‘Angela’s Ashes’

By: Julia Swee

Warning *Spoilers*

‘Angela’s Ashes’ by Frank McCourt is a historical memoir about a poor and troubled, Irish Catholic family in the middle of the Great Depression. The main character is based on Frank McCourt’s life, as he grew up in multiple different homes and came across many different circumstances along the way. Frank’s family consisted of his mom Angela McCourt, his dad Malachy McCourt, his little brothers, and one sister. The first brother Frank had was Malachy Junior, and then came Michael, Oliver and Eugene, and then Alphie.

As the story begins, Frank is a young child, and does not yet know the horrors of real life until he experiences his little sister Margaret’s death. She dies as just a little baby, and this absolutely crushes his parents. His dad is a raging alcoholic, and is rarely ever there for the family, never providing for them, and leaving them with no money as he spends it all on his drink. 

As Frank recounts his life in Ireland, he mentions different historical events and incorporates traditional Irish folklore into his stories. Frank mentions his favorite childhood story, “Cuchulain”, and develops a deep connection with the folklore character.

As Frank and family grieve over the loss of their sister Margaret, the depression hits them hard, as they struggle to find a steady place to stay. As they settle in the same place that Angela’s mother lives, they are struck with more unlucky circumstances as Frank’s little twin brothers, Oliver and Eugene, pass away from famine. This only sends the family into deeper depression, as they now have three missing children. 

As Frank begins his schooling, he feels the pressure and impact of the strict Irish Catholic culture. Frank is forced to succumb to the ways of the religion and its extreme values. A part of the religion values the act of confession to a priest, which plays a big part in the book as Frank relies on confessions to relieve his guilt for many things.

Although there are good priests who listen to Frank and his issues, throughout the novel Frank comes to notice how uptight and selective the church is of their people. When the church comes to play in Frank’s education, he feels as if he’s being controlled, which leads him to distrust his higher ups in both the church and school. 

As Frank grows with age, he uncovers secrets of his family, the church, and the world around him. He loses his innocence as he tries to figure out the right ways to go about life, leading him to eventually go off on his own.

He pockets money from his job selling magazines to save for a trip to America, where he believes he will find his passion in life. Frank uses many different anecdotes throughout his story to calm the truth of how truly horrific his childhood was.

In the end, Angela’s Ashes gives the reader a detailed and inspirational true story about a young boy navigating the scary world that Limerick, Ireland was at the time of the Great Depression. As the story comes to a close, with Frank finally finding his people in the great country of America, the reader is left with closure for Frank, and hope for a future of success. 

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