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Angela's Ashes

Angela's Ashes

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Angela's Ashes is a 1996 memoir
Memoir
A memoir , is a literary genre, forming a subclass of autobiography – although the terms 'memoir' and 'autobiography' are almost interchangeable. Memoir is autobiographical writing, but not all autobiographical writing follows the criteria for memoir set out below...

 by the Irish-American author Frank McCourt
Frank McCourt
Francis "Frank" McCourt was an Irish-American teacher and Pulitzer Prize–winning writer, best known as the author of Angela’s Ashes, an award-winning, tragicomic memoir of the misery and squalor of his childhood....

. The memoir consists of various anecdotes and stories of Frank McCourt's impoverished childhood and early adulthood in Brooklyn, New York and Limerick, Ireland, as well as McCourt's struggles with poverty, his father's drinking issues, and his mother's attempts to keep the family alive. Angela's Ashes was published in 1996 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography
Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography
The Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography has been presented since 1917 for a distinguished biography or autobiography by an American author.-1910s:* 1917: Julia Ward Howe by Laura E...

. A sequel to the book, 'Tis
'Tis
'Tis is a memoir written by Frank McCourt. Published in 1999, it begins where McCourt ended Angela's Ashes, his Pulitzer Prize winning memoir of his impoverished childhood in Ireland and his return to America.-Synopsis:...

, was published in 1999, and was followed by Teacher Man
Teacher Man
Teacher Man is a 2005 memoir written by Frank McCourt which describes and reflects on his teaching experiences in New York high schools and colleges.-Synopsis:...

in 2005. The book is written in the present tense and usually confines the narrator to the role of an un-bias reporter. Despite the hardship and poor working conditions that the book deals with, it is written with some amount of humor and light-heartedness.

Plot summary


Born in Brooklyn
Brooklyn
Brooklyn is the most populous of New York City's five boroughs, with nearly 2.6 million residents, and the second-largest in area. Since 1896, Brooklyn has had the same boundaries as Kings County, which is now the most populous county in New York State and the second-most densely populated...

, New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

, on 19 August 1930, Frank McCourt was the eldest son of Malachy and Angela McCourt. Frank McCourt lived in New York with his parents and four younger siblings: Malachy
Malachy McCourt
Malachy Gerard McCourt is an Irish-American actor, writer and politician. He was the 2006 Green Party candidate for governor in New York State, losing to the Democratic candidate Eliot Spitzer. He is the younger brother of Frank McCourt.-Personal life:Born in Brooklyn, New York, McCourt was raised...

, born in 1931; twins Oliver and Eugene, born in 1932; and a younger sister, Margaret, who died eight weeks after birth, in 1935. Following this first tragedy, his family moved back to Ireland
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 where the twin brothers, Oliver and Eugene, died within a year of the family's arrival and where Frank's youngest brothers, Michael (b. 1936) and Alphie
Alphie McCourt
Alphonsus Joseph "Alphie" McCourt is an Irish-American writer. He is the youngest brother of Frank McCourt.-Early life:Alphie McCourt was born in Limerick, Ireland on 29 July 1940, the youngest son of Malachy McCourt and Angela Sheehan .-Writing:Following in the footsteps of his elder brothers...

 (b. 1940), were born.

Malachy and Angela met and were married in New York. Before they get married, Angela emigrates to America and meets Malachy after he is done serving his 3 month sentence for stealing buttons. Angela become pregnant with Malachy's child, and with the help of Angela's cousins the McNamara sisters; Malachy marries Angela. Malachy does not like or does not think this marriage will last, so he attempts to run away to california, but he is unable to do so because he spends all of his money for the ride there at the pub. Angela gives birth to Francis(Frank) McCourt and a couple of years later he has the gift of having three brothers: Malachy, Oliver, and Eugene. Oliver and Eugene are twins.

Later in the lives of Malachy and Angela McCourt. The death of their daughter Margaret is what moves the McCourt family to move back to Ireland; to start life a new.

Life in Ireland, specifically life in Limerick City, during the 1930s and 1940s is described in all its grittiness. The family lived in a dilapidated, unpaved lane of houses that regularly flooded. The house at the farthest part of the lane was the McCourt's. Unfortunately, this was also where the only toilet for the entire lane was located. Frank McCourt's father taught the children Irish stories and songs, but he was an alcoholic and seldom found work. When he did find work, he spent his pay in the pubs
Public house
A public house, informally known as a pub, is a drinking establishment fundamental to the culture of Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. There are approximately 53,500 public houses in the United Kingdom. This number has been declining every year, so that nearly half of the smaller...

. His family was forced to live on the dole
Welfare
Welfare refers to a broad discourse which may hold certain implications regarding the provision of a minimal level of wellbeing and social support for all citizens without the stigma of charity. This is termed "social solidarity"...

 since he could not hold down a paying job for very long due to his alcoholism
Alcoholism
Alcoholism is a broad term for problems with alcohol, and is generally used to mean compulsive and uncontrolled consumption of alcoholic beverages, usually to the detriment of the drinker's health, personal relationships, and social standing...

