Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

The River Shannon

The symbolism of the River Shannon changes as Frank’s outlook matures during his childhood and adolescence. Initially, the river symbolizes Limerick’s bleakness and the brooding desolation of Frank’s childhood. Frank associates the river with the endless rain that torments Limerick, which he describes as a virulent disease-carrying wetness that causes people to fall sick with coughs, asthma, consumption, and other diseases. As the memoir progresses, Frank begins to see the river as a route out of Limerick. As a result, it comes to symbolize escape, movement, and freedom. When Frank throws Mrs. Finucane’s ledger into the river—thus liberating all of her remaining debtors—he suggests that soon he, like the ledger, will use the river to leave Ireland behind and set sail across the Atlantic.


Angela’s Ashes takes its name from the ashes which fall from Angela’s cigarettes and those in the fireplace at which she stares blankly. The entire setting of the narrative feels draped in ash—dark, decrepit, weak, lifeless, sunless. Angela’s ashes represent her crumbling hopes: her dreams of raising a healthy family with a supportive husband have withered and collapsed, leaving her with only cigarettes for comfort and the smoldering ashes of a fire for warmth.


Unlike other families, the McCourts cannot afford to buy eggs regularly. Eggs are a familiar yet unattainable luxury, and Frank associates them with wealth and security. They become symbols of the good life that Frank wishes to provide for himself and his family. Eggs symbolize the financial security, the satisfaction, and the indulgences available beyond the boundaries of Limerick.