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Angela’s Ashes

by: Frank McCourt

Important Quotations Explained

1
When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.
. . . nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred long years.

This passage introduces McCourt’s memoir. It is one of the only times in the narrative that we hear the adult McCourt expressing a strong, clear opinion. From this point on, the narration proceeds from a child’s point of view. While we are able to infer implied opinions, the narrator never again expresses his views overtly. Young Frank simply reports events objectively.

In this opening passage, the author’s wry humor contrasts with the bleakness of his subject matter: a child with an unhappy family life who encounters oppressive authoritarians at church and at school, and who is further demoralized by the historical injustices done to his country. Throughout the autobiography, the author reports on his trouble as he does here—with good-natured humor, and without self-pity.