. The father would often pick up and spend the welfare payment before Angela could get her hands on it to feed the starving children. For years the family subsisted on little more than bread and tea. The family was always living in wonder of when the next real meal would be and whether the kids would be able to have shoes for school. Despite all the hardships, many passages of the story are told with wry humor and charm.

Frank's father eventually found a job at a defense plant in Coventry, England, yet he sent money back to his struggling family in Ireland only once. As there were few jobs for women, their mother was forced to ask for help from the Church and the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul
Society of Saint Vincent de Paul
The St Vincent de Paul Society is an international Roman Catholic voluntary organization dedicated to tackling poverty and disadvantage by providing direct practical assistance to anyone in need. Active in England & Wales since 1844, today it continues to address social and material need in all...

. Sometimes, Frank and his brothers scavenged for lumps of coal
Coal
Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock usually occurring in rock strata in layers or veins called coal beds or coal seams. The harder forms, such as anthracite coal, can be regarded as metamorphic rock because of later exposure to elevated temperature and pressure...

 or peat
Peat
Peat is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation matter or histosol. Peat forms in wetland bogs, moors, muskegs, pocosins, mires, and peat swamp forests. Peat is harvested as an important source of fuel in certain parts of the world...

 turf for fuel or stole bread to survive; they also occasionally stole leftover food from restaurants at the end of the day. Angela's mother (a widow) and sister refused to help her because they disapproved of her husband, as he was not from Limerick, and felt he had the "funny" way upon him. Frank's father's issues led to Frank having to support his family as the "man of the house". Therefore, Frank started working when he was 14 years old. He would give some of his savings to his mother feed the rest of the children. Frank spent most of his life without a father to teach him about the world and the things a boy needs to know to succeed in life. As a child, Frank went to elementary school along with the other boys his age; however, most schooling for the boys who lived in the lanes of Limerick ended here, at age thirteen. Though both his teacher, Mr. O’Halloran, and a librarian tell Frank to continue his schooling, it is not possible for him. The Catholic Church, though supposedly compassionate, will not give him any opportunity to continue with his schooling.

In the damp, cold climate of Ireland, each child had only one set of ragged clothes, patched shoes, and lacked a coat. Frank developed typhoid and was hospitalized. Later, he got a job helping a neighbor who had leg problems; he delivered coal for the neighbor and, as a result, developed chronic conjunctivitis
Conjunctivitis
Conjunctivitis refers to inflammation of the conjunctiva...

. The family was finally evicted
Eviction
How you doing???? Eviction is the removal of a tenant from rental property by the landlord. Depending on the laws of the jurisdiction, eviction may also be known as unlawful detainer, summary possession, summary dispossess, forcible detainer, ejectment, and repossession, among other terms...

 after they took a hatchet to the walls of their rented home to burn for heat. They were forced to move in with a distant relative who treated them very badly and eventually forced a sexual relationship
Sexual abuse
Sexual abuse, also referred to as molestation, is the forcing of undesired sexual behavior by one person upon another. When that force is immediate, of short duration, or infrequent, it is called sexual assault. The offender is referred to as a sexual abuser or molester...

 on Frank's mother, Angela. When he and his mother go to the Christian Brothers to inquire as to any opportunity for a bright boy in Frank’s situation, they simply slam the door in his face. After his failure to be able to pursue any intellectual pathway, Frank starts his first job as a telegram boy at a post office. He may have had the capacity to raise above this job, but his circumstances refused him the chance. Though Frank did eventually manage to save up money in order to travel to America, because of his poverty, he had to scrimp and save and even steal in order to do so. As a teenager, Frank worked at the post office
Post office
A post office is a facility forming part of a postal system for the posting, receipt, sorting, handling, transmission or delivery of mail.Post offices offer mail-related services such as post office boxes, postage and packaging supplies...

 as a telegram delivery boy and later delivered newspapers and magazines for Eason's
Eason & Son
Eason & Son is a group involved in the wholesale, distribution and retail of books, newspapers, magazines, stationery and cards on the island of Ireland ....

. He also worked for the local money lender
Moneylender
A moneylender is a person or group who offers small personal loans at high rates of interest.-See also:* Microfinance - provision of financial services to low-income individuals....

, writing threatening demand letters as a means to save enough to finally realize his dream of returning to the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. The money lender died, after he returned to get sherry for her. He took money from her purse and threw her ledger of debtors into the river. The story ends with Frank arriving in Poughkeepsie, New York
Poughkeepsie (city), New York
Poughkeepsie is a city in the state of New York, United States, which serves as the county seat of Dutchess County. Poughkeepsie is located in the Hudson River Valley midway between New York City and Albany...

, ready to begin a new life at age nineteen.

