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As the full title of the work suggests, Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir, is a memoir. A memoir is 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 (as in the case of this work) focus on a specific period of the writer’s life.
Angela’s Ashes is set in the late 1930s and 1940s and takes place (briefly) in Brooklyn, New York, with most of the story being set in Limerick, Ireland.
Frank McCourt is the narrator as well as the protagonist, and the work is told from his first-person perspective.
The work has a humorous, self-effacing, and matter-of-fact tone. McCourt matches his tone to the age of the narrator, becoming more serious and worldly as the narrative progresses.
Angela’s Ashes is presented in the present tense or immediate past. The author writes as though he is experiencing events for the first time as they unfold.
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.
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.
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.
Near the end of the work, 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.
Frank earns enough money to leave for America and bids an emotional farewell to Ireland.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Angela's Ashes!