Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt, is a genuine memoir that vividly tells the story of a young, Irish Catholic boy during the 1930s and early 1940s. Frank’s memory of his impoverished childhood is difficult to accept, however, he injects a sense of devilish humor into his biography.
He creates a story where the readers watch him grow beyond all odds and live through the pinnacle of the miserable Irish Catholic childhood. “People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty, the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred long years”(McCourt 11).
His interaction with his family proves that despite the hunger and pain, love and strength come out of misery. Although the book tells the experience of an individual, the story itself is universal. Born in Brooklyn in 1930 to recent Irish immigrants Malachy and Angela McCourt, Frank grew up in Limerick after his parents returned to Ireland because of poor prospects in America.
Due to the Great Depression, Malachy could not find work in America. However, things did not get any better back in Ireland for Malachy. A chronically unemployed and nearly unemployable alcoholic, he appears to be the model on which many of our more insulting cliches about drunken Irish manhood are based. Week after week, Angela would be home expecting her husband to come home with money to eat, but Malachy always spent his wages on pints at local pubs. Frank’s father would come home late at night and make his sons get out of bed and sing patriotic songs about Ireland by Roddy McCorley and Kevin Barry, who were hung for their country.
Frank loved his father and got an empty feeling in his heart when he knew his father was out of work again. Frank described his father as the Holy Trinity because there are three people in him, “The one in the morning with the paper, the one at night with the stories and prayers, and then the one who does the bad thing and comes home with the smell of whiskey and wants us to die for Ireland” (McCourt 210).
Even when there was a war going on and English agents were recruiting Irishmen to work in their munitions factories, Malachy could not keep a job when he traveled to England. Frank shows his courage and humanity by surviving through all the horror he has experienced. Death and illness were a major part of Frank’s life that he had to learn to deal with at a very young age.
Frank’s twin brothers, Oliver and Eugene, and his sister, Margaret died as young children from lack of nourishment and care. As a child, he was forced to beg for food, coal, and other necessities to keep from dying. His family would break off pieces of their home for wood to burn in a fire. At school, Frank was made fun of because he nailed his shoes together to keep from breaking and he wore the same clothes for months.
Other boys in his neighborhood would get the telegrams from their fathers who went to work in England, but Frank and his family were still suffering from poverty. Frank had so much rage and anger inside of him that it inspired him to save money for America where he could turn his life around. In conclusion, Frank examined his ferocious childhood and told a story so honest it is deeply moving.
The fact that he survived this tragedy is nothing short of a miracle. The story shows one young boy and his response to the life he lived and the people around him. The book is both hilarious and heartbreaking because of how Frank deals with the situations he is faced with. This memoir tells the story of how a young Irish Catholic boy was faced with numerous horrors and dilemmas, but with his ability to grow, escaped his brutal childhood.
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