Study Guide

Al Capone Does My Shirts Rules and Order

By Gennifer Choldenko

Rules and Order

"We have rules here. Laws you must obey or you could endanger yourself and everyone else on this island." (6.33)

When Moose meets with the warden, the warden lays down the law. It's his job, after all, to make sure that everyone stays safe (especially seeing as how Alcatraz is a high security prison). The main point that the warden brings home here is that if one person breaks the rules, it could put everyone else in danger. In other words, the rules are pretty high stakes.

"They teach you how to be a nice little church boy in Santa Monica?"

"Oh, so now I'm a church boy? Talk about playing both sides and down the middle too."

"You won't help with our laundry service because you don't want to get in trouble. How do you spell Boy Scout?"

"I just don't feel like doing it."

"Right. I'll bet you don't feel like doing anything against the warden's rules." (9.75-79)

Moose doesn't like to break the rules—partly because he doesn't thirst for danger, and partly because he understands that rules are there to keep people safe. Piper, on the other hand, loves breaking rules. It's also easy for her, since her dad is the boss and lets her get away with almost anything. Here she's trying to peer-pressure Moose into going along with her schemes by making him feel like a baby.

I groan. "Al Capone?"

"It's only one little mention." She flashes her movie star smile.

"Nope. Not doing it."

She ignores this. We walk off the boat now, just behind Weasel and his guards.

"Follow my lead. Then, when I leave, you take over. That's all you have to do. Talk. Did the warden say talking was against the rules, Moose Man?"

"Talking about Capone is." (12.57-62)

Piper is a master at finding her way around the rules. Or so she thinks, anyway. Here, though, Moose sees a problem in her logic: Talking might not be against the rules, but talking about Al Capone most definitely is. Needless to say, he feels really unsure about Piper's plan to advertise an Alcatraz laundry service.

I pull my head away and walk toward my room. "What if I don't want to see how it goes? What if I've been seeing how it goes my whole life?" I whisper. (13.68)

Moose is a really good person for always doing what he's told, but he starts to wonder if he's slipping into a bad pattern—living life on autopilot by other people's rules without thinking critically for himself.

"Oh, no!" I say. "You can't wear that!"

The warden was very clear about this. No girls are allowed to wear suits on account of the convicts. But how in the world do I explain this to Natalie? It's hot and she wants to wear her bathing suit. That's what we did at home. (15.27-28)

Natalie is someone who can't understand rules. This provides a major tension in the story, since they're in a place where rules are really important and help them stay safe. There's no way that Natalie will understand why, at sixteen, she can't wander around Alcatraz in her swimsuit. But there's also no convincing her to do something she doesn't want to do.

"Piper, Moose, Jimmy and Annie," he barks, "the warden wants to see you in his library."

Me? I didn't do anything. I form the words with my lips, but keep the sound inside. (19.22)

Here's a prime example of Moose keeping his mouth shut: He knows he hasn't done anything wrong, but bites his tongue. Maybe in this case it's smart of him to not cause a fuss—you know, since he won't easily be able to convince the warden that he's innocent.

She shrugs. "We're allowed to take the boat whenever we want. What could we get in trouble for?"

I try to figure out how this could get us in trouble. I can't come up with anything. Nothing at all. (21.37-38)

Piper is finally able to weasel her way into an adventure that doesn't break the rules. Would anyone's parent be thrilled that the kids are stalking Al Capone's mom on the ferry? No. But there's also no rule against doing so. So there.

"I don't think it's safe for Nat to follow me around," I say.

My mother stares at me like she can't believe what I've just said. "But Moose… she's doing so well. Carrie Kelly thinks we shouldn't change one thing, because being out with you kids and working one-on-one with her is the best possible—" (28.24-25)

Rules are meant for safety, but here, Mom's rules seem like they might be unsafe for Natalie. After the incident with 105, Moose tries to convince his parents that Natalie isn't safe wandering around the island with him all the time. But his mom is following the therapist's rule, which is that nothing in Natalie's routine should change.

He sighs a long and labored sigh. "First off, that's doubtful. But even if he could, do you really think I'd allow it? I've built this place on fairness. On treating all of the convicts the same. If I were to ask Al Capone to do me a favor, what kind of precedent would that be setting?" (37.57)

The warden is a wise man at times. Moose is asking for his help finding someone who might have some influence to help Natalie get into school, but the warden points out that rules have to be fair in order for them to work. He can't run the prison if he makes exceptions to his own rules—even if it is for a good cause.

Run along? Run along? He can't tell me to act like an adult one moment and treat me like a kid the next. This makes me so furious, my mouth shoots off before I can stop it. "You didn't mean it, did you, sir? It was just a speech. You don't really want us to think, you want us to obey." (37.62)

Here, Moose encounters his dilemma about rules and regulations head-on. Sure, Moose is out of line here—but he's trying to figure out what the balance is between doing what he's told and thinking for himself. There is a balance, but he's probably picking the wrong fight here.

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