Money and Power in Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko

Categories: Novel

Money and Power Placed In Greedy Hands Produce Imprudent Actions With money and power comes imprudence. This quickly became an important theme early on in the young adult novel Al Capone Does My Homework written by Gennifer Choldenko. In the article "9 reasons why reading young adults novels is good for adults, too” by Ariel Richardson, She elaborates on the importance of reading young adult novels and how they are not just directed towards kids and teens but are also a fantastic read for adults.

Richardson explains that young adult novels are not only shorter and easier to read but that they are also literary masterpieces that hold a lot of information. Choldenko does an amazing job at approaching the literary criticism style of writing called New Historicism through conflicts that arise on the island of Alcatraz primarily relating to the circulation of power and money. New Historicism in literature emphasizes that literary work should be considered as a "product of the time, place, and historical circumstances of its composition rather than as an isolated work of art or text.

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" (New Historicism) The reason why New Historicism plays such a large role in Al Capone Does my Homework is because of the influences that money had over those who lived on the island.

The novel is placed in the time era of the 1930's during the peak of the Great Depression. During the Great Depression money and resources were scarce and many families were suffering, due to this suffering came desperation. During the great depression many people committed small crimes for recourses or even to be put in jail so that they wouldn't be homeless.

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Power in general comes in many different forms, for example our elders such as our parents, to who holds the highest position in a workplace, and who is the most liked, but in the novel a great deal of power strictly relates to how much money a person has. Characters such as Piper, Donny, Darby and Bae Trixle are those that set perfect examples in relation to the New Historicism and power disturbed aspect of the novel. Each of these characters is somehow influenced by money and with that money comes a different type of power that they hold. As for the location of the novel, Choldenko chose to place everyone on the secluded island of Alcatraz.

Alcatraz is not only home to one of the most notorious prisons but also housed a small neighborhood during the time of the novel making it easier and less complicated for the reader to get to know and analyze each character through actions included in the plot. It is apparent that the children in the novel are greatly influenced by money. Piper holds the greatest authority and power amongst all the children on Alcatraz. Although the children don't necessarily like Piper they respect her and look up to her, this is because Pipers father is head warden of Alcatraz and her family lives a rather comfortable lifestyle during the Great Depression. This is validated in the first chapter of the novel when Moose visits her. He says "Piper isn't my favorite person on the island but her fathers been a warden her whole life."(11), after stepping into Pipers house Moose makes a comment about her brand new cake mixer "Rich people don't even need to mix their own cake batter. Its amazing”(12) Moose's comment towards the cake mixer and rich people shows how in that time era those who had money and nice things were glamourized and thought highly of. Again Piper's power amongst the children is depicted in chapter three when a brief conversation involving Moose and Theresa arises.

Theresa comes to Moose with a message from Piper, but when Moose asks why he wasn't hearing this from Piper herself Theresa tells Moose “She pays me, I do whatever she wants now."(18). If Piper's father did not have the job position that he has, Piper would not have the power, resources or money to control the children. Donny Caconi is the next character that held a great amount of power over the people of Alcatraz. The power that Donny held was almost secretive and overlooked until the truth comes out about the fire at the end of the novel. Donny has been described as “Everybody's long lost friend” (5) but little did anyone know that Donny's kindness would turn into something sinister. Throughout the novel it is slightly implied that Donny se fear of being poor and his actions start to become somewhat irrational. The very first suggestion to this theory is when the children listen in on Donny's phone call that “sounds like maybe he owes somebody money" (45).

Another example includes the times that Donny makes a bet with Moose, Theresa and Piper over throwing bottle caps, Donny ends up winning and takes the money from them. As an adult, it seems a bit odd that Donny would actually take money from the children. The last situation that ultimately validates Donny's true character as money hungry and irrational is when Darby paid Donny to commit arson on the apartment that occupied Moose and Natalie. Donny held power over the children, the people of Alcatraz and the lives of Moose and Natalie in the novel because of his fear of being broke. Darby Trixle is also a character influenced by money and the need for power. Darby is introduced to the reader at the beginning of the novel as a mean and unpleasant person.

It is known early on in the novel that Darby has this hatred and jealousy towards Mr. Flannagan because of the position that Mr. Flannagan holds as warden. Darby becomes selfish and wants to make more money so he comes up with a plan that he thinks will turn the townspeople against the Flannagan family and will result in Mr. Flannagan losing his position as warden. As mentioned earlier, Darby pays Donny to set fire to the Flannigan's apartment. If Darby were not influenced by the power and wealth that stealing the position of warden would bring to him he would have never lured Donny with money into burning down the apartment. This further attaches to the fact that money was scarce in the 1930's and people would do anything to get their hands on it even if that meant risking other people's lives. Furthermore the last character influenced by money and the power that came with it was Bae Trixle. Bae is portrayed by others as stuck up and impolite woman. She is also the owner of the only convenience store on Alcatraz. Because she owns the only store on Alcatraz is assumed that she brings in a good amount of income because everyone on the island shops at her store. Jimmy works at the store with Bae as one of her employees. “I took you into this store because your folks needed money.

I gave you a job and this is what you do to me?”(97) Bae holds a lot of power over Jimmy in one way and one way only, Money. This is because just like everyone on and off the island during the Depression, Jimmy and his family were strapped for cash and needed to do whatever was possible to fix this issue. Bae is fully aware of this and uses it to her advantage to taunt Jimmy knowing that he will not say or do anything to defend himself. If it were not for the setting of the novel or the time era the novel was placed in Jimmy and his family probably would not have felt cornered into being ruled by Bae Trixle. In conclusion Gennifer Choldenko wrote Al Capone Does my Homework as a young adult novel that turned into a literary masterpiece. She used New Historicism criticism in a way that was enjoyable and easily read. The separation of power involving money is the main idea that stood out to me in this novel.

If the novel had not been placed during the time era of the Great Depression or on the small island of Alcatraz the reader would not be able to as easily understand and empathize with the conflicts that the characters faced throughout the novel. The way she introduced each character and plot points involving money lead me to the theme of how those who are given power use their resources to abuse that power and make poor and questionable decisions. If money was not the underlying factor for events such as the children working under pipers rule, if Darby would have never had Donny burn down the apartment, and if Jimmy wasn't fired for accusations of him stealing the money from the store none of these plots could have been possible or tied together. Choldenko set her novel to be during the time of the Great Depression so that she could develop strong characters, a solid theme and a rich amount of history.

Updated: May 03, 2023
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Money and Power in Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko. (2022, Oct 26). Retrieved from

Money and Power in Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko essay
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