Angela’s Ashes

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Angela’s Ashes Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Frank turns sixteen, and goes to a pub with Pa Keating. There he drinks his first pint of beer, and talks with Pa Keating about his new job with Mr. McCaffrey. As the evening goes on, the men in the bar talk about the recent news: now that World War II is over, the Nazis are being tried for war crimes. Footage of the Holocaust was shown at Nuremberg, proving that the Germans were willing to massacre innocent Jews.
Frank is finally entering into the initiation ritual he’d seen Mikey Molloy participate in years ago. Meanwhile Hitler’s actions in Europe illustrate the dark side of close-mindedness and regional pride (of the kind that Frank has been experiencing ever since moving to Limerick), and suggest that the world is changing quickly.
Themes
Irish Social Tensions Theme Icon
Poverty, Survival, and Morality Theme Icon
Misery, Drunkenness, and Escape Theme Icon
After a long night of drinking, Frank staggers home. Inside, he finds Angela waiting for him. Angela insists that Pa Keating should have known better than to let Frank drink so much. Frank yells that he can do whatever he wants now, but then he vomits all over himself. Angela weeps.
This is one of the darkest points in the novel—Frank seems to be turning into Malachy Sr., and continuing the cycle of alcoholism, poverty, and misery. It’s a mark of the importance of tradition in Limerick that Frank drinks anyway, despite his first-hand knowledge of the misery alcohol can cause.
Themes
Irish Social Tensions Theme Icon
Poverty, Survival, and Morality Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Misery, Drunkenness, and Escape Theme Icon
The next morning, Frank wakes up and ignores Angela. He goes to the statue of St. Francis, and realizes that he’s given up on his patron saint, as Francis didn’t help when Frank prayed for the life of Theresa Carmody. Frank begins to weep. Suddenly, a hand grabs him—it is Father Gregory, a local priest. He asks Frank to tell him what’s the matter, as he sees that Frank is clearly suffering. Gregory urges Frank to repent his sins. Frank agrees to confess his sins before Saint Francis, with Gregory listening. Frank tells Francis about having sex with Theresa, getting drunk, and fighting with Angela.
Throughout this chapter, Frank walks a fine line between embracing the social norms of life in Limerick and rejecting these norms for good. Here, for instance, he confesses his sins—participating in one of the most basic rituals of Irish Catholic life—and yet there’s also a sense of finality in Frank’s confession, as if he’s finally shedding his emotional baggage he’s been carrying around for a year.
Themes
Irish Social Tensions Theme Icon
Poverty, Survival, and Morality Theme Icon
Catholicism, Sexuality, and Coming-of-age Theme Icon
Misery, Drunkenness, and Escape Theme Icon
After Frank falls silent, Father Gregory waits a few moments, then begins to talk to Frank. Gregory explains that Theresa has undoubtedly gone to heaven—she would have been provided with a priest at the hospital, and thus confessed her sins before dying. This surprises and inspires Frank, as he didn’t know that Theresa had confessed before her death.
It’s remarkable, after Frank has fretted and worried about Theresa’s fate for so long, that Frank didn’t know this basic fact: Theresa confessed her sins before dying. It’s almost humorous that there’s such a simple answer to Frank’s problem—if he’d just confessed months ago he could have saved himself a lot of worry.
Themes
Catholicism, Sexuality, and Coming-of-age Theme Icon
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Shortly after turning sixteen, Frank begins his job with Mr. McCaffrey. He meets McCaffrey, who tells him that he’ll be labeling piles of newspapers to indicate where they’ll be delivered, and occasionally delivering them by himself. Frank will work with a team of boys around his age. There’s Gerry Halvey, the messenger boy, who takes the labeled newspapers and delivers them, and Eamon and Peter, two delivery boys. One day, Gerry Halvey doesn’t show up for work, and Mr. McCaffrey angrily tells Frank that he’ll have to deliver newspapers that day. Frank delivers papers. Then, in the afternoon, Mr. McCaffrey tells Frank that they’ll have to go back to every delivery spot. The paper that day has printed information about birth control, which is illegal in Ireland. McCaffrey and Frank travel to shops, tearing the offending pages out of every single newspaper, over the protests of the shopkeepers. Later, Frank makes a whopping eight pounds selling back copies of the article to curious people.
Catholic rules dominate every facet of Frank’s life. At the time it seems perfectly normal to Mr. McCaffrey, and perhaps even to Frank, to tear out every mention of birth control in a newspaper—in retrospect, however, McCourt captures the scene with dry humor, as if to comment on how absurd the practice is. Catholicism is a huge and complex thing, but as McCourt portrays it in Limerick at least, it mostly serves as a social force and as a source of guilt and judgment. In general, Frank bonds with other boys his age outside the confines of work or the church, makes money for himself, and—most importantly—gains a sense of independence and control over his own life.
Themes
Irish Social Tensions Theme Icon
Catholicism, Sexuality, and Coming-of-age Theme Icon
Frank settles into his new job. He labels newspaper piles, and sometimes rides a bicycle to deliver them himself. He makes extra money in tips by delivering papers, and slowly, he saves money with the goal of moving to America one day. Meanwhile, Malachy Jr. gets a job working in a stockroom. Angela has begun a job taking care of an elderly man named Mr. Sliney. One day, Frank goes to visit Angela. They remember the cause of their argument years ago: Laman Griffin.
When Angela and Frank remember their disagreement, stemming from their life with Laman Griffin, they don’t tearfully embrace or even apologize to each other—McCourt doesn’t say anything about the scene after this point. Coupled with McCourt’s description of Malachy Jr.’s new job, the message of this scene can be summed up as “life goes on.” In Limerick, there’s no time for big, tearful embraces or somber admissions of guilt.
Themes
Poverty, Survival, and Morality Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Misery, Drunkenness, and Escape Theme Icon
Frank visits Mr. Sliney while he’s seeing his mother. Mr. Sliney is very old, and near death. He greets Frank, about whom he’s heard a lot from Angela, and mentions that he used to know Mr. Timoney, who’s recently gone blind and died.
In this short scene, we’re reminded of how much time has passed since the memoir began. With Mr. Timoney dead, Frank loses one of his last links to life in Limerick.
Themes
Poverty, Survival, and Morality Theme Icon
Misery, Drunkenness, and Escape Theme Icon
Frank continues with his job. In his spare time, he reads the newspapers, improving his reading skills. He continues thinking about Theresa Carmody, but believes that she’s in heaven. As the months go on, Frank wins Mr. McCaffrey’s respect for his hard work and attention to detail. Meanwhile, Malachy Jr. goes to England to work in a boarding school, but he’s soon fired for his abrasive manner. He then finds work shoveling coal at a factory. Both Frank and Malachy Jr. dream of going to America one day.
By the end of this chapter, Frank’s ambitions have crystallized. We’d sensed long ago that Frank wanted to travel to America, but now it’s perfectly clear that he’s saving money for this exact purpose. The characters who travel to England inevitably seem to come back (with the exception of Malachy Sr.)—perhaps in America, Frank will succeed more handily in building a new life for himself.
Themes
Poverty, Survival, and Morality Theme Icon
Catholicism, Sexuality, and Coming-of-age Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Misery, Drunkenness, and Escape Theme Icon