Study Guide

Al Capone Does My Shirts Duty

By Gennifer Choldenko


I feel sick to my stomach. I want to pull my hand away, but I don't. I keep walking. Good Moose. Obedient Moose. I always do what I'm supposed to do. (4.62)

When the family drops Natalie off at her new school, Moose has an awful feeling—in his gut, he just knows it's a bad idea. But he doesn't put up a fight, even though what's happening makes him feel sick. How does he feel about this? Well, given his word choice, it seems like he's kind of kicking himself for being this way. "Good Moose. Obedient Moose." It's kind of like he's treating himself like a dog that's been trained to follow orders.

I don't remember ever seeing him look so tired. The extra guard duty shifts are killing him. It's too much work and being a prison guard is the exact wrong job for him. (5.12)

Mr. Flanagan has a strong sense of duty to his family, and he's willing to honor this no matter the toll it takes. The best way that he can love them is to provide for them—which is really tough during the Great Depression, since jobs are scarce.

My dad finds the glove on a crate by her bed. He puts it under his arm and heads for the door.
"Dad? What about her blanket? What if she needs it?" (5.19)

As Natalie's sibling, Moose is used to noticing things that will make her happy and keep her okay. When they're getting ready to take her to school, he sees her old blanket. He's shocked that his parents didn't think to pack it with her, and he knows she'll be upset without it.

"Change is hard. It's hard for you, it's hard for me, it's murder on your sister." His voice breaks.

"You heard her screaming, Dad—"

My dad's hand go up to block my words. "Look, son," he interrupts, "I can't talk about this anymore." (5.54-55)

Moose feels a real sense of duty toward Natalie, and his sense of duty tells him that they shouldn't send Natalie away from the people she loves. But his dad has a different idea about it. He knows it's hard to let her go away to school, but he feels that they have to put her well being above their feelings.

Emergency alert! Emergency alert! Moose Flanagan played for a sucker right before his very eyes. "Yes, sir." My voice squeaks high like a rodent's. I glance sideways at Piper. (6.60)

Here's what Moose doesn't like about his strong sense of duty: Sometimes it makes him a victim. How are these connected? Well, if you're the kind of guy who does what you're told… then people can take advantage of you. People like Piper.

Theresa signs long and loud, like this isn't even worth answering. "You have a note from your mom." She hands it to me.

It says, Dear Moose, I've gone to Bea Trixle's to get a perm. Make sure to get your dad up at six o'clock. We're going to the Officers' Club for a party at 6:30. (9.4-5)

Duty calls when Moose comes home with his friends and finds a note from his mom. She's out getting her hair done, so Moose has to put his friends aside and remember to wake his dad up. His family needs his help a lot—duty is not an easy, once-in-a-while thing.

"I'm supposed to watch Natalie?"

"Mrs. Kelly says you can take her with you wherever you go, just like any other sister."

This stops me. I face my mom. "Mom, nobody takes his sister with him everywhere he goes."

My mom's shoulders hunch down and a little excitement drains out of her face. "Well, they could," she says.

I stare at her. Suspicious now. "What do you mean, wherever I go?" I ask, waving the tooth powder at her. (13.27-30)

Mrs. Flanagan asks a lot of her son, and while Moose is typically a no-complain, go-by-the-rules guy, he has a hard time accepting this one. He's in a new place, trying to make a new life for himself, and bringing Natalie everywhere is going to make him even more of an oddball. He's really going to have to dig into his sense of duty to accept this.

Theresa must have decided that if Rocky can't come, she's not going either. She's pretty possessive about him. It's almost as if she gave birth to that baby herself. (22.4)

Theresa's main quality is her responsibility. When her mom has a baby, she pretty much adopts the baby for herself. She feels really tied to this little baby brother—to the point where she won't go anywhere without him. This trait makes her really endearing as a character. Her heart's in the right place.

"Mrs. Kelly," I say when the operator signs off, "this is Moose Flanagan, Natalie's brother. I'm calling to thank you. You've really helped my sister."

"Why, dear. I appreciate you saying that."

"And I wanted to ask you. Do you believe the Esther P. Marinoff will help Natalie?" (37.7-9)

Moose really starts acting like an adult when he takes the responsibility of calling Natalie's therapist to ask how things are really going. He realizes that if he wants to know what's going on, he has to find out for himself—he's through with listening to things second-hand from his parents. This is kind of where Moose's sense of duty moves from having to do something to wanting to.

Now I understand. When you love someone, you have to try things even if they don't make sense to anyone else. (37.22)

Love and duty go hand in hand. If you love someone, you have an obligation to help them—even if the way in which you do so doesn't exactly make sense. Sometimes you've just got to go with your gut and follow your heart.

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