In Angela’s Ashes, the author Frank McCourt gives his whole self in the telling of this story. It is his life’s journey- the hardship, horrors, pain and suffering that he endures.
Set in 1936, Angela’s Ashes follows the difficult lives of Angela McCourt, her husband, Malachy and their children. The oldest child of the family Frank McCourt was born into the worst kind of poverty in Brooklyn, New York. Frank and his family wore nothing more than rags and the little food they had came from the charity of kind people. His mother, Angela didn’t work and his father always drank his paycheck away. Even with out steady income to support one child, the McCourt family kept on growing extending to Malachy, Margaret, the twins- Eugene and Oliver, and eventually Michael and Alphonsus. Thus, beginning at a young age, Frank had the responsibility of tending to his brothers and sisters while his mother was desperately trying to find food to feed the family, and his father was getting drunk in the bars.
Although Frank’s father was not around for most of Frank’s life, Malachy did nurture in Frank an appetite for the one thing he could provide: a story. Throughout Angela’s Ashes Frank lives for his father’s tales of Cuchulain and The Angel on the Seventh Step, Frank’s very own angel who also brings his mother babies.
“Would the Angel on the Seventh Step tell you what to do, if
you didn’t know what to do?”
“He would son, he would. That’s the job of an angel. Even the one of the Seventh Step.”
I know he’s there because the seventh step feels warmer
Than the other steps
After the death of Margaret, the McCourts move to Ireland where the situation only worsened. Frank’s father continued to drink the money away and most nights the family was left to starve.
“I want ye to stand in the middle of the pub and tell every
man your father is drinking away the money
for the baby. Ye are to tell the world there isn’t a scrap of food
in this house, not a lump of coal to start the fire,
not a drop of milk for the baby’s bottle.”
Life for the McCourts was testing and difficult. The children wore rags for diapers, Malachy and Frank wore torn shoes in the winter, and Angela was forced to gather scraps of coal and paper from the roadside just to light a fire. Frank’s mother, Angela did all she could to keep her family alive. However, throughout all these tribulations, young Frank is determined that there must be a better life out of the slums of Ireland. He feels there must be more meaning to life than tormenting poverty, condescending priests and discriminating schoolmasters.
Tis class distinction. They don’t want boys from lanes on the altar.
They don’t want the ones with the scabby knees and
Hair sticking up. Oh, no, they want the nice boys with
Hair oil and new shoes that have fathers
With suits and ties and steady jobs. That’s what it is, and tis hard to hold
Onto the Faith with the snobbery that’s in it.
When Frank’s father left to work in England and did not send any money home, Frank was left to take on the role of father, brother and son.
My heart is pounding and I want to cry
But I can’t because my father isn’t there
And I’m the man of the family.
Over the years, Frank witnesses the deaths of many loved ones, deaths of friends and the deteriorating health of his mother. However, Frank McCourt remains strong within himself and never gives up. He goes on with fierce courage and the determination to make life better. Even though his own health is in danger, he eats scraps from the ground and has to deal with the wild emotions of being a teenager himself.
How could I with my hair sticking up, pimples dotting my
Face, my eyes red and oozing yellow, my teeth
Crumbling with the rot, no shoulders,
No flesh on my arse after cycling thirteen thousand miles
To deliver twenty thousand telegrams to every door in
Limerick and regions beyond.
Through all of this Frank remains a rock, a steady foundation for the sake of his family.
In Angela’s Ashes, Frank endures poverty, near starvation and the cruelty of relatives and neighbours- yet he overcomes his misfortunes. Although Frank McCourt faced numerous impediments, he is ready to start over and better his life.
On my days off from work I walk around Limerick
And look at all the places we lived, the Windmill Street,
Hartstonge Street, Roden Lane, Rosbrien Road, Little
Barrington Street, which is really a lane.
I stand looking at Theresa’s Carmody’s house till her mother comes
Out and says, What do you want?
I sit at the graves of Oliver and Eugene in the Old St.Patrick’s burial
Ground, and cross the road to St.Lawrence’s Cemetery
Where Theresa is buried.
Wherever I go I hear voices of the dead and I wonder
If they can follow you across the Atlantic Ocean.