Al Capone Does My Shirt Themes

Gennifer Choldenko

Al Capone Does My Shirts

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Al Capone Does My Shirt Themes

The Importance of Understanding Each Other

This thematic message is communicated in several ways. In Moose’s developing relationship with Natalie he is able to recognize her as a person with individuality and feelings when he spends more time with her. This ability to put himself in another’s shoes is also demonstrated when he witnesses Mrs. Capone interact with Baby Rocky on the boat, and her subsequent humiliation after being strip searched. He imagines her with Al when he was a small child and rather than being fascinated by the mother of a notorious criminal, he sympathizes with her feelings. Arguably, this is also how he is able to get Al Capone to do him a favor for Natalie; by reminding Al that he has a mother, “and he knows we know her too. makes him act better” (210). This very specific connection with Capone makes him a human being rather than merely a hardened, dangerous criminal.

Underestimating the Disabled

Even though this novel is told from Moose’s point of view of Moose, a lot of the plot revolves around Natalie’s development. At the beginning of the novel, the focus is on Moose and Helen’s determination to get Natalie into the Esther P. Marinoff School. Rather than getting to know Natalie, they merely accept her as the outward behavior she shows. It is not until Moose spends more time with Natalie and the other children get to know her that she begins to exceed their expectations. She makes a new friend of her own in prisoner #105 and begins to refer to herself in the first-person. By referring to herself as “I” she is testifying to her individuality and identity. She is Natalie, not merely Moose’s autistic sister.

The Universality of Humanity 

Further to not underestimating Natalie, Choldenko reminds us that all of the characters in the story, including the dangerous, convicted criminals on Alcatraz Island are human beings. Piper tries to capitalize on the criminals’ inhumanity— or at least her classmates’ fascination with their criminal identity—through her “laundry project, and when their clothes come back washed as normal, the kids are disappointed. The…

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