What is the tone in Al Capone Does My Shirts?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The tone of Al Capone Does My Shirts is complex, as it is satirical but also serious. At the beginning of the book, the satirical side of the narrator, Moose, comes out as he describes his new home on Alcatraz. He says, "I want to be here like I want poison oak on my private parts" (page 3). He is also at first somewhat satirical about the school his family wants his autistic sister Natalie to attend, the Esther P. Marinoff School. He describes the school as "where kids have macaroni salad in their hair and wear their clothes inside out and there isn't a chalkboard or a book in sight" (page 3-4).

As the book goes on, Moose develops a more serious tone about his sister. For example, when he is watching her and trying to keep her calm before her school interview, she starts having a tantrum and ripping up the moons she's been drawing. Moose says, "her eyes are beginning to storm over" (page 182). Moose clearly feels responsible for Natalie, his sister, and distraught over her uncontrollable rages. 

There are also some fantastical elements in the book; for example, Al Capone's mother is on a boat going to Alcatraz, and she soothes a small baby. When she attempts to visit her son, the metal stays on her corset set off the metal detectors, and she is humiliated (page 134). In addition, Moose writes a secret note to Al Capone through the prison laundry asking him to help get his sister into the school, and when Moose receives his shirt from the laundry, the word "Done" is written on a note in the sleeve. These parts of the book add a fantastical tone to the book. 

vjmessana eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The tone in Al Capone Does my Shirts is one of sadness, combined with touches of humor. The story is about Moose Flanagan and his family who live on the grounds of Alcatraz, a high security prison. Moose's father works at the prison. The family is completed by the boy's mother and his younger mentally challenged sister, Natalie.

The story tells of the Moose's everyday life and the adventures he has there. The title suggests that the crime boss Al Capone is one of the prisoners who does the family's laundry, along with the laundry of other prisoners. 

Although there is some humor in the story, there is also sadness. On most days, he is in charge of watching Natalie. His father is so busy with his job at the prison that he has little time to devote to his family.