Living in the Underclass Society – Shameless

The concept of living in the underclass society is a prevalent theme in Shameless. David Morely explains in his article that “The series centres on the chaotic lives of the members of the dysfunctional Gallagher family, nominally headed by an unemployed alcoholic father, where the children are largely left to fend for themselves … in a federal life of borderline poverty” (501). 

The Gallagher House
The Gallagher House in Chicago

Starting off the series, Frank Gallagher exclaims, “Nobody’s saying our neighborhood’s the Garden of Eden. Hell, some people say God avoids this place altogether. But it’s been a good home to us, to me and my kids…” (Abbott, “Pilot”). Right off the bat, Frank acknowledges that him and his family live in rough waters, uncharted by many. Through these living conditions, Paul Abbott portrays how the underclass society truly lives.

One of the first scenes of the “Pilot” episode depicts the six Gallagher children frantically getting ready for an “average” (in the world of Shameless, “average” can be defined as full of chaos, poverty and crime) day of school. Fiona, the eldest, makes sure the children are up, ready, and fed. It is apparent that the electric bill is due, so naturally the children pass around a box for everyone to put their earnings in to pay it off. When Carl, the second youngest, does not put any money in the box, Debbie, the third youngest, shrieks, “You’re almost 9, you’re gonna have to start pulling your weight!” (Abbott, “Pilot”). This scene puts emphasis on the struggle of the Gallagher family to make ends meet, showcasing the strain placed on the children at such a young age. 

In the “Summertime” episode, both Debbie and Carl are pictured running a daycare service to help bring in extra funds. The 11 and 10-year-olds babysit an average of 5 children a day during the summer to make a less-than-average salary (Abbott, “Summertime”). Flash forward a few episodes to “A Beautiful Mess” and Debbie is breaking out in a shingles-like rash all over her body. Veronica, the Gallagher’s neighbor, diagnoses her with a stress rash, as an 11 year old should not be handling such a huge responsibility. In response to this diagnosis, Debbie sighs and says “Are we done here? I got a house full of kids I need to get back to.” (Abbott, “A Beautiful Mess”). This is another scene that emphasizes the desperation for money, and showcases the stress put on the Gallagher children to help the family out. According to an article by Kathleen Kost and Nancy Smyth, “Because of their social isolation and low housing quality, poor neighborhoods expose children to additional environmental risks that can limit their ability to learn and may also influence the development of behavioral problems.” (27). These added burdens result in various negative impacts on the children of the Gallagher family.

The “Father Frank, Full of Grace” episode opens up depicting both Fiona and Debbie nervously sitting in the waiting room of a jail. Previously, Lip and Ian had agreed to partake in criminal activity for Fiona’s boyfriend Steve, entailing them to transport a stolen car from one place to another. During this process the boys were caught in the car and arrested, and were possibly facing trials as adults for felony grand theft auto. Fortunately with the help of a friend of the family’s, Tony, a cop, lets the boys out with a warning (“Father Frank, Full of Grace”). However, unfortunately this is not the first criminal occurrence of the boys and most certainly not the last. Kost and Smyth say, “Poor children are more likely to … engage in delinquent behaviors compared to nonpoor children.” (27). This claim is very relevant to the children of the Gallagher family.