Angela’s Ashes

by: Frank McCourt

Chapter V

Three years pass with this sentence: “I’m seven, eight, nine going on ten and still Dad has no work.” Malachy constantly loses jobs because on Friday night he drinks away his weekly pay, and then he oversleeps and misses work on Saturday. Angela discusses her woes with Bridey Hannon as the two women sit around the fireplace smoking Woodbine cigarettes.

Frank has to join the Arch Confraternity of the Redemptorist Church in Limerick so that his mother can tell the St. Vincent de Paul Society of his membership and impress them with the fact that she is raising her boys to be good Catholics. Members of the Confraternity must go to every meeting or risk getting in trouble with Father Gorey, which would shame the member’s family. Frank’s prefect, Declan Collopy, boasts that his own service for the Confraternity will help him get a job selling linoleum.

Malachy wants Frank to be an altar boy. He spends hours teaching his son the Latin Mass, which he has memorized. Frank and Malachy go to the church one day and ask the man who comes to the door whether Frank might become an altar boy. The man looks at Frank and Malachy, says there’s no room, and slams the door. Angela blames this behavior on class snobbery.

Analysis

Malachy’s intelligence becomes apparent in this chapter. He writes letters for people in the neighborhood, most of whom are illiterate, and everyone commends him for his lovely handwriting and command of the English language. He also knows the Latin Mass in it entirety. He is a natural scholar, demonstrating his reverence for words when he says, “Latin is sacred and it is to be learned and recited on the knees.”

As Frank matures, he begins to notice the vagaries of religion and class. He reports on some of the perceived differences between Catholic and Protestant, and although he simply observes the differences without commenting, the observation itself is significant. He notes that heathens go to hell, along with all of the Protestants, and that there is a specific place in hell reserved for the soupers (Catholics turned Protestant to avoid starvation during the Great Famine). Frank seems a bit baffled that his neighbors hold grudges based on religious conversions that happened hundreds of years ago. Also, Frank senses his father’s heartbreaking pride in his son, and his subsequent disappointment when, because of class, Frank is not allowed to become an altar boy.

For the first time, Frank overhears his mother talking at length about her worries. Just as Frank’s consciousness of class and religion is growing, his consciousness of his parents’ psychologies is, as well. When Angela complains that her husband can’t behave like the other husbands and jokes to Bridey Hannon that her life is a hell, Frank begins to understand his mother more fully. He realizes that “the fag [cigarette] is the only comfort they have.”