the soupers (Catholics turned Protestant to avoid starvation during the Great Famine). Frank seems a bit baffled that his neighbors hold grudges based on religious conversions that happened hundreds of years ago. Also, Frank senses his father’s heartbreaking pride in his son, and his subsequent disappointment when, because of class, Frank is not allowed to become an altar boy.
For the first time, Frank overhears his mother talking at length about her worries. Just as Frank’s consciousness of class and religion is growing, his consciousness of his parents’ psychologies is, as well. When Angela complains that her husband can’t behave like the other husbands and jokes to Bridey Hannon that her life is a hell, Frank begins to understand his mother more fully. He realizes that “the fag [cigarette] is the only comfort they have.”
Frank endures poverty as a part of life. He accepts uncomplainingly his punishment for eating Bill Galvin’s lunch, even though extreme hunger drove him to do it. Nevertheless, he sees that his family lacks even the most basic luxuries: movies and candy for Frank, cigarettes for Angela, drink for Malachy. Only Frank’s father indulges himself without restraint; Angela has to beg for her cigarettes from the woman at the grocery store, and Frank has to steal from his parents in order to go to the movies.