Angela’s Ashes Summary

Frank McCourt

Angela’s Ashes

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Angela’s Ashes Summary

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Angela’s Ashes (1996) is a memoir of Frank McCourt’s childhood in Brooklyn, New York and Limerick, Ireland. His portrayal of a miserable Irish Catholic childhood won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the L.A. Times Book Award. The book was adapted into a film of the same name.

Frank McCourt writes his memoirs in the voice of himself as a child. Even though the events took place four decades earlier, he writes in the present tense. He portrays his painful upbringing with both objectivity, compassion and a healthy sense of humor.

Frank’s story begins before he is born. His mother, Angela Sheehan, emigrates from Ireland to the United States. She meets Irishman Malachy McCourt, who has just served a 3-month sentence in prison for hijacking a truck. Malachy is pressured into marrying Angela after she becomes pregnant with the author.

In Brooklyn, New York, Francis (Frank) McCourt is born on August 19, 1930. He is the first child of Malachy and Angela Sheehan McCourt’s seven children. While in Brooklyn, his brother, Malachy, is born a year later. Twin brothers Oliver and Eugene a year after that in 1932. Frank’s father, Malachy, is an alcoholic. Malachy uses his salary to drink instead of supporting his growing family. Frank’s mother, Angela, struggles to care for and feed her four sons.

Frank’s sister, Margaret, dies seven weeks after her birth in 1935. At the loss of this beloved baby girl, Angela suffers from depression. After this tragic loss, the family decides to return to Ireland to be closer to Angela’s family. Frank’s mother hopes to receive support from her relatives. But Angela’s mother does not approve of Malachy because he is not from Limerick and does not help.

Tragedy continues to plague the family in Ireland. Angela has a miscarriage. The twins, Oliver and Eugene, both die the first year the family is in Ireland. Both the twins and baby Margaret died of hunger and avoidable diseases. Two more brothers are born into the family, Michael in 1936 and Alphie in 1940.

In the slums of Limerick, Ireland, the McCourt family struggles with poverty, deprivation, and acute hunger. They live in a house that is falling aparton the far end of an unpaved lane that only has one outdoor lavatory for the entire lane. Plus, the lane floods regularly.

Malachy can be an adoring father. He is a master story teller. He tells his children tales of the Irish heroes such as Cuchulain, who saved Ireland. He also tells them tales about their neighbors. He teaches them Irish songs. His son Frank inherits his father’s storytelling skills. But Malachy is an unreliable alcoholic who has difficulty finding employment. When he does find work, he wastes all his wages in local pubs.

Angela McCourt is a proud woman. To care for her family, she is forced to beg for charity from the Church and the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. She has no money to feed her family. Her family lives in near starvation,subsisting on bread and tea. Shoes and coats are a luxury.

But Frank’s childhood is not all bleak. The resilient family rises above the hardships with a sense of humor and adventure. For example, when the first floor of their home floods one winter, the family moves to the second floor. They jokingly leave “Ireland,” the flooded floor, to move to “Italy,” the warm second floor.

Sometimes tragedy has a silver lining. Frank gets typhoid fever shortly after celebrating his confirmation at age ten. While in the hospital for several months, he reads a lot and discovers Shakespeare. When Frank returns to school, his teachers notice both his gift for language and storytelling. Despite Frank’s abilities, he leaves school when he is thirteen to begin working like a man to help support his family.

After World War II breaks out, his father moves to England to find work. Malachy is supposed to send money home but does not. To help support his family, Frank takes on a series of jobs. He also saves enough money to move to New York to begin a new life. At age nineteen, the resilient Frank returns to the land of his birth to begin anew in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Irish-American author Frank McCourt (1930-2009) began writing after retiring from thirtyyears teaching English at Stuyvesant, a public school in New York City. His first book was his critically acclaimed memoir, Angela’s Ashes, which won the Pulitzer Prize. The sequel, ‘Tis(1999), tells the story of his time as a young man in the United States. He followed this memoir with Teacher Man (2005). After retiring, Frank and his brother Malachy performed Irish songs in the two-man show A Couple of Blackguards.