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First edition cover
|Author||Frank McCourt (1930-2009)|
|Publication date||5 September 1996|
|Dewey Decimal||929/.2/0899162073 20|
|LC Classification||E184.I6 M117 1996|
Angela's Ashes is a 1996 memoir by the Irish-American author Frank McCourt. The memoir consists of various anecdotes and stories of Frank McCourt's impoverished childhood and early adulthood in Brooklyn, New York, and in Limerick, Ireland. It also includes 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. A sequel to the book, 'Tis, was published in 1999, and was followed by Teacher Man in 2005.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, on 19 August 1930, Frank (Francis) McCourt was the oldest son of Malachy and Angela McCourt. Frank McCourt lived in New York with his parents and four younger siblings: Malachy, born in 1931; twins Oliver and Eugene, born in 1932; and a younger sister, Margaret, who died seven weeks after birth, in 1935. Following this first tragedy, his family moved back to Ireland 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 (b. 1940), were born.
Before they get married, Angela emigrates to America and meets Malachy after he is done serving his three month sentence for hijacking a truck. Angela becomes pregnant with Malachy's child, and with the help of Angela's cousins the MacNamara 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), Malachy, the twins Oliver and Eugene and Margaret, who dies in infancy. Margaret's death is what eventually prompts the McCourt family to move back to Ireland, to start life anew.
Life in Ireland, specifically in Limerick, during the 1930s and 1940s is described in all its grittiness. The family lived in a dilapidated, unpaved lane of houses that flooded regularly. The McCourts' house was in the farthest part of the lane, unfortunately near to the only toilet for the entire lane. Angela McCourt's husband taught the children Irish stories and songs, but he was an alcoholic and seldom found work. When he did, he spent his pay in the pubs. His family was forced to live on the dole since he could not hold down a paying job for very long due to his alcoholism. 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. They were always wondering when their 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. Sometimes, Frank and his brothers scavenged for lumps of coal or peat 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 "odd manner" about 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 fourteen years old. He would give some of his earnings to his mother to 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 there, at age thirteen. Though both his teacher, Mr. O’Halloran, and a librarian told Frank to continue his schooling, it was not possible for him. He was turned away from the local Catholic school.
In the damp, cold climate of Ireland, each child had only one set of ragged clothes, patched shoes, and no coat. Frank developed typhoid fever 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. The family was finally evicted after they took a hatchet to the walls of their rented home to burn the wood for heat. They were forced to move in with a distant relative who treated them very badly and eventually forced a sexual relationship on Frank's mother, Angela. When he and his mother went 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 path, Frank starts his first job as a telegram boy at a post office. The wry wit of Frank's narration clearly shows that he has the capacity to rise above this job, but circumstances stop him progressing. As a teenager, Frank works at the post office as a telegram delivery boy, where he has sexual relationships with a woman named Theresa Carmody, who has the consumption, and she later dies, making Frankie feel guilty about "sending her to hell" for premarital sex. After being urged to take the postman test at the post office, Frankie soon decides not to take it and to deliver newspapers and magazines for Eason's. He also works for the local moneylender, writing threatening collection letters as a means of earning enough to finally realize his dream of returning to the United States. The moneylender died, after he returned to get sherry for her. He took money from her purse and threw her ledger of debtors into the river. Through a combination of scrimping, saving, and stealing, Frank eventually does get enough money to travel to America. The story ends with Frank arriving in Poughkeepsie, New York, ready to begin a new life at the age of nineteen.
- 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, née Sheehan: Frank's hardworking 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 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 youngest brother
- Aunt Aggie: Frank's childless aunt, who is jealous of Angela's big family, but is helpful and loyal nonetheless
- 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
- 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
- Brandon "Question" Quigley: 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 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
- Seamus: The hospital janitor who helps Frank and Patricia communicate, and who later recites poetry to Frank in the eye hospital
- 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 and headmaster
- Theresa Carmody: A 17-year-old consumptive girl with whom Frank has a sexual relationship. Frank desperately worries about the fate of Theresa’s soul, which he thinks he is jeopardizing by having premarital sex with her
- 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
After traveling to America [Where the book ends] Frank ended up working at the Biltmore 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 never completed.
He was elected Irish American of the Year in 1998.
In popular culture
Angela's Ashes is mentioned in Branch Wars, a 2007 episode of The Office. The office's Finer Things Club reads it for its monthly book club. Jim Halpert does not read it, and unsuccessfully attempts to bluff his way through the book's discussion, describing it as "a fun read."
It is also mentioned in Season 6 of the American series 30 Rock. In episode 11, "Saint Patrick's Day", Liz Lemon, notorious for her incapacity to have fun, tells Jack that rather than participate in St. Patrick's Day festivities, she will be staying in reading excerpts of Angela's Ashes.
- 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)
- Frank McCourt discusses Angela's Ashes on the BBC World Book Club
- Cullen, Kevin. “Memoir Lashed, and Loved: Angela’s Ashes Author Finds Foes, Friends in Limerick”, Limerick Globe October 29, 1997
- Late Author’s Younger Brother Remembers Childhood Poverty Depicted in Angela’s Ashes - video report by Democracy Now!
- Limerick Leader's Angela's Ashes tour: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3
- Booknotes interview with McCourt on Angela's Ashes, August 31, 1997