Angela’s Ashes

Frank McCourt
Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title  Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir

author  Frank McCourt

type of work  Memoir; autobiography

genre  Memoir—a type of autobiography in which the author writes a personal record of the events, people, and situations that have shaped his or her life. Memoirs can span an entire lifetime, but often focus on a specific period of the writer’s life.

language  English, with use of Irish, English, and American dialects

time and place written  Early 1990s, New York

date of first publication  September 1996

publisher  Scribner / Simon and Schuster Inc.

narrator  Frank McCourt

point of view  First person

tone  Humorous, self-effacing, matter-of-fact. McCourt matches his tone to the age of the narrator, becoming more serious and worldly as the narrative progresses.

tense  Present tense or immediate past; the author writes as though he is experiencing events for the first time as they unfold.

setting (time)  Late 1930s and 1940s

setting (place)  Brooklyn, New York (briefly); Limerick, Ireland

protagonist  Frank McCourt

major conflict Frank faces hunger, neglect, his father’s alcoholism, oppressive weather, and illness in the face of the broader struggle that defines his memoir—getting out of Ireland and rising up from poverty. Along the way he faces opposition from schoolmasters, priests, family members, and people in all positions of authority who look down on him because of his lower-class status.

rising action Frank increasingly condemns his father’s irresponsibility but worries also about the morality of his own behavior; he determines to make a success of himself in America.

climax  Near the end, a priest absolves Frank of all his sins, allowing Frank to leave for America with a clear conscience and to reassert control over his future. At this point, Frank’s dream of escaping Ireland and overcoming poverty becomes possible.

falling action  Frank earns enough money to leave for America and bids an emotional farewell to Ireland.

themes  The limitations imposed by class; hunger

motifs  Guilt; anti-English sentiment; stories, songs, and folktales

symbols  The River Shannon; eggs; ashes

foreshadowing  The death of baby Margaret anticipates Frank’s near-continual state of bereavement in Limerick, as he struggles to cope with the loss of two of his brothers, Theresa Carmody, and many other friends and relations.