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Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt's Courageous Tale of His Miserable Childhood in Limerick, Ireland.
Frank McCourt, the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning autobiography, Angela’s Ashes, was born on August 19, 1930 in Brooklyn New York. His parents, Malachy and Angela McCourt always had to struggle to get by, mainly because of Malachy’s alcoholism. His autobiographic account Angela’s Ashes is how a family managed to survive, despite being dirt poor, and having an alcoholic father, that even drank money, that was supposed to be a gift for his newborn baby brother. His father’s problem was so severe, that several of Frank’s siblings died because of his father’s excesses. Angela’s Ashes, shows that despite having a dysfunctional family, Frank manages to rise above his problems, and make something amazing out of his life.
The story begins with a description of Frank’s parents and how he came into the world, he was conceived, as he says in the following way: “With Angela drawn to the hangdog look and Malachy lonely after three months in jail, there was bound to be a knee-trembler. A knee trembler is the act itself done up against a wall, man and woman up on their toes, straining so hard their knees treble with the excitement that’s in it.”
His poor parent’s lived for a time in New York. Angela had several other children besides Frank. Frank’s parents had a little girl, they named Margaret. During Margaret’s brief life, Malachy was happy, without the need of alcohol. He loved Margaret, more than anything. When little Margaret died, both of Frank’s parents lost their will to live. This led to Angela’s mother, sending them plane tickets and forcing everyone to come to Limerick, Ireland.
Life in Limerick was anything, but happy. The McCourts were poor, to the point of their mother having to take scraps from the priest’s dinner. They lived on the dole, which Angela had to protect, otherwise her husband would drink the little money they had to live on. Life for the McCourts consisted of many mouths to feed, yet they were all cramped up in a little house, with a flooded downstairs and an outhouse that they had to share with the entire neighborhood. Frank McCourt describes his life in Limerick in the following statement: "People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying school masters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred long years. Above all -- we were wet."
In McCourt’s autobiography, we get a glimpse of life in Limerick Ireland. One common aspect of life was the poverty that was shared by many of his neighbors. The poverty level was so severe for some, that one of his friends lived in complete squalor, with a father who was dying of consumption. His grandmother often mentioned her contempt for the Protestants and everyone hated the English. Drinking was a ritual practiced by all the men. They felt that having your first pint was like a rite of passage, from boyhood to manhood.
Frank’s father is addicted to the point of having absolutely no self dignity. His family had to endure untold shame, and humiliation because of his lack of self control. He was charming, when he wanted to be. He often loved to tell Frank stories. Frank’s greatest joy in life was his father’s wonderful stories. He often saw his father like the trinity, the father who told stories, the man who was trying to find work, and the man who did the bad thing (getting drunk). Frank’s mother, in secret, explained his father’s failures by telling Frank that he was dropped on the head, when he was a child. That still didn’t excuse his lack of concern for his family, and his unwillingness to change for their sakes.
Frank, being the resourceful young man, that he was, even managed to get a job with his uncle delivering coal when he was only ten. He did whatever it took to take care of his family. He was even struck with illness, in his efforts to support them. He had a bad case of conjunctivitis, as a consequence of working with the coal, and he nearly died of typhoid when he was still a child. Despite having a difficult life, Frank managed to still have some wonderful adventures. He loved the stories his father told, and was able to forgive his father in a way, since those stories were often a source of comfort and joy for Frank.
He shares with the reader,the endless humiliation that his mother had to endure from the Vincent de Paul Society, when needing some assistance. He tells about the time that his mother needed help to buy some furniture and a meal for Christmas and they treated her with disdain. The Vincent de Paul Society gave her a docket to buy a few sticks of furniture, that included a mattress full of fleas, and a the head of a pig, for their Christmas meal. She also had to endure, even more humiliation, when their poverty was so great, that this forced Angela and the boys, to go live with her cousin, a man named Laman Griffin. Laman was selfish, unkind and made Angela and Frank empty his chamber pot on a daily basis. He ate his fish and chips every Friday, in honor of Catholic teachings, yet never shared any of it with Angela or the boys. Angela even ends up being Laman’s mistress in exchange for food and shelter.
All in all, Angela’s Ashes is a beautiful portrayal of life in all its splendor. It is a heartfelt reflexion on life, full of wisdom. It really makes the reader realize, how easy most of us have it, compared to many, who have to struggle, even to have the most basic of necessities. It brings to light a different Ireland. Not the Ireland we all know, with the leprechauns, shamrocks, Irish dancers, and St. Patrick. In this story there is not the luck of the Irish, but rather the struggles of a poor Irish family to survive day to day living, against overwhelming odds. Frank McCourt passed away on July 19, 2009, he will be greatly missed in the literary world.
If you are looking for a moving story, a look at the best and worst of humanity, read Angela’s Ashes. I never forget the first time I read this book; I could not put it down. Angela’s Ashes is a page turner; it has also been released as a wonderful movie, by the same title. If you have the chance, look into Angela’s Ashes. This would be a wonderful way to celebrate Irish Heritage month.
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