Character List


McCourt Family
  • Francis McCourt: The writer of the book and main character. Frank is a religious, determined, and intelligent Irish American who struggles to find happiness and success in the harsh community
  • Malachy McCourt: Frank's father and an alcoholic. Though his addiction almost ruins the family, Mr. McCourt manages to obtain his children's affection by telling Irish stories.
  • Angela McCourt, Neé Sheehan: Is Frank's Hard working mother who puts her family first and hold high expectations for her children. She is also humorous and witty.
  • Malachy (Jr.): Frank's younger and supposedly more attractive and charming brother.
  • Oliver: Frank's brother, twin to Eugene, who dies at an early age in Ireland.
  • Eugene: Frank's brother, who dies of pneumonia
    Pneumonia
    Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition of the lung—especially affecting the microscopic air sacs —associated with fever, chest symptoms, and a lack of air space on a chest X-ray. Pneumonia is typically caused by an infection but there are a number of other causes...

     six months after Oliver, his twin.
  • Margaret: Frank's only little sister, who dies in her sleep in America.
  • Michael: Frank's brother.
  • Alphonsus: Frank's brother.
  • Aunt Aggie: Frank's childless aunt, who is jealous of Angela's big family, but is helpful and loyal none the less.
  • Uncle Pa Keating: Aunt Aggie's husband, who is especially fond of Eugene.
  • Uncle Pat Sheehan: Angela's brother, who was dropped on the head when he was young.
  • Grandma: Angela's mother and Frank's grandmother, who sends Angela money to come to Ireland.


Others
  • Paddy Clohessy: a poor boy in the same class as Frank, who considers Frank a friend after Frank shares with him a much-coveted raisin.
  • Quigley "Question" Brandon: another classmate of Frank's, who often gets into trouble because of his tendency to ask too many questions.
  • Fintan Slattery: a classmate of Frank's who invites Frank and Paddy over for lunch and proceeds to eat all of it in front of them without offering them any.
  • Mikey Molloy: Son of Nora Molloy, who is older than Frank, has fits, and is the "expert on Girls' Bodies and Dirty Things".
  • Patricia Madigan: A patient at the Fever Hospital who befriends Frank and tells him bits of poetry, notably "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes, but dies before she can tell him the rest of the poem.
  • Mr. Timoney: An old man who pays Frank to read books to him.
  • Dotty O’Neill: Frank's somewhat eccentric 4th class teacher who loves Euclid.
  • Mr. O’Dea: Frank's 5th class teacher.
  • Mickey Spellacy: A friend of Frank's who, anticipating his sister's death, promises Frank he can come to the wake and eat some of the food.

Conflict / Themes


One of the primary conflicts in the book is based around class differences. Throughout his life Frank is repeatedly put down due to his social stature, for example he is denied the position of altar boy despite his obvious intellectual superiority. As the plot progresses, however, Frank begins to realize that he can over come this disadvantage with hard work. An early example of this can be seen when Frank's soccer team achieves victory over the Ballincurra boys. Frank eventually realizes that in order to move up in social stature, he must look towards the United States as a land of opportunity. Another major conflict point is centered around guilt. Being a member of the Catholic Church, Frank is repeatedly reminded by his preachers of the consequences of committing any of the deadly sins. As Frank gets older, he finds it increasingly more difficult to deal with his own sexual desires. Eventually Frank acknowledges that even his firm faith in the Church cannot prevent his natural desires and learns to avoid guilt by confession.

Beyond the Story


After traveling to America [Where the book ends] Frank ends up working at the Bitlmore Hotel in New York City, where he remained until 1951. Frank was drafted during the Korean war to be stationed in Bavaria, Germany. After being discharged, Frank returned to New York and dabbled with several different jobs until he was accepted into NYU. After graduating in 1957 with a bachelor's degree in English, McCourt turned to teaching in New York schools. He then obtained his master's degree and traveled to Dublin in pursuit of his PhD, which he failed to accomplish.

Awards and recognition


Angela's Ashes won several awards, including the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography
Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography
The Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography has been presented since 1917 for a distinguished biography or autobiography by an American author.-1910s:* 1917: Julia Ward Howe by Laura E...

, the 1996 National Book Critics Circle
National Book Critics Circle
The National Book Critics Circle is an American tax-exempt organization for active book reviewers. Its flagship is the National Book Critics Circle Award....

 Award (Biography), and the 1997 Boeke Prize
Exclusive Books Boeke Prize
The Exclusive Books Boeke Prize is a book prize awarded in South Africa, loosely modelled on the United Kingdom's Man Booker Prize, and sponsored by Exclusive Books...

. He was elected Irish American of the Year in 1998.

Further reading

  • Hagan, Edward A. “Really an Alley Cat? Angela's Ashes and Critical Orthodoxy”, New Hibernia Review / Iris Éireannach Nua 4:4 (Winter 2000): 39-52.
  • Lenz, Peter. "'To Hell or to America?': Tragicomedy in Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes and the Irish Literary Tradition", Anglia: Zeitschrift für Englische Philologie 118:3 (2000): 411-20.
  • McCourt, Frank. Tis: A Memoir, Scribner (August 2000)

External links