Summary: Chapter XV
On his fourteenth birthday, Frank goes to the post office
to start work, but learns that he is not scheduled to begin until
the following Monday. The people working at the office laugh at
Frank’s raggedy clothes. Aunt Aggie takes her nephew shopping for
new clothing, and gives him money to buy a cup of tea and a bun.
The next Monday, Frank starts work. He is a temporary
worker, which means that he receives less pay than the permanent
workers and cannot stay at his job beyond the age of sixteen. One
of the first telegrams he delivers is to Paddy Clohessy’s mother.
Her house, which used to be a pit of illness and filth, is now filled
with new furniture, bright clothes, and good food. She tells Frank
that one day after her husband, Dennis, was craving sheep’s tongue
and Paddy stole one for him, Dennis leaped up and said he refused
to die in bed. He went to England, as did Paddy, and both father
and son now send money to Mrs. Clohessy. She remarks that were it
not for Hitler, she would be dead.
Frank gets his wages, the first pound he has ever had.
When Michael tells Frank he is hungry and asks for a scrap of bread,
Frank takes Michael to get fish and chips and lemonade, then to
a movie, where they eat chocolate, and then out for tea and buns.
Afterward, Frank thinks that instead of buying food with his wages,
he should save each week so that he can go to America when he turns
The only people who tip the telegram boys are widows,
the poor, and the wives of Protestant ministers. Rich people don’t
tip, and neither do nuns or priests. Some of the people to whom
Frank delivers telegrams are so old and sick that they cannot get
out of bed. Although it could cost him his job, Frank helps these
people by cashing their money orders and bringing them their groceries.
When school begins, Michael starts staying with Frank
in Ab Sheehan’s house. Angela comes to see her sons, and goes back
to Laman’s less and less frequently, until finally she has moved
into Ab’s altogether. Frank’s brother Malachy returns from Dublin
a few months later, and the family is reunited. Despite the fact
that Frank gives most of his paycheck to Angela, he still enjoys
work, since he gets to cycle in the countryside and dream about
One day, Frank delivers a telegram to the house of a
seventeen-year-old consumptive girl named Theresa Carmody. Frank
arrives soaked with rain, and bloodied from a fall on his bike.
Theresa tends to his injuries by putting iodine on his cuts, and
tells him to take his pants off to dry by the fire. He does, and
when she comes into the room, she leads him to the green couch,
where they make love. Theresa is bleeding, and thinking she is cut,
Frank pour iodine on her. Frank goes back to see Theresa for weeks,
and when Theresa is not too ill, they make love on the couch. One
day Frank is told to deliver the telegram to Theresa’s mother’s
workplace. When he does, he learns that Theresa is in the hospital.
The next week, Theresa dies. Frank worries that she is in hell because
they have had sexual relations outside of marriage, and he fasts
and prays and goes to Mass to beg for God to have mercy on Theresa’s
Summary: Chapter XVI
Frank delivers a condolence telegram to an Englishman
named Mr. Harrington, who has lost his wife. Mr. Harrington, who
has been drinking, insults the Irish and tries to force Frank to
sit and mourn with him. He makes Frank drink sherry. When Mr. Harrington
goes to get more alcohol, Frank is left with the corpse. He starts
wondering if he can save her, a Protestant, from eternal damnation.
He decides to baptize her with the sherry, and as he does this,
Mr. Harrington comes back and finds him. Mr. Harrington stuffs a
ham sandwich in Frank’s mouth, and Frank vomits out the window onto Mrs.
Harrington’s rosebushes. Frank then escapes by jumping through the
window into the rosebushes and vomit below. Mr. Harrington reports
Frank and gets him fired, but the priest writes a letter to the
post office, and Frank is rehired.
