Fintan Slattery lives alone with his mother, who is extremely religious. His flat on Catherine Street "is like a chapel", and there are "all kinds of religious magazines" and books inside, as well as pictures of Jesus and Mary and St. Francis on the walls. Compared to the other boys, Fintan is well taken care of by his mother. He regularly eats sandwiches with mustard, a luxury many of his classmates have not experienced, and his mother makes sure to leave him a nice lunch at home if she will not be there to serve him. Fintan is an odd child, and is often the object of his classmates' teasing. Although he professes to wanting "to be a saint when he grows up", there is an element of perversion in his character, as he likes to look at his friends when they unbutton their flies to urinate.
Paddy Clohessy, in contrast to Fintan, lives in utter squalor in a tenement house on Arthur's Quay. The house is old and "might fall down at any minute"; children play on the stairs and there is only one privy outside for the whole building, and sometimes the children don't get there in time, leaving excrement on the steps. Paddy's parents are both ill, and it is clear that his father is in the advanced stages of consumption. Everyone goes to sleep at night in the clothes that they are wearing, and there is never enough to eat (Chapter 6).
Mickey Spellacy's relations "are dropping one by one of the galloping consumption". Childishly pragmatic, Frank envies him because every time someone in his family dies, he gets to stay home from school for a week, and his mother stitches a patch of mourning on his sleeve and lets him "wander from lane to lane" to advertise his grief. The kind people of the neighborhood give Mickey "money and sweets for his sorrow", in keeping with local custom (Chapter 7).