Angela’s Ashes

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Frank McCourt Character Analysis

The narrator and protagonist of Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt is sometimes a witness and sometimes an active participant in the misery of life in Limerick, Ireland. From an early age, he’s conscious of being extremely poor and physically uncomfortable. As he grows older, Frank also becomes aware that a major cause of his suffering is the fact that his alcoholic father, Malachy McCourt Sr., spends his wages on beer instead of using it to buy food for his children. Frank faces strong social pressures to conform to the norms of life in Ireland: he’s taught to believe in the tenets of Catholicism, to hate the English, and to be fiercely loyal to his family. And yet Frank nurtures doubts about his life in Limerick—instead of embracing his religion and family whole-heartedly, he dreams of moving to America and starting a new life. As the memoir draws to a close, Frank turns his back on the small-mindedness and pettiness of life in Ireland—although he’s tried to find a place for himself in Limerick, he concludes that it’s better to start fresh in a new country. Frank also seems to distance himself from his religious beliefs—indeed, the first thing he does after arriving in America is to have sex with a woman who is married (and may possibly be a prostitute), Frieda.

Frank McCourt Quotes in Angela’s Ashes

The Angela’s Ashes quotes below are all either spoken by Frank McCourt or refer to Frank McCourt . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Irish Social Tensions Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Scribner edition of Angela’s Ashes published in 1999.
Chapter 1 Quotes

People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred long years.

Related Characters: Frank McCourt (speaker)
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Frank offers a quick "preview" of the story he's about to tell us: a tour of his miserable childhood growing up in a poor Catholic family in Ireland. He lists some of the characters who made his life so miserable, such as teachers, priests, and alcoholic family members (and soon enough, he'll name and further characterize them).

Frank's tone here lies somewhere between regret and boastfulness. He's clearly saddened by many of the things he experienced as a young boy, and has been deeply affected by his painful childhood. And yet Frank is also curiously proud of his Irish Catholic upbringing: in a strange display of machismo, he contrasts his own childhood with other people's, arguing that he's been through more pain and sadness than anyone he knows (and, perhaps, is tougher and stronger as a result). The quotation is also slightly humorous, despite the misery it describes (something typical of McCourt's style). Frank has been through a lot, but now that he's a fully-grown author, he looks back on his past with a hint of amusement. 

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Chapter 2 Quotes

A man with a pink patch on his eye tells us we're on the right street, Charlie Heggarty lives at number fourteen, God blast him. The man tells Dad, I can see you're a man that did his bit. Dad says, Och, I did my bit, and the man says, I did me bit, too, and what did it get me but one eye less and a pension that wouldn't feed a canary.
But Ireland is free, says Dad, and that's a grand thing.

Related Characters: Frank McCourt (speaker), Malachy McCourt Sr. (speaker), Mr. Heggarty (speaker)
Page Number: 51-52
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Malachy Sr. crosses paths for a former IRA official—someone who fought for Irish independence in the 1910s. The IRA was successful in achieving independence for Southern Ireland, but when Ireland was granted independence, it struggled to take care of itself. The quotation exposes some of the problems that arose after the 1910s: there were still massive problems of hunger and unemployment afflicting the country. Worse, people who'd done their "bit" (i.e., sacrificed their health and happiness to fight for Ireland) often found themselves wounded, alone, and unemployed—without reward for their service.

The irony of this quotation is clear: all the "grandness" of Irish independence doesn't amount to anything if people can't feed their families. As we'll quickly see, Malachy Sr., as an irresponsible alcoholic, focuses on the abstract glory of his country as a way of dodging responsibility for taking care of his children—but also as a way of finding hope and meaning in his rather depressing existence. We'll also see that Malachy, while lazy and ultra-patriotic, is hardly the exception among Irishmen: the Irish are an incredibly proud, patriotic people, even when patriotism gets in the way of their happiness.

Chapter 3 Quotes

Easter is better than Christmas because Dad takes us to the Redemptorist church where all the priests wear white and sing. They're happy because Our Lord is in heaven. I ask Dad if the baby in the crib is dead and he says, No, He was thirty-three when He died and there He is, hanging on the cross. I don't understand how He grew up so fast that He's hanging there with a hat made of thorns and blood everywhere, dripping from His head, His hands, His feet, and a big hole near His belly.

Related Characters: Frank McCourt (speaker), Malachy McCourt Sr. (speaker)
Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:

As Frank adjusts to his life in Ireland, he becomes increasingly familiar with the staples of Irish culture—most importantly, the Catholic church. In this quotation, Frank (who's still a little boy) tries to understand Christianity. Because he's witnessed the deaths of no less than two of his own young brothers, Frank naturally assumes that Jesus (the "baby in the crib") is dead, too. Frank's reaction to the sight of the baby Jesus demonstrates how important religion is for the miserable families of Ireland: when tragedy strikes, people turn to Christianity to come to terms with the tragedy (just as Frank does, albeit in a very crude way). And yet Christianity also seems to be an extension of the misery of life in Ireland, not an escape from it. The sight of Jesus fully grown, on the cross, terrifies the young Frank. It's key to note that Frank can't understand how baby Jesus turns into adult Jesus—by the same token, he can't understand how he, a young boy, will ever "turn into" a fully-grown man. Manhood seems so far away, and death is such a constant part of his life, that growing up seems impossible.

Dad stands for a minute, swaying, and puts the penny back in his pocket. He turns toward Mam and she says, You're not sleeping in this bed tonight. He makes his way downstairs with the candle, sleeps on a