Frank delivers a telegram to an old woman creditor named
Mrs. Brigid Finucane. Frank agrees to write bullying letters to
her debtors in return for a few shillings. He uses difficult and
obscure words in the letters, which intimidate the debtors into
paying. Some of the recipients of the letters are Frank’s friends
and neighbors, and Angela says that whoever is writing the letters
should be boiled in oil, but Frank justifies his behavior to himself
by thinking of how badly he wants to get to America.
Frank plans to take the exam to get a permanent job at
the post office, but Pa Keating sketches out the nice, safe, boring
life that would ensue: a wife, five children, and numbness. Pa Keating
says, “You’ll be dead in your head before you’re thirty and dried
in your ballocks the year before.” Consequently, Frank decides to
take a job delivering Protestant newspapers for a man named Mr.
When Frank’s boss, Mrs. O’Connell, hears that Frank walked away
from the post office exam, she acts hurt and offended that he fancies
himself too good for the postman position.
Analysis: Chapters XV–XVI
Frank makes a crucial realization that he must save part
of the money he earns or else face remaining in Limerick forever.
It is a mark of Frank’s maturity and drive that even though he is
nearly starving, he is able to think not of food, and his new ability
to buy food, but of the abstract desire to make a new life for himself in America.
Frank continues to grow more conscious of class differences.
He sounds bitter when he says, “If you waited for tips from priests
or nuns you’d die on their doorstep,” and he commiserates with the woman
who points out the hypocrisy of those priests and nuns, who drink
wine and eat ham and eggs, yet insist that their parishioners should
not rail against poverty, since Jesus himself was poor. His job,
which takes him to the houses of the sick and impoverished, makes
him even more tenderhearted toward the poor. He says it is impossible
to refuse anything to a woman who is little more than a pile of
old rags, to a man who lost his legs in the war, or to a mother with
two crippled children.
The sexual relationship between Frank and Theresa is
both lovely and difficult for Frank. The first time they have sex,
he describes it this way: “my head is filled with sin and iodine
and fear of consumption and the shilling tip and her green eyes
and she’s on the sofa don’t stop or I’ll die and she’s crying and
I’m crying.” This description contains all of the complexity of
Frank’s first sexual experience: it is a sin in the eyes of the
Catholic church, Theresa has just tenderly cared for his wounds,
she is sick and dying, she is far richer than he, she is beautiful,
what they are doing feels good, but the situation is so complicated
and emotional that they both cry.
Mr. Harrington tells Frank, with bitter anger, that all
Irish people are ghouls, all Irish people are alcoholics, all Irish
people whine, all Irish people are starving. When Frank asks for
lemonade instead of sherry or whiskey, Harrington forces him to
live up to his own stereotypes by foisting sherry on Frank. When
Frank refuses a ham sandwich, Harrington literally shoves the food
into Frank’s mouth to prove himself correct in his idea that all
Irish are starving. In a symbolic move, Frank throws up the food
Harrington forced on him. It seems that McCourt is suggesting that
stereotypes, even those that are rammed down your throat, must be
violently cast off. McCourt does not lay the blame entirely at the
doorstep of rich Protestants like Mr. Harrington, for when Frank
returns to the post office, his version of the story falls on deaf
ears. His boss describes Mr. Harrington as a “lovely Englishman
that sounds like James Mason.” McCourt suggests that Irish people
like Frank’s boss make the problem worse by accepting Hollywood’s
version of the English rather than thinking for themselves.
When Pa Keating tells Frank, “Make up your own bloody
mind and to hell with the safeshots and the begrudgers,” he puts
himself in a class with Mr. Timoney and Mr. O’Halloran, men in Frank’s
life who encourage him to reach beyond the confines of Limerick
and do something daring with his life. McCourt presents Frank’s
decision to leave the safety of a pensioned job at the post office
not simply as a product of Frank’s bravery, but as the result of
the encouragement of these good men.
Frank’s decision to leave Limerick does not meet with
everyone’s approval. By writing of Mrs. O’Connell’s anger, McCourt
shows us that when one refuses to accept the limits imposed by his
poverty, those who did accept the limits tend to