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Teacher Man, by Frank McCourt -- A Book Review and Summary
Frank McCourt grew up in the lanes of Limmerick, Ireland. No one ever would have suspected that one day he would be famous, least of all himself. When Frank grew up he returned to New York City where he'd been born, though his family went back to Ireland when he was very young. He scratched out a living on the docks, loading freight trucks and getting drunk on the weekends. Later, he got a job as a high school teacher. In his sixties, Frank finally did what he'd wanted to do his entire life...he wrote a book. He never expected anyone to take notice of it, and certainly never could have expected the impact Angela's Ashes had on the literary world.
Angela's Ashes tells the story of Frank McCourt's boyhood among the poor of Ireland. McCourt describes for us the home he lived in, his family (including his dead brothers), and his strict Catholic upbringing. It describes a rather depressing scene of general poverty and sickness, with sure promises of going to hell around every corner for a confused but involuntarily devout little Catholic boy.
Next, in 'Tis McCourt describes his journey back to America where he finds a job working on the docks of New York; scraping out a living in an effort to put himself through school.
Now, in Teacher Man, McCourt leaves the docks to work as a teacher in New York's high schools. Frank swiftly learns that high school kids, especially those in particular big-city technical schools, do not necessarily wish to learn. For thirty years McCourt painstakingly works through five different schools, constantly getting in trouble for his unorthodox ways of teaching.
On the surface, Teacher Man is just what I've described above; the story of a high school teacher's experiences in his career. Underneath, it has the same colorful genius as its two predecessors. In the midst of a straightforward tale, McCourt interjects his own thoughts, flashbacks, insights, and even jokes. The result is an extremely engaging book detailing the interactions of several very different social classes in a broad range of circumstances.
I first read Angela's Ashes in high school and,
I must confess, I did not like it very much. Then I watched a program
on television in which Frank McCourt read an exerpt from his second
book, 'Tis, aloud to an audience...and I figured out what I'd done
wrong! When I read McCourt's first book I was not used to his monologue
style of writing, so it came across as rather dry and difficult to
read. I decided to try reading 'Tis, but this time instead of scenes of
events going in my head it was someone telling me a story in an
animated Irish brogue. Read that way, I loved it! Who would have
thought TV could help me enjoy a book more! I then re-read Angela's
Ashes and deduced that I'd judged it unfairly, I'd just been reading it
wrong. One day at the library I happened across Teacher Man and just had
to read it, I hadn't even known McCourt had written a third book. As I read it I again pictured someone telling me a story (and the brogue is an important part of this!) and thoroughly enjoyed it as well.
In addition, many people have commented to me on how depressing Angela's Ashes
was, and many did not like it for this reason. I can assure you the majority of the depressiveness is over at the end of that particular book. By the time it rolls around to Teacher Man it is, for the most part, fairly light-hearted.
I would not recommend these books for everyone; many people have told me they've had difficulties adapting to and enjoying the monologue style of writing, which is sometimes hard to follow as the author uses his particular way of arranging words and doesn't use quotation marks, since only one person is actually talking throughout the book. They are also a bit graphic in parts (mainly about sex), and can be offensive to some people (particularly Catholics).
All-in-all, though, if you enjoy human-interest narratives and are not easily offended by sexual innuendo and japes at the pope and the Catholic church in general, this is a great book for you!