Summary, Themes and Setting of the Novel Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

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Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt takes place in New York and Ireland during the times of the Great Depression and WW2.


Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt is a memoir in which McCourt tells stories and struggles of his childhood. The story begins with the author telling how his parents Angela and Malachy, who are both originally from Ireland, met and married in New York. Frank is their first born child, followed by Maclachy and twin brothers, Eugene and Oliver. The Author tells about his father’s alcohol problem and inability to keep a job which affects the difficulty of growing up in New York. His mother later has a baby girl named Margaret and Frank’s father becomes obsessed with her. Tragically, she gets sick and dies, leaving the parents depressed. Following Margaret’s death, the family takes a ship to Ireland with the help of the McNamara sisters. In Ireland, Frank meets his grandparents, who tell his father that there are no jobs in Ireland. Frank and his father go to the IRA office looking for money in recognition of Malachy’s service but are denied, but luckily the family is able to stay at a jail and are gifted money which gets them to Limerick. In Limerick, Frank meets Angela’s side of the family.

Shortly after, Frank’s brother Oliver becomes ill and dies, followed by the death of Oliver’s twin Eugene. Later, Angela gives birth to another boy, Michael. Frank’s father tells him and his brother that babies are delivered by the “Angel on the Seventh Step.” Frank and his younger brother Malachy are eventually enrolled in school, where they are bullied for being “Yankees.” Later, Frank completes his confirmation, but that is followed by the bad news that he has typhoid fever. At the hospital, Frank meets Patricia, who often gets them into trouble for reciting poems. As a punishment, Frank is moved to a different area and later finds out from a man named Seamus, who works at the hospital, that Patricia has died. After being released from the hospital, Frank learns he will have to retake his fifth year of school, but is able to impress his teacher enough to be moved to the sixth year class. Frank’s dad makes the decision to go to England and fight in WW2, but he fails to send any money back to the family because of his alcoholism. Frank develops an eye infection and is diagnosed with conjunctivitis, which causes eye problems that Frank continues to deal with. Frank and his family are evicted from their home, and Malachy leaves Limerick for school. Frank begins working as a telegram messenger and he develops a sexual relationship with a girl named Theresa, who he delivers telegrams to. Theresa becomes ill and eventually dies. Frank feels guilty and believes she is in hell because of him. He also fears he will go to hell for this. Later, a woman named Mrs. Brigid Finucane who pays him to write threatening letters.

When Frank turns sixteen, he drinks for the first time and gets into an altercation with his mother, who he hits. Frank begins delivering magazines for a man named Mr. McCaffery. One day, Frank and his co-workers sell pages of the newspaper that were recalled due to the content. Eventually, Frank gets enough money to go to America, which he dreamed of. His family throws a party before he leaves, and Angela is very sad to see him go. On his way to his destination, Frank goes to a party onshore where he has sex with a married woman. A priest who went with him finds out and is very disappointed in Frank. When Frank gets back onto his ship, the story ends with a wireless officer asking Frank the question, “Isn’t this a great country altogether?” and Frank answers, “Tis.”


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There are many themes in the memoir Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, but one main theme is lack of responsibility. The reader can see this lack of responsibly through the parents. Frank’s mother does not take her children to the hospital until their illnesses are already out of hand, and Frank’s father is irresponsible with his money, leaving his family without things they need. For example, in chapter ten, “ … [Frank’s Father] never sends money from England… Grandma says we could starve to death for all he cares.”- (150). This quote is about how Frank’s father has been using the money he’s got in England to buy pints instead of sending it home to his struggling family, which is a prime example of his lack of responsibility.

Major Characters

There are many characters with major roles in Angela’s Ashes, but one that I believe affects the story most is Frank. Frank is the most major character, as the protagonist and narrator. Throughout the story Frank deals with the struggles of growing up poor with neglecting parents. He can be very hard on himself and feels guilty for many things that he does. This can be seen when a girl who he had premarital sex with dies. In chapter sixteen, Frank writes, “… I’m the one that sent Theresa to hell.”- (210). He feels terribly and finds it hard to forgive himself. Eventually Frank was able to get over his sins and eventually conquered his dreams of moving to New York.

Another major character is Frank’s father. Frank’s father, who is from Northern Ireland, tells Frank and his siblings many different stories and fascinate them. He tells them how they must be willing to die for Ireland, as well as many other crazy things. Although he can seem like a loving father, he seems to prioritize unimportant things over his family. He has a bad drinking problem and disappears from home to go to bars. In chapter one the author writes, “We go from bar to bar looking for Dad.”- (12). The family not only struggles financially, but also emotionally from Malachy’s drinking problems. He spends money on drinking that could be used for his family. In the rest of the story, he continues to drink and neglect his family because of it, eventually driving Angela to cheat and Frank to leave Ireland.

Powerful Quotes

A first powerful quote in Angela’s Ashes is found in chapter seventeen where the author writes, “He tells me God forgives me and I must forgive myself, that God loves me and I must love myself for only when you love God in yourself can you love all God’s creatures.”- (222). This quote is powerful because it is explaining how important self forgiveness and self love is. After Theresa dies, Frank feels terrible about himself and believes sent Theresa to hell and that he is bound to be sent there to. After talking to the priest and hearing this quote, he finds that although he did a bad thing, God still has love for him, and he doesn’t have to feel so terrible about himself and put so much blame on himself for what happened. In all, I believe the quote just carries a message that you will make mistakes and bad decisions, but those small things shouldn’t cause you to hate yourself or feel bad about who you are in general as a person. A second powerful quote comes in chapter eighteen where Angela leads a chorus that sings, “A mother’s love is a blessing. No matter where you roam. Keep her while you have her, You’ll miss her when she’s gone.”- (231). I believe this is powerful because it talks about the powerful relationship between a mother and her child that is unconditional and unbreakable. This ties into the story because Frank is leaving to America and his mother is heartbroken. Overall, I believe this message is deep because you will always be loved by your mother no matter what.


Angela’s Ashes ends with Frank leaving Ireland for America and a conversation between Frank and a wireless officer. I believe the ending was interesting, but somewhat predictable to me. I knew he would probably leave Ireland because of the poor conditions he lived in and the neglect he faced by his parents. Overall, I believe going to America was the best decision for Frank to improve his conditions for living and create more opportunities for himself. The story in general taught me a lot about the living conditions during the Great Depression and the struggles of dealing with death and neglect in your early years of life.

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