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Seven-year-old Jackie fears judgment even more than he fears the beatings he receives from his family. To emphasize this fear, author Frank O'Connor uses fire to symbolize the judgment of God.

Jackie, who is being readied for his first confession, is taught the sacraments of communion and confession by the...

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Seven-year-old Jackie fears judgment even more than he fears the beatings he receives from his family. To emphasize this fear, author Frank O'Connor uses fire to symbolize the judgment of God.

Jackie, who is being readied for his first confession, is taught the sacraments of communion and confession by the elderly Mrs. Ryan. During class, Mrs. Ryan offers a coin to student volunteers who can hold a hand in the flames for five minutes. Although Jackie does not fear pain from the fire, he worries that others will think he is greedy for wanting the coin, so he does not volunteer. Mrs. Ryan then tells a story about a man who only partially confesses his sins, is sent to hell, and then returns to attempt a complete confession. Instead, the man burns up in front of the priest, which leaves burns on the bed. Jackie fears that he will leave burns on his mother's furniture and that this will prove to her that Jackie is a bad boy. Having all of his sins brought to light and being judged for them is Jackie's greatest fear, especially as he is afraid he has violated all of the Ten Commandments.

Some of his fear is relieved after attending a confession with his sister, Nora, during which he first falls out of the booth and is beaten by his sister. Relief comes after his admission that he has been considering killing both his sister and grandmother, and he is reassured by the priest after demonstrating that he is sorry for his sins.

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