Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt, was written in the 1990’s but reflects life in Ireland during the Depression. Frank McCourt, the novel’s protagonist, was fortunate to be born in America, but his family faced many difficulties due to the economic crisis. Ultimately, they decided to find support back in Ireland. What they found in there, however, instead of help, was more economic struggles and many families in the same desperate situation as them; with limited room for living, scarce amounts of food, and hardly any money.

It was hard for the McCourts to raise their children as Irish Catholics because they were often exposed to the stereotype of the drunken father, emotionally wrecked mother, and kids running around that haven’t been bathed in weeks. Angela’s Ashes portrays a typical lifestyle of a lower class family living in Ireland during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. One of the many problems the McCourt family experienced was often the lack of money. Frank’s father would often drink away the dole money shortly after receiving his paycheck.

Malachy McCourt’s actions kept his family living in poverty. The deaths of his three-year-old twin sons and his infant daughter due to illness (that could have been prevented with ordinary medications), and the fact that he enjoyed drinking, lead him to the pubs of Limerick to release his anger and dull his pain. Poverty in any circumstance is an unfortunate situation, but seeing the supposed head of the household squander away the little earnings he makes is revolting. Alcoholism is a disease, and Frank’s father doesn’t even seem to try and fight it.

Because of his father’s lack of responsibility, Frank had to work as a telegram boy, giving part of his earnings to his family and saving the rest of it to move to America someday. He also found a job delivering coal with Mr. Hannon, his next-door neighbour. The labour makes Frank feel like he is a man and is often the envy of the boys in his class. He comes to admire Mr. Hannon and wishes he were his father, instead of Malachy. Frank did not want to follow his father’s footsteps because of the burdens he often put upon his son’s shoulders.

Frank’s self awareness of his father is uplifting because there are many children of people who are alcoholics, abusers or criminals that end up just like their parents. The fact that Frank realizes that his father is no good shows that he will make a conscious effort to change his future. On page 10 of the book, Frank tells us that his father was in trouble with the Irish and, because he came to the point of having a price on his head, moved to the USA. Already at this point, the first chapter, we get our first impression of Malachy MacCourt and a foreshadowing of what is to come.

His father was never home and very rarely did he have a stable job. When he finally found a new job in a factory, he was fired shortly after because he got drunk and one day’s work. After payday on Friday (when he was lucky enough to have a payday), he was often found at the pubs drinking all the money away that he just earned. His habits after visiting the pubs, coming home roaring and heavily intoxicated demanding that his sons die for Ireland, were confusing to his children on what to believe in.

It was a time when Catholicism prevailed and faith came before everything. Frank’s teachers and the Catholic priests often taught that it was an honour to die for one’s faith. His father said it to be an honour to die for their country, Ireland. “The master says it’s a glorious thing to die for Faith and Dad says it’s a glorious thing to die for Ireland and I wonder if there’s anyone in the world who would like us to live” (113). Hearing this from his father and from the priests, and seeing his brothers and baby sister die, it’s a wonder that Frank never gave up hope.

Being such a young boy and not only hearing about “glorious death,” but also experiencing it firsthand, combined with his family’s living and economic situations, one can only speculate what his willpower forged on and how he, the first-born, survived their extreme poverty. But Frank fought to live. He got not one, but two jobs, and struggled to get even the smallest amount for his family. Not only is that admirable, but it shows that he had a strong will for life; life for his whole family, not just himself. The actions of Frank’s father affected the entire family.

However, looking back at how the McCourt family had started, one can see why Malachy showed such indifference towards them. Frank was an accident because Malachy did not mean to get Angela pregnant. However, the fact that he did led Angela’s sisters to force him into marrying her and taking care of a family. This can tell us that Frank’s father never wanted a family, even though he got Angela pregnant several times. He had only learnt how to care about himself, in his own way, and did not bother with his family.

To a reader, Frank’s father almost seems to be fond of his family only when he needed to come back home and sleep after drinking, When he went to work, his actions with the wages suggested that he was only working for himself, so that he could have his drug. The McCourts lived in an old, unkempt house in the slums of Limerick. They moved several times with each house more uninhabitable than the last. In one of the houses, Frank and his brothers liked to call the upstairs Italy and the downstairs Ireland.

Because it was relatively dry on the top floor, the boys enjoyed spending most of their indoor time playing up in Italy. The downstairs was called Ireland because it was often flooded due to the amount of rain Ireland receives. Around dinnertime, the kids would wait for their father to bring home the money he earned working so Angela could go and buy more than bread and tea. The boys know it to be an empty hope because they knew their father would rather spend his earnings on alcohol than support the family. The plague of hunger took over Frank’s entire family.

The McCourts never had enough food to eat and often had to borrow some bread and water from neighbours or Angela’s sister or mother. Hunger is mentioned over and over again in the memoir until it becomes a major underlying theme of the book. Hunger played a prevalent role in Frank’s life. The McCourt family may have been able to afford a small amount of proper food, if it wasn’t for Frank’s father. It becomes obvious from the very beginning of the novel that everywhere Frank looks, hunger is right there in his face.

The hunger is almost like an extra gene that he inherited from one of his parents. Angela’s Ashes shows the strength of one small boy. Frank McCourt didn’t just merely overcome poverty, he fought and used all of his might to support not only himself, but his family as well. This shows the reader how independent Frank had become in just a short amount of time, because he was propelled into maturity by his father’s lack of care and responsibility towards the family.