Summary: Chapter XI
Frank decides to start a soccer team with his brother Malachy and his friend Billy Campbell. Frank remembers a red flapper dress his mother bought in New York, which she keeps to remind her of her dancing days, and the dress inspires him with a name for the team: “The Red Hearts of Limerick.” Frank takes the dress from its place in an old trunk and cuts red hearts out of it for the uniforms. While looking in the trunk, Frank finds some old papers. He looks through them and learns from the date on his parents’ marriage certificate that he was born only six months after they wed. Frank wonders if his was a miraculous birth.
Mikey Molloy has just turned sixteen, and his father, Peter, takes him to the pub for his first pint. The Molloys bring Frank along and buy him a lemonade. Frank asks Mikey what it means that he was born early, and Mikey tells him he is a bastard and is doomed to spend eternity in Limbo. He also explains to Frank how babies are conceived. Frank is worried, and Mikey gives him a penny so he can pay to light a candle and pray to the Virgin Mary to save his soul.
The barman happens to say, “Everything has an opposite,” and this sets something off in Peter Molloy, who decides that if he is the pint-drinking champion of Limerick, he could also be “the champion of no pints at all.” He tells his son that he’ll stop drinking, stop driving his wife mad, and move the family to England. After the Molloys leave, Frank cannot resist using the penny to buy toffee instead of using it to pray for his soul.
On Saturday morning, Frank’s team beats a group of rich boys in a soccer game. Frank makes the goal that wins the game, which he decides was divinely ordained to prove Frank is not doomed.
Frank starts delivering coal with his next-door neighbor, Mr. Hannon, who suffers from sores on his legs. Frank feels like a real man, and he loves being able to ride on the float next to Mr. Hannon, who is gentle and kind, and to who urges Frank to go to school and read books and one day leave Ireland for America. One day Hannon waits for him outside his school, and Frank’s classmates are jealous of Frank’s manly job. They ask Frank if he can put in a good word for them at the coal yard.
Frank’s eyes are irritated by the coal dust, and one day they are so bad that even though Mr. Hannon’s legs are getting worse and worse, Angela will not let Frank continue working. On the first day that Mr. Hannon would have had to manage alone, his legs are too bad for him to go to work. He is hospitalized, and told he cannot work again. Mrs. Hannon invites Frank over, and tells him that he gave Mr. Hannon “the feeling of a son.” Frank cries.
Summary: Chapter XII
Frank’s father returns home for Christmas, promising that he has turned a new leaf. He arrives a day later than expected and gives his family a box of half-eaten chocolates as a gift. The McCourts eat a sheep’s head for their Christmas dinner, and Frank’s father leaves after the meal is over.
Frank now takes care to avoid the “respectable boys” while he walks to school. He believes that they will succeed in life, while he and his brothers will end up in jobs that cater to the needs of the upper class. Angela is sickly, and spends most of her time at home. When destitute women approach her and ask if she can spare money, she cannot help but take them home with her and feed them. And Michael, when he sees sick dogs or poor old men, cannot help but invite them home and take care of them. One of the old men brings lice into the house, and for fear of more bugs, or diseases, the family has to agree not to bring home any more strange men or beasts.
Frank’s only respite from the grinding poverty is sitting outside Mrs. Purcell’s window and listening to Shakespearean plays on her radio. One cold day, she invites him in to listen, and gives him bread with jelly. They listen to Shakespeare and then to other programs, including an American jazz show. Frank dreams of America.
Angela owes four weeks’ rent. There is no money, and the family has to burn one of the internal walls for firewood. Angela tells the boys not to touch the beam that supports the roof, but one day when she is out and they are freezing, they cut into it. The roof starts to collapse. Grandma fetches the landlord to fix the roof, but when he sees that the wall is missing, he evicts the McCourts. They go to live with Angela’s cousin, Laman Griffin, who used to be an officer in the Royal Navy. Laman is a steady man, holding down a job and going to the pub only on Fridays. However, he humiliates Angela by making her climb up to the loft where he sleeps and clean his chamber pot.
Frank fetches Laman books from the library, and while there Frank is allowed to get a book for himself.
Frank announces abruptly that Grandma has died of pneumonia. Uncle Tom and his wife die of consumption soon afterward. Frank’s brother Malachy decides to leave Limerick and join the Army School of Music in Dublin.
Analysis: Chapters XI–XII
Like Mr. Timoney, Mr. Hannon briefly acts as a father figure for Frank. Frank feels love toward Mr. Hannon; he cries to think of “that horse he calls sweet because he’s so gentle himself” and to hear Mr. Hannon thinks of him as a son. He does not understand why he cries but knows it has to do with the job or Mr. Hannon.
Mr. Hannon also tells Frank to work hard and get out of Limerick. He tells him that “the world is wide” and he can do anything he likes. This encouragement to be adventurous and ambitious is something Frank rarely hears. McCourt emphasizes its importance to Frank when Mr. Hannon says, “School, Frankie, school. The books, the books, the books.” The advice begins to sound mystical, almost like an incantation, and the rhythmic power of Hannon’s words suggests the strong affect they have on Frank.
Balancing this advice, however, is Frank’s growing shame in his poverty. He begins to think of money as destiny, saying “we know” boys at one school will grow up to be civil servants, “we know” boys at the rich school will grow up to run the world, and “we know” boys at his school will grow up to serve the men in power. The repeated phrase “we know” suggests that Frank is beginning to believe, probably correctly, that for the most part class divisions are carved in stone, that if you are born poor you stay poor, and that hard work will not change your fate.
Frank’s anger at his father becomes more overt in these chapters. When he goes with his mother to meet Malachy at the train station and Malachy does not arrive, Frank says, “He’s not coming, Mam. He doesn’t care about us. He’s just drunk over there in England.” This statement is the bluntest, and most bitter, remark Frank has ever made about his father. When Malachy does finally show up, all of the boys shout at him, screaming, “You drank the money, Dad,” and Malachy, shamefaced, tells them halfheartedly to show respect. By this time, Malachy’s behavior, while still painful, is a surprise to no one. When, as usual, he eats almost nothing so that his boys might have more food, the gesture seems less sweet than it used to, and more empty. Loving gestures mean little in the face of wrenching poverty.
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