Angela’s Ashes

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Angela’s Ashes Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
One day, Frank delivers a telegram to the Harrington family. Harrington is an Englishman, and his wife is dead. When Frank knocks on the door, Mr. Harrington answers—this is surprising, since usually Mrs. Harrington is the one at home. Mr. Harrington asks Frank if he’s Irish, and when Frank assents, Mr. Harrington invites Frank inside. Inside, Mr. Harrington gives Frank a glass of sherry, which Frank reluctantly drinks. He tells Frank that he’s going to show Frank what “you people” have done to his wife. Mr. Harrington shows Frank Mrs. Harrington, who is lying in bed, dead from tuberculosis. Angrily, Mr. Harrington yells that the Irish have spread disease to his beloved wife. Frank runs out of the house, a little dizzy from the sherry.
Mr. Harrington’s actions in this chapter seem contradictory, but they make a certain perverse sense. Mr. Harrington hates the Irish, and yet he’s also lonely—he wants someone to talk to, but he also wants someone to yell at. Thus Harrington invites Frank into his home to attack Frank’s Irish heritage (“you people”). Frank, who’s still thinking about Theresa’s death by consumption, is understandably shaken by his encounter—he feels guilty, and can almost believe that he was responsible for Mrs. Harrington’s death.
Themes
Irish Social Tensions Theme Icon
Poverty, Survival, and Morality Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Misery, Drunkenness, and Escape Theme Icon
Frank returns to the telegram office. There, Mrs. O’Connell berates him for being so slow with his deliveries. She adds that Mr. Harrington has called her, claiming that Frank snuck into his house and stole sherry from him. Frank tries to tell the truth, but Mrs. O’Connell doesn’t believe him—she fires him on the spot. When word gets out that Frank has stolen sherry, an anonymous parish priest sends Mrs. O’Connell a letter, asking her to take Frank back. O’Connell says that Frank will be allowed to work for the office until he’s sixteen—afterwards he’ll never be allowed in the office again.
It’s interesting that Mrs. O’Connell accepts Mr. Harrington’s word over Frank’s, considering that Frank is Irish, and Mr. Harrington, we can surmise, has made no secret of his dislike for Ireland. And yet there are those who trust and respect Frank, like the anonymous parish priest who saves Frank’s career by arranging for him to stay on until the age of 16.
Themes
Irish Social Tensions Theme Icon
Frank is devastated that he’s going to lose his only source of income when he’s sixteen, and he still feels guilty about having sex with Theresa Carmody. A year has passed since her death—Frank is now fifteen years old. He contemplates confessing his sin to a priest, but he can’t pluck up the courage to do so.
Frank is locked in a difficult situation: he respects the rules of Catholicism enough to blame himself for Theresa’s death, and yet he’s so beset with guilt that he can’t bear to confess to a priest, as Catholicism tells him he must. Clearly, Frank thinks he made Theresa sin before she had a chance to repent, and thus condemned her to hell.
Themes
Catholicism, Sexuality, and Coming-of-age Theme Icon
One day, Frank delivers a letter to a woman named Mrs. Finucane. She asks Frank if he can read and write, and he replies that he can. She explains that she wants Frank to write letters to her customers. Finucane sells dresses which she’s purchased at a discount price. She needs someone to provide paper and envelopes, and to write threatening letters to her customers, who often fall behind on their weekly payments for the clothing. Frank wants this job badly, though he knows that he’ll never be able to provide the paper and envelopes. After some agonizing, he steals paper and envelopes from a Woolworth’s store. He isn’t seen.
Frank’s ambitions to make money lead him to some unusual careers. Here, for the first time, he’s allied with a wealthy person, essentially threatening poorer people to pay their debts as soon as possible. Frank also proves that he’s constructed a new moral code for himself. He steals, but only from places too big and prosperous to be seriously harmed by the theft—in this example, for instance, Frank’s crime is essentially victimless.
Themes
Irish Social Tensions Theme Icon
Poverty, Survival, and Morality Theme Icon
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Frank shows up at Mrs. Finucane’s house, ready to write letters for her. In the coming days, he drafts many letters, in which he uses intimidating jargon to force the recipients to pay what they owe to Mrs. Finucane. Mrs. Finucane is grateful for Frank’s help. She gives him money for stamps so that he can send the envelopes. Instead of buying stamps, Frank delivers them himself.
Frank is given a chance to show off his talents with writing and elaborate diction. He lacks a strong formal education, but he still finds avenues in which he can express his talents and develop them.
Themes
Poverty, Survival, and Morality Theme Icon
As Frank nears the age of sixteen, Mrs. O’Connell, who seems to have forgotten the episode with Mr. Harrington, suggests that Frank take the postman’s exam, which will allow him to become a full-time postman. On the day of the exam, O’Connell arranges for Frank to be excused from work. He goes to take the exam, which is held at the Protestant Young Men’s Association. As Frank waits in line to take the exam, he sees a sign across the street: “Smart boy wanted.” Knowing that he would hate being a postman, Frank decides to ditch the exam and interview for the other job.
Frank has been settling into a role in his community, delivering mail to the people of Limerick—the most conventional, “Limerick” job imaginable. While he’s making good money in this way, he’s clearly dissatisfied with his life, and not just because of Theresa’s death. Frank longs to take risks and try new things—the perfect example of this is his decision to sneak out of the post office exam and pursue his own career choices. This isn’t to say that a career as a “smart boy” will automatically be an escape for Frank—rather, Frank’s decision to skip out on the post office is admirable for the simple reason that he’s exercising his independence.
Themes
Poverty, Survival, and Morality Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Misery, Drunkenness, and Escape Theme Icon
Frank walks into the building with the sign. Inside, he meets Mr. McCaffrey, who asks him to demonstrate his proficiency with sums and writing. Frank writes his address, saying that he lives on Little Barrington “Street.” Mr. McCaffrey points out that Little Barrington is a lane, not a street—in other words, Frank lives in a poorer part of the city than he’s letting on. Nevertheless, McCaffrey is impressed with Frank’s steady handwriting, and offers him a job distributing newspapers.
Frank tries to use language to hide the fact that he’s impoverished (we can see the same tactic in the overly fancy, elaborate letters he writes for Mrs. Finucane). In Angela’s Ashes itself, however, he adopts the opposite strategy, writing about his poverty “warts and all” instead of trying to conceal it. Some time between the end of this book and the time when McCourt wrote his memoir, he decided to stop hiding his roots and write about them frankly.
Themes
Irish Social Tensions Theme Icon
Poverty, Survival, and Morality Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
When Frank returns to the telegram office, word has already gotten out that he walked out of the exam. Mrs. O’Connell and Miss Barry think that Frank believes he’s “too good” to be a postman, and they say that he’s a disgrace to his country. Frank says nothing, and leaves the telegram office, never to return.
The cold shoulders Frank receives after leaving the past office exam are very telling of life in Limerick. The people of Limerick reject anyone who’s different from them, and anyone who wants to pursue a career beyond the beaten path is implicitly insulting the rest of the city, they believe. In a way, they have a point—Frank is dissatisfied with life in Limerick. And yet it’s also small-minded and foolish to attack a teenager for trying to find his way in the world.
Themes
Irish Social Tensions Theme Icon