Angela's Ashes is a personal account of Frank McCourt's life in Limerick
(Irish Free State) of the 1930s and 40s. It portrays the poverty and deprivation which many Irish suffered from, but
it also shows the antagonism of Irish Catholics against English Protestants and the dominant impact of Catholicism on the
lives of the Irish.
Frankie McCourt, the protagonist of the story, is the oldest child of Angela and Malachy McCourt. Father McCourt is a patriotic
Irishman from the North, an alcoholic and always prepared to die for Ireland. This contributes to the fact
that Frankie's father hardly works and spends all his dole money on drinking in pubs. For the rest of the large family
life means a permanent battle for survival. Bread and water becomes the regular diet which is why three of the McCourt
children die of consumption. People suffering from the Great Famine of the 1840s and 50s were probably not worse off than the McCourts.
It was not only physical survival that became part of Frankie's life, it was also dominated by a constantly bad
conscience, by his continuous fear of doom and his urge to make confessions for all that the Catholic Church condemned.
There was only salvation within the Catholic Church. As a good Catholic Frankie joins the 'Arch Confraternity
of the Holy Family', a congregation who considers all but Catholics doomed. Frankie's life is closely connected with the Ten Commandments, the
Seven Deadly Sins, the Seven Sacraments, communion, confirmation, prayers, confessions and reading about saints.
People in Limerick are so prejudiced that they would not talk to you if your forefathers were friendly with the
English or worse - if they had been informers to the English or fought on the opposite side in the
Civil War in 1922. So in every lane there's always someone not talking to someone or everyone not talking to someone or someone
not talking to everyone.
Communication almost entirely stops even between Frankie and his mother when he secretly witnesses that she has sexual intercourse with
Laman Griffin, an old man who offers the McCourt family shelter after they were forced to move houses.
Frankie moves to his uncle, is lucky to get odd jobs and saves most of his earned money in order to be able to go back to America.
At the age of 19 he can afford to pay £55 for the Atlantic crossing by boat and arrives there to begin a new life,
leaving behind his family in Ireland.
The symbol of the ashes pervades the whole story - it not only stands for the ash cross which Catholics put on their forheads on Ash Wednesday,
but also symbolizes the lack of warmth, the lack of love (by her husband) and the shattered family living in absolute poverty.