Angela’s Ashes

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Angela’s Ashes Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The chapter begins with a description of the old trunk that Angela keeps in the house. The trunk contains important birth papers, Malachy Sr.’s English passport, the children’s American passports, and a dress that Angela wore years ago when she enjoyed dancing. Frank looks at his parents’ marriage certificate, and is surprised to see that his parents were married less than nine months before his birth. He concludes that he must have been born after a pregnancy of less than nine months.
This opening sets the tone for the chapters to come. As Frank grows older, sex becomes more and more concerning to him. For the time being, he isn’t entirely aware of how sex works, or what the Catholic rules regarding sex are—he still assumes that someone can’t become pregnant until they’re married.
Themes
Catholicism, Sexuality, and Coming-of-age Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
As the chapter begins, Frank is almost twelve years old, and Mikey Molloy is sixteen. Mikey is off to go to the pub—it’s a Limerick tradition that when a boy turns sixteen he goes to the pub to have his first beer. Mikey invites Frank along for the celebration, and he’s able to convince the bartender to let Frank in. At the bar, Mikey enjoys his beer while Frank sips lemonade. Frank asks Mikey about his parents’ marriage—how could he have been born less than nine months afterwards? Mikey laughs and explains to Frank that Frank was clearly “conceived” before his parents were married. Frank doesn’t know what this means, and Mikey has to explain the basics of the sperm and the egg to him.
Alcohol is clearly devastating for many members of the Limerick community, but it’s also a part of daily life. Getting a beer at the pub on one’s 16th birthday is, no less than the Catholic Confirmation and Communion Days, an essential part of growing up. Not coincidentally, Frank experiences an important “coming of age” milestone here when he asks Mikey about his parents, and winds up hearing an explanation of the “birds and the bees.”
Themes
Irish Social Tensions Theme Icon
Poverty, Survival, and Morality Theme Icon
In the weeks following his talk with Mikey, Frank begins working for a man named Mr. Hannon, who takes care of horses. Hannon teaches Frank how to harness the animals, and praises Frank for being a quick learner—this makes Frank happy. Hannon leads Frank through the streets of Limerick, using his horses to delivers heavy packages and coal bags to the houses. As they walk, Hannon explains that he’d like to be in England, where the work is better, but unfortunately he doesn’t have a “good pair of legs,” and couldn’t do enough manual labor.
As Frank finds more jobs, he also gets positive feedback from his employers, who praise him for his intelligence and quick thinking. It seems wholly unfair that Malachy Sr. is able to travel to England, where undoubtedly he’s drinking and sleeping around, but Mr. Hannon, a genuinely hard-working man, is unable to do the same.
Themes
Irish Social Tensions Theme Icon
Poverty, Survival, and Morality Theme Icon
After work, Mr. Hannon takes Frank to the pub, where Frank finds Bill Galvin and Pa Keating. Hannon buys Frank lemonade, and gets a beer for himself. Frank notices that his eyes are very irritated—being around coal bags all day has made his eyes red. Nevertheless, Frank wants a permanent job with Hannon. In his spare time, he invents “blinking exercises” for himself to ensure that his eyes won’t be destroyed by his work. Frank continues working alongside Mr. Hannon. He notices that Hannon was right about his legs—sometimes, he can barely walk.
Frank is willing to sacrifice his own health and wellbeing in the interest of having a decent job. This shows that years of living in near-starvation have had a profound influence on his work ethic. Frank sees money as the ultimate goal (more important than his health or education), and is willing to push himself to make as much money as he can in order to support himself and his family.
Themes
Poverty, Survival, and Morality Theme Icon
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Angela informs Frank that he must give up his job with Mr. Hannon, since the coal dust is destroying Frank’s eyes. Frank is furious—he’s been proud of himself for getting a decent job at a young age, and doesn’t seem to care that his eyes are weakening. Then, a few days later, Frank gets a surprise: Mr. Hannon has been taken off to the hospital—his legs have become infected. Frank goes to Mr. Hannon’s house, where he finds Mrs. Hannon. Mrs. Hannon tells Frank that Mr. Hannon will never be able to deliver coal bags again. She adds that he always enjoyed spending time with Frank, and even thought of him as a surrogate son.
Frank’s relationships with friends, loved ones, and casual acquaintances are always tainted by the possibility of death and disease—in other words, Frank always faces the chance of losing someone he cares about to a tragedy of some kind. While Frank can’t do anything about this, his best option is to savor the time he does have with these people. This is partly the purpose of the book Angela’s Ashes itself—to memorialize the friends and, in the case of Mr. Hannon, father-figures that Frank has lost or left behind.
Themes
Poverty, Survival, and Morality Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Misery, Drunkenness, and Escape Theme Icon