Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Angela’s Ashes was written after McCourt had retired from teaching creative writing. He had jotted down his memories of various events and vignettes over the years and had unsuccessfully attempted to write a novel about his early life. When he began writing Angela’s Ashes, he envisioned that it would be one volume, culminating with his mother’s death and cremation in 1981, thus the title, but it concluded instead with McCourt’s return to America in 1949 when he was nineteen.
The book begins with the separate arrivals of McCourt’s parents in New York—Angela from Limerick and Malachy from Northern Ireland—their marriage, and the births of their first four children. Frank, the oldest, was conceived before his parents’ marriage, an event which traumatized him when he learned about it years later. The first pages of Angela’s Ashes are written from the first-person viewpoint but from the perspective of when the work was composed in the 1990’s. Then the author, by accident he claimed, began telling his story through the eyes of his young self, a technique that gives immediacy to the work.
Angela’s Ashes relates the events of Frank’s life until he was nineteen. He was born during the Great Depression, and the family’s return to Ireland when he was four was no solution to the family’s economic crisis. Settling in the Limerick slum where Angela grew up, the McCourts struggled with a litany...
(The entire section is 475 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Frank McCourt’s parents emigrate to New York separately in the late 1920’s, looking for work. McCourt’s father, Malachy McCourt, was from Toome, County Antrim, Ireland, and his mother, Angela Sheehan, was from Limerick. They had five children while living in New York: Francis (Frank; b. 1930), Malachy (b. 1931), Eugene and Oliver (b. 1932), and Margaret (b. 1935).
The family experiences hardship in New York because their father is unemployed and constantly drunk, and they are starving. Frank notes a distinct difference in the temperament of his father and in the climate of the house generally when his father brings home wages, a rare event. Margaret dies unexpectedly, and Angela goes into a deep depression. The family returns to Ireland and, since they are unwelcome among the McCourts in Toome and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Dublin, they go to Limerick, where Grandma Margaret Sheehan helps Angela find and temporarily pay for a furnished room for them all.
Soon after returning to Limerick, Angela loses the baby that she is carrying, Malachy goes on the dole, and they receive public assistance. Oliver dies, and the family moves to a new flat. Frank and Malachy attend Leamy’s National School. Angela is severely depressed, and Malachy tends to the children. Eugene dies of pneumonia six months after Oliver, and the McCourt family moves to a flat that is directly beside the only lavatory serving the entire lane. At Christmas, they have a pig’s head for dinner.
Michael is born in 1936. Representatives of the St. Vincent de Paul Society come to investigate whether the family has a genuine need for assistance. They determine that the situation is deplorable at the McCourt house.
On Frank’s First Communion Day, he is excited for the Collection, where he will be able to go to all of his relatives and collect money as gifts. He is very ill after Mass and misses the Collection, but is still able to see a film. Malachy, Sr., decides that Frank needs to learn the Latin Mass and teaches it to him so that he can be an altar boy, but the church turns Frank away. Angela has another boy named Alphonsus (Alphie) in 1940. Malachy drinks away the baby’s baptismal present money, and Frank feels torn about his feelings for his father when he is sober versus when he is drunk.
(The entire section is 959 words.)