Mr. Timoney introduces Frank to Jonathan Swift’s work “A Modest Proposal,” in which Swift uses satire to highlight the plight of the Irish poor. Although Frank does not understand what he is reading, the allusion to this text reminds readers that Swift was satirizing hunger such as that from which Frank suffers.
In past chapters, Frank has noted what the reader recognizes as the foibles of the Catholic church, citing its condemnatory policies, even though he takes them for universal truth and does not question them. In this chapter, though, Frank experiences the love and charity of Catholicism when he visits a priest and confesses to stealing food. The priest says, “My child, I sit here. I hear the sins of the poor. I assign the penance. I bestow absolution. I should be on my knees washing their feet.” The priest is kind, wise, and truly compassionate, and his words reference the actions of Jesus, who knelt to wash the feet of his apostles.
A turning point comes when Malachy drinks away the baby’s money. This marks the first time Frank expresses real anger about his father’s staggering irresponsibility. Although he thinks of sitting by his father before the fire and hearing stories, and although he realizes that when Malachy drinks he is somehow looking for his dead children, Frank also “rages inside,” and he wants to run into the bar and kick his father. Frank himself recognizes this anger as a turning point, saying, “[I]t will be different now.”