He Got Hungry and Forgot His Manners Summary

Jimmy Breslin

He Got Hungry and Forgot His Manners

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Breslin starts HE GOT HUNGRY AND FORGOT HIS MANNERS by reminding the reader of the black man who was killed in Howard Beach after being chased by a group of white youths wielding baseball bats. This incident sets the tone for the novel, and Breslin pulls no punches in portraying the brutality of life in New York. Father D’Arcy Cosgrove, an Irish priest, has been sent to America by way of Africa to stamp out sin. A seven-foot-tall African by the name of Great Big accompanies him as his right-hand man.

From their landing at Kennedy Airport until Cosgrove is sent back to Ireland for destroying welfare records, Father Cosgrove and Great Big are plunged into a world gone mad. Logic and compassion play no role in the government’s treatment of the poor. The system works only for those who are already well-off or for those who are cunning and ruthless enough to circumvent the regulations put up as barriers. In this world, Cosgrove sticks out like an alien from another planet. His training has not prepared him for the compromises that these urban residents must make in order to survive. Though in the beginning Cosgrove believes that his stay in the United States could lead to his being canonized, he soon learns from such characters as Baby Rock and Disco Girl that his rigid sense of good and evil will not hold up under the weight of the insanity with which he is confronted.

Breslin leaves no segment of the population unexamined, no hierarchy intact. Although he is no Voltaire, Jonathan Swift, or William Golding, he hits his targets often enough to leave the reader wincing from the impact of the tale.