What is the summary for Ashes of Roses?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mary Jane Auch - A Biography

Mary Jane Auch graduated from Skidmore College and took up work designing patters for textile manufacture. She then worked as an occupational therapist (therapy for wrist and hand injuries or debilities) for children. After raising the family she had with husband graphic designer Herm Auch, Mary Jane began her career as a writer of stories for young people. Later, she and Herm began to collaborate on writing and illustrating children's stories.

On her blog, Mary Jane (now going by MJ) noted that her initial concept of Ashes of Roses had to be modified to accurately reflect the results of her research. One point of significance is that Mary Jane had conceived the story with the understanding that it was mostly Irish girls who worked at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory when, in fact, it was girls of Jewish, Italian or Eastern European descent who worked there. The original conception was saved when Mary Jane found  “Anna Doherty, Irish immigrant” listed as a survivor of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

Ashes of Roses - A Summary

In this historically based novel, the fears of Margaret Rose Nolan's family, after two weeks on a ship from Ireland, are realized while the hopes of the family are dashed upon their immigration to America. In keeping with their fears of Ellis Island, Mr. Nolan returns to Ireland with the baby, Joseph, because Joseph has an infectious eye infection and is rejected for entry. In a dashing of their hopes, the German wife of their Irish Uncle Patrick, now the father of her two daughters and their one son, rejects them and expels them from her home.

Though Patrick has risen to prominence as a local politician, his wife Elsa resents their overshadowing her children's needs and uses his position to assert that they have shamed Patrick by setting up a flower making operation in her kitchen. Shunned and cast off, Margaret Rose and her sister Maureen, convince their mother to stay in America instead of returning to Ireland and find a rental for them.

Renting from a Russian Jewish man, Margaret Rose befriends Gussie, his daughter, and Gussie helps Margaret Rose navigate the difficult and complex waters of employment for immigrant girls in New York City. Gussie and Margaret Rose wind up working together on the fifth floor of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. A day so "terrible as the twenty-fifth of March 1911" struck with a raging fire in the factory in which Margaret Rose, Gussie and their coworkers are trapped behind locked doors on the ninth floor of the factory, with elevators that hold only fifteen girls at a time.

When the conflagration is over, Margaret Rose finds that she has survived, as has Maureen, but that Gussie has lost her life. When searching among the rubble for some signs of the living and the dead, Margaret Rose is shocked to see a torn piece of her rose-colored dress offered as an item from which to identify the dead. Margaret Rose and Maureen decide to stay in New York and to try again, with Margaret Rose taking Gussie's place as a labor union organizer, and to remember the 146 girls, many of whom were popularly named Rose, who lost their lives in the fire of ashes that day.

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