Francis Aloysius Phelan In William Kennedy's Ironweed

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Events that unfold in a person’s life occur because of uncontrollable circumstances around them as well as their actions. This balance of power of these two forces is never the same in different people. Thus, people fall into two general categories, those at the mercy of the uncontrollable and those who exert more control over their lives than outside forces do. Francis Aloysius Phelan, in William Kennedy’s “Ironweed,” falls into this second category. Francis is a former baseball player in his younger years who know finds himself, at 58, living as a bum in Albany, New York in 1938 during the Great Depression. Francis’ life is one filled with death, destruction and general unhappiness worse than the average person living during the same time…show more content…
One example of this laid-back attitude towards spending money is when Francis goes home after 22 years and gets $10 from Billy. Francis then jokes with his wife, Annie, about putting “…ten dollars toward the frame” (183) for a picture they like. This minor and seemingly harmless remark digs deeper into the person Francis is. Rather than spending money on food or shelter, he would rather spend it on a useless trinket that does not improve his life. Considering the economic climate at the time coupled with his situation, this joke turns into an ignorant statement which explains why he has “…been broke twenty-two years” (182). Another illumining glimpse into his reckless spending of money is his conversation with his friend, Rudy. In this conversation Francis answers Rudy’s question as to where he got his $10 by saying he found it “Up in a tree.” (192). A harmless quip on the surface but much more telling when looked at in more detail. It is interesting Francis uses a tree to joke with Rudy as his attitude with money seems to stem from this line; Francis seems to think money grows on trees even though he himself does not have much to begin with. All of this thoughtless spending of money is exacerbated when examined with the knowledge of Francis’ debt to Marcus Gorman, a lawyer who got his case of registering to vote 21 times dismissed. There are not a lot of things…show more content…
While it is easy to live in an era of economic stability and beat down somebody for wanting to escape the harsh reality around them, the fact remains that alcohol is the primary reason for Francis living as a bum. His problems with alcohol are first highlighted by Helen who says, “Francis wouldn’t stop drinking and then we couldn’t pay the rent” (53). This rare glimpse into a time in Francis’ life when times were prosperous for himself shows he drinks whether things are going good or bad. Nobody is a better character witness to Francis than the woman he has been friends with for nine years who has seen him at his highest and lowest points in his life, the time when the true character shines through. Or in Francis’ case, flees. As Helen says his alcoholism leads to them having to “give up [their] pillowcases and [their] dishes” (53). This instance clearly shows that by drinking away his money, Francis one by one loses his possesions and finds himself in the situation of being a bum. Another devastating affect his consumption of alcohol is when he drops his 13-day old son, Gerald who dies of a cracked neckbone because he “had four beers after work that day.” (18). While Francis does say he did not drop him because he was drunk, a person who has recently had drinks is not a good judge of anything let alone their current state. Knowing what alcohol does to the mind and the body, it is obvious

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