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Angela’s Ashes

  • Study Guide

Chapter II

Summary Chapter II

McCourt encourages us to pity and understand his father. Malachy might refuse to remove his pint from its resting place on Eugene’s coffin, but he is genuinely tormented by his children’s deaths. He weeps for them and beats his legs in anguish. We are made to see how it is possible and even understandable that Malachy would spend money on drink while his family starves at home: after Oliver’s death, Malachy takes Frank from store to store, begging for food. Malachy is turned down everywhere, mocked for coming from the North, and he is told he should be ashamed of himself. When someone kindly offers him a pint, we observe how drinking with friends mitigates the humiliation and desperation Malachy endures.

McCourt also shows us how Irish culture encourages drinking. People think of drink as medicine, as a symbol of friendship, as “the staff of life,” as Pa Keating says. Malachy is helplessly dependent on alcohol, and his friends and family often inadvertently encourage his dependence. For example, when Malachy wants to get a drink after Eugene dies and Angela objects, Grandma refers to alcohol as medicine, saying, “He doesn’t have the pills to ease him, God help us, and a bottle of stout will be some small comfort.” When Malachy’s friends wish to show their sympathy, they do so by buying him drinks. Drink is also portrayed as the elixir that gives men the freedom to express emotion. Frank reveals that as a child he thought men could cry “only when you have the black stuff that is called the pint.”

In Chapter II, we see Frank becoming a strong-willed man. Although he is young, he is the oldest child in his family. At times, he even serves as his father’s babysitter: he goes to the pubs with his father and insists that they leave at a reasonable hour; he goes to the pubs to fetch his father and refuses to leave until his father comes with him.