What happens in Angela's Ashes?

Angela's Ashes tells the true story of Frank McCourt's childhood in the slums of Limerick. Frank is born in America, but his family moves back to Ireland during the Great Depression. This does nothing for their financial situation, and three of Frank's siblings die. Eventually, Frank grows up and moves to America, where he becomes a teacher.

  • Frank's mother and father meet in New York, where they conceive Frank before they get married. When Frank is just a boy, they move back to Ireland in the hopes of escaping the Great Depression.

  • Frank and his family live in the slums of Limerick. Three of Frank's siblings die, and his family struggles to survive on the meager income of his drunken father, who can't keep a job. Frank works a series of menial jobs to make ends meet.

  • At Leamy's National School for the poor, Frank gets a generally poor education, but does receive encouragement from one teacher, who urges him to pursue higher education. The end of the memoir sees Frank moving to America.

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Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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 of tribulations, including the deaths of three of Frank’s younger siblings, his alcoholic father’s inability to get and keep jobs, his mother’s depression due to the deaths of her children, and the almost impossible task of surviving with no income, little food, and miserable housing.

The McCourt boys attended Leamy’s National School, an institution for educating slum children to the age of thirteen or fourteen. Upon finishing school they would take menial jobs, such as Frank did when he delivered telegrams. The teachers were brutal...

(The entire section is 2,354 words.)