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 and ultimately decided to find support back in Ireland. What they found in their homeland, instead of help, was more economic struggles and many families in the same desperate situation with limited room for living, scarce amounts of food, and hardly any money. It was hard for the McCourt’s to raise their children as Irish Catholics because they were often subjected to the stereotype with 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.
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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 because he liked to drink anyway lead him to the pubs of Limerick to release his anger and dull his pain. I think his alcoholism angered me the most in this book. Poverty in any circumstance is a sad thing, but seeing the supposed head of the household squander away the little earnings he makes is disgusting. I know that alcoholism is a disease, but he 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 again someday. He also found a job delivering coal with Mr. Hannon, his next door neighbor. The labor 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 in his fathers footsteps because of the burdens he often put upon his son’s shoulders. Frank’s self awareness of his father is uplifting to me because there are so many children of alcoholics, abusers or criminals that end up just like their parents.
The fact that Frank realizes that his father is pretty much useless shows that he will make a conscious effort to change his future (which is obvious when you look at his life currently). What I will never understand is how Frank remained loyal to his father. No matter how drunk his father was or how irresponsible, he would always cherish the time that he and his father spent together, either drinking tea or hearing his father’s stories. If I was in his shoes and it were my father who was making my family’s economic situation even worse, I would disassociate myself from him as much as possible. Hanging out with him and giving him my time would subconsciously tell him that even though I may verbally disapprove of his money squandering, I have forgiven him, because if I hadn’t forgiven him I wouldn’t be talking to him. I guess since I was not in his situation I will never fully understand his situation, but that is how I feel.
His father was never home and very rarely did he have a stable job. When Malachy finally found a new job in a factory, he was fired shortly after because he got drunk and missed work one day After payday on Friday (when he was lucky enough to have a payday), Malachy was often found at the pubs drinking all the money away that he just earned. His habits after visiting the pubs was to come 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 honor to die for one’s faith. His father said is an honor 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). This was a profound statement of Frank’s that stuck out in my head. 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 their living and economic situations, one has to wonder what their willpower was to forge on and survive 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 is shows that he had a strong will for life; life for his whole family, not just himself.
The actions of Frank’s father places on himself affect the entire family. The McCourts lived 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 of the amount of rain Ireland receives. Around dinnertime, they 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 is an empty hope because they knew their father would rather spend his earnings on alcohol than supporting 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 neighbors 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. That was the most disheartening part of the book, the fact that hunger played such a prevalent role in his life. I know that no one wants to be poor, but even within the poor class there are sub-classes. Some poor people can afford a sufficient amount of food, but not much else. The McCourt family may have been this type of poor if only Frank’s father wasn’t such a drunk, because I think that they would have at the very least had enough food for the family if he was able to hold that job in the factory. Spending your pay on booze is bad enough, but I think that when innocent lives are at stake, even an alcoholic I would like to think could put aside some money for his family. It becomes relevant from the very beginning that everywhere Frank looks, hunger is right there in his face. The hunger is almost like an extra gene that he inherited from one his parents.
Angela’s Ashes was a very moving book. It not only made me very grateful for what I have, but also inspiring to see the strength of one small boy. Frank McCourt didn’t just merely overcome poverty, he fought and fought and seemed to use all of his might to support not only himself, but his family. After reading this book and seeing where McCourt is today, it fills me with hope for others who are less fortunate, that with some determination anyone can climb out of poverty.
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