Angela’s Ashes

by: Frank McCourt

Chapters XIII–XIV

Frank continues to worry about masturbating, which one priest terms the “vile sin of self-abuse.” Although the priests assure the boys that when they masturbate the Virgin Mary weeps, Christ’s wounds are reopened, and they take a step toward hell, Frank cannot stop himself from masturbating. His natural urges come into conflict with the stern warnings of the priests, and his guilt deepens.

Frank disapproves of the sexual relationship his mother has with Laman. When Laman beats Frank, Frank thinks that his mother should demonstrate her loyalty to her son by sleeping alone, and he is disgusted when instead, “she cries and begs till there’s whispering and grunting and moaning and nothing.”

Although young Frank does not fully recognize his mother’s pain, McCourt shows the reader how difficult the situation is for Angela. She has no money to buy or rent a place of her own, and so to ensure the survival of her children and keep a roof over their heads, she must stay with Laman and keep him happy. Laman’s mistreatment of her children torments Angela. When he laughs and assigns Frank the humiliating job of emptying his chamber pot, Angela “stares into the dead ashes in the fireplace.” When Laman beats Frank, Angela screams and protests. Still, she sleeps with Laman on the same night that Laman abuses Frank. McCourt does not make it clear whether their sexual relations are partially a relief to Angela in her loneliness, or whether they are simply an odious duty she feels compelled to perform in order to keep Laman satisfied.

Frank is determined to move to America and to someday provide for his mother and brothers. He would rather “jump into the River Shannon” than give up on his dream.