Angela’s Ashes

by: Frank McCourt

Chapters XIII–XIV

Summary Chapters XIII–XIV

Frank spends his days going on long walks in the countryside. He is ashamed that he masturbates, especially when he once masturbates on a hill, “in full view of Ireland.”

Uncle Ab refuses to give Frank food, so Frank steals milk and bread from wealthy houses. He concludes that since he is doomed for his sins anyway, a few more will not make any difference. Still, he feels that he is little more than a beggar, standing outside stores and asking for leftover fish and chips.

At the library, Frank happens upon a sex manual written by Lin Yutang, and, after reading it, finally understands the mechanics of intercourse. He says, “My father lied to me for years about the Angel on the Seventh Step.” When the shocked librarian discovers that Frank has been reading the manual, she orders him to leave. Frank falls asleep in a park and dreams of virgin martyrs dressed in swimsuits. He wakes up to discover that he is having a wet dream, and people in the park are watching him ejaculate.

Frank returns to Ab’s house and washes his clothes in preparation for his first day of work as a messenger boy. He finds a loaf of bread that Ab has hidden in his coat pocket and helps himself to one slice, drinking a glass of water as he eats to make himself feel more full. Because his clothes are still drying and he is cold, Frank puts on an old woolen dress of his grandmother’s and goes to bed. His Aunt Aggie brings his drunk uncle home from the pub and finds him in his grandmother’s dress. Frank explains and says that he is living with Ab until he can afford to buy a house for his mother and brothers. His aunt concedes that this is “more than your father would do.”

Analysis: Chapters XIII–XIV

Although Frank does not comment on Mr. O’Halloran’s actions, McCourt makes it clear to the reader that O’Halloran is an inspirational and good man with a keen sense of social injustice. The teacher’s indignation at the unfairness of the class system is the first such anger Frank or the reader has heard about Frank’s supposed lot in life. For the first time, someone is prompting Frank to think about the unseen forces that keep poor people poor. Although Frank does not explicitly comment on O’Halloran’s ideas, he demonstrates that he has noted his teacher’s righteous anger; when he reports on O’Halloran’s speech, he replicates its fury, saying, “[Mr. O’Halloran] is disgusted by this free and independent Ireland that keeps a class system foisted on us by the English, [and says] that we are throwing our talented children on the dungheap.”

Like Mr. O’Halloran, Angela is angry that Frank cannot get the education he deserves. Angela’s anger is directed not at the class system, however, but at the church. In previous chapters there were subtle indications that although Angela brings her boys up as Catholics, she does not embrace the church: she was not the one to take Frank to church on Christmas, and she did not seem overly concerned with the technical cleanliness of Frank’s soul prior to his Confirmation. In Chapter XIII, however, she finally voices some of her frustration with the church. She tells Frank, “That’s the second time a door was slammed in your face by the Church,” and she exhorts him never to let anyone slam a door in his face again.