Summary: Chapter IX
Mam turns toward the dead ashes in the fire.... Michael who is only five . . . wants to know if we’re having fish and chips tonight because he’s hungry. Mam says, Next week, love, and he goes back out to play in the lane.
Angela announces that she’s done having children. Because birth control was not commonly used at that time in households such as the McCourts’, this is tantamount to refusing sex. Malachy is annoyed that she will not perform her “wifely duties.”
Families up and down the lane are getting richer because the fathers are off in England, fighting in World War II. After Angela threatens to go to England herself to find work, Frank’s father decides to leave for England and find work in a munitions factory. The family sees Malachy off at the station, and Angela promises the boys one egg apiece on Sunday mornings once their father’s money starts coming. An egg a week seems an unimaginable luxury to Frank. Angela tells Bridey Hannon that with the money Malachy will send she wants to get a new house, electric lighting, coats and boots for the boys, and food. However, Malachy fails to send any money. Every Friday, families up and down the lane get money orders from England, but the McCourt family never gets anything.
Angela learns from Bridey that the Meagher family receives public assistance from the Dispensary, which Frank’s mother considers a terrible shame. She says getting public assistance is far worse than the dole or the St. Vincent de Paul Society, because it means you are one step away from putting your children in an orphanage and begging on the street.
Frank gets an infection in his eyes, which Grandma blames on his constant reading, and Angela has to take him to the Dispensary to see the doctor. The doctor says Frank has the worst case of conjunctivitis he has ever seen, and sends Frank to the hospital.
In the hospital, Frank sees both Seamus and Mr. Timoney, who seems to have aged greatly—Timoney is muted, not his old vivacious self, although he tells Frank to rest his eyes and then “read till they fall out of your head.” Seamus visits Frank three times a week and recites poetry to him, but soon leaves to work in an English factory.
When Frank returns home, he discovers that his father has “gone pure mad with the drink,” spending all of his money in bars. Angela becomes desperate and decides to go to the Dispensary for public assistance. Once there, she is humiliated by a sanctimonious official called Mr. Kane, who accuses her of claiming aid her family does not deserve.
Summary: Chapter X
The family moves upstairs to escape the cold and wet. Angela soon sickens and turns feverish, calling out for lemonade. Frank steals two bottles of lemonade from a crate outside South’s pub and a loaf of bread from a van parked outside O’Connell’s grocery store. To entertain his brothers, Frank embellishes the story of how he got the food and drink, and Michael calls him an outlaw. Malachy says Frank is no different from Robin Hood, who steals from the rich and gives to the poor. The next day, Frank steals a whole box of food that has been delivered to a house in a wealthy area of town. The boys have enough food, but no fire. They go to a rich neighborhood and go door to door asking for turf or coal, but no one will help them, and they soon resort to stealing fuel from people’s back gardens.
A guard soon appears at their home to find out why the boys have been absent from school. The official tells Frank to get his Grandma and Aunt Aggie, who in turn send for the doctor. The doctor diagnoses Angela with pneumonia and drives her to hospital, while the McCourt brothers go to stay with Aggie.
Although Pa Keating is kind to his nephews and gives them food, Aggie constantly abuses the boys, hitting them and yelling at them. The protagonist writes to his father and explains that his mother is in the hospital. Malachy returns to Limerick to look after his sons, but he leaves for England again the day after Angela gets back from the hospital. Because Frank’s father only sends one of his paychecks home, Angela is soon forced to appeal to the Dispensary for money again. Frank’s sadness at their situation turns into despair when he sees his mother begging for food outside a church. Frank is so ashamed that he is hardly able to look at his mother, whom he describes as a “beggar.”
Analysis: Chapters IX–X
Grandma berates the protagonist for ruining his eyes with “[b]ooks, books, books,” but reading offers Frank a temporary escape from the world’s miseries.
We see again in Chapter IX that dignity is of paramount importance to Angela. Although the McCourts have no money and live in squalor, Angela is determined to save them from a low-class mentality. She criticizes mothers who call their children in to dinner and name the menu, announcing their riches to the lane. She says it is not classy to show off that way.
Out of respect and pride, the McCourts do not criticize their father in public, however much he deserves it. One boy calls his father, who never sends money from England, “a drunken oul’ shit,” but Angela and her boys would never speak of Malachy in such a way. This good behavior may not help the family get enough food to eat or enough coal to heat their house, but it keeps their standards high.
The men in charge of giving out money and charity constantly humiliate their impoverished customers. It’s not enough that the impoverished are poor, it’s not enough that they are humiliated already because they must beg for assistance, it’s not enough that the men torment them—they are also required to laugh along with their tormenters, or risk foregoing aid. When Frank waits to get his eyes checked, he sees the men in charge making fun of a woman in pain, suggesting that she has gas or has eaten too much cabbage. The woman must laugh with the men and pretend that she finds their rudeness amusing, or else she will not get to see a doctor. When the McCourts go to get public assistance, the men are sadistic, saying, “The public assistance, is that what you want, woman, the relief?” When it comes Angela’s turn to ask for aid, the men humiliate her by saying she does not deserve it, because her husband is from the North and she is ignorant.
When Frank’s mother falls ill in Chapter X, Frank is quick to assume responsibility for his family’s welfare. As the guard who visits the house points out, Frank will make a good father someday.
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