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...
(The entire section is 959 words.)
Chapters 1 and 2
Frank McCourt, the narrator of Angela's Ashes, describes his family origins and his early years in Brooklyn. His Irish father fled to America after serving with the Irish Republican Army in their conflict with the British. There he married Angela Sheehan from Limerick. Within a few years, Angela gave birth to five children, one of whom died in infancy. Life is hard in Brooklyn, and relatives arrange for the McCourts to return to Ireland and settle in Limerick. In their one-room dwelling, the entire family sleeps in one flea-infested bed. Frank's father, who is an alcoholic, goes on the dole. Angela accepts charity from the St. Vincent de Paul Society, but her family is miserably poor. Both twins die of pneumonia.
Chapters 3 and 4
The McCourts move to a slum house, and Angela gives birth to another boy, Michael. Frank's father tells him the baby was brought by the Angel on the Seventh Step. Sometimes Frank sits on the seventh step of the staircase in case the angel visits. Malachy gets a job in a cement factory, but on payday he spends all his money in the pub. Frank is washed and scrubbed and dressed in a new suit for his First Communion. Afterwards, Grandma makes him a special breakfast, which, to Grandma's dismay, he vomits up. His day ends with a trip to the cinema.
Chapters 5 and 6
Frank gets into trouble with Grandma when, instead of taking dinner to the lodger, he eats it...
(The entire section is 920 words.)