Angela’s Ashes

by: Frank McCourt

Chapter IV

McCourt draws a comparison between received knowledge, such as the information passed from schoolmaster to pupil, and found knowledge, such as the information gleaned from reading and talking to peers. Mikey Molloy’s coarse stories and sexual expertise are particularly fascinating to Frank, but both ways of learning are tinged with fear. Frank worries that he has sinned by listening to dirty stories, and Mr. Benson accompanies his teaching with constant threats of murder and mayhem if the boys do not do as he wishes.

Frank’s Angel represents the understanding friend that Frank needs. McCourt characterizes the Angel as unambiguously real: he appears to Frank as a light in his head and a voice in his ear.

Frank confesses with great alacrity to the smallest of sins, such as listening to the Cuchulain story. This rigorous confessing is touching, since Frank seems relatively free from sin, but it demonstrates Frank’s desire to be good and shows how confusing the world is for children. McCourt balances the naïve worldview of the narrator with an adult’s ironic and often self-deprecating wit. For example, we chuckle along with the adult McCourt at the thought of Grandma spitting on Frank’s head to flatten his “Presbyterian” hair, and fretting over God in her backyard.