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The narrator, Frank McCourt, describes
how his parents meet in Brooklyn, New York. After his mother, Angela,
becomes pregnant with Frank, she marries Malachy, the father of
her child. Angela struggles to feed her growing family of sons,
while Malachy spends his wages on alcohol. Frank’s much-loved baby
sister, Margaret, dies and Angela falls into depression. The McCourts
decide to return to Ireland. More troubles plague the McCourts in
Ireland: Angela has a miscarriage, Frank’s two younger brothers
die, and Malachy continues to drink away the family’s money.
Frank’s childhood is described as a time of great deprivation,
but of good humor and adventure as well. When the first floor of
the house floods during the winter, Angela and Malachy announce
that the family will leave the cold damp of the first floor, which
they call “Ireland,” and move to the warm, cozy second floor, which
they call “Italy.” Although Malachy’s alcoholism uses up all of
the money for food, he earns Frank’s love and affection by entertaining
him with stories about Irish heroes and the people who live on their
Over the course of a few years, Angela gives birth to
two sons, Michael and Alphonsus. Alphosus is called “Alphie” for
short. As Frank grows older, the narration increasingly focuses
on his exploits at school. When Frank turns ten, he is confirmed
(Confirmation is a ritual that makes one an official Christian or
Catholic. When Frank was growing up, people were confirmed around
ages seven to ten). Right after his confirmation, Frank falls ill
with typhoid fever and must stay in the hospital for months. There,
he gets his first introduction to Shakespeare. Frank finds comfort
in stories of all kinds, from Shakespeare to movies to newspapers.
By the time he returns to school, his gift for language is obvious.
In particular, Frank’s flair for storytelling gets him noticed by
With the onset of World War II, many fathers in Limerick
go to England to find work and send money back to their families.
Eventually, Malachy goes as well, but he fails to send money home.
Frank begins to work for Mr. Hannon. This is the first in a series
of jobs. Frank will go on to work for Mr. Timoney, Uncle Ab, the
post office, Mrs. Finucane, and Mr. McCaffrey. Frank enjoys the
feeling of responsibility he gets from working, and he dreams of
saving enough to provide his family with food and clothes.
The McCourts get evicted from their lodgings and must
move in with Angela’s cousin Laman. Angela begins sleeping with
Laman, an arrangement that makes Frank increasingly uncomfortable
and angry. He also begins to feel guilty about his own sexual feelings. The
priests’ strict mandates against masturbation make Frank feel guilty
when he masturbates.
While working as a messenger boy, Frank begins a sexual
relationship with a customer, Theresa Carmody, who eventually dies
of consumption, leaving Frank heartbroken. Frank saves enough money
to get to New York. On his first night there, he attends a party
and sleeps with an American woman. Though sad to leave behind Ireland
and his family, Frank has great expectations for the future.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Angela's Ashes!