How has addiction affected the people in Angela's Ashes?

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Addiction is a major theme throughout Angela's Ashes , and is more ambiguous than it may first appear. The most obvious example of addiction in the novel is Malachy's alcoholism, which condemns him, and his family, to grinding poverty. Malachy's addiction renders him unable to work, and so his family...

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Addiction is a major theme throughout Angela's Ashes, and is more ambiguous than it may first appear. The most obvious example of addiction in the novel is Malachy's alcoholism, which condemns him, and his family, to grinding poverty. Malachy's addiction renders him unable to work, and so his family is perpetually "on the dole." They live on the brink of starvation in a hut-like home which is always flooding, and which is next to an outdoor lavatory. Malachy's addiction even leads to the death of some of his children via poverty. This is devastatingly symbolized by his placing of a glass of beer on an infant-sized coffin.

It is Malachy's inability to work (and his spending of the family's "dole" money on beer) that dooms his family to such a pitiful existence. Due to his family's poverty, Frank stops going to school at age 13 and takes up a series of tough, often dangerous jobs (for example, his stint as a coal deliverer). Thus, Frank's own life and potential are damaged by the poverty and turbulence caused, in large part, by alcoholism. Last, Malachy's addiction all but destroys Angela's life. Angela is subjected to poverty, and is regularly mistreated and humiliated by neighbors, "dole" workers, and the institutional Catholic Church.

However, it can also be argued that Angela's smoking is also an addiction, and that said addiction helps her cope with the atrocities of her life. While we must take into account that, at the time, smoking was not understood to be addictive, and that Angela's "addiction" is nowhere near as consuming as Malachy's, it is interesting to note how tobacco plays an ambiguous, if not vaguely positive, role in Angela's Ashes. Angela, who is unable to either control her husband or find work for herself (there were few jobs for women in Ireland at the time), finds solace in her ritualistic smoking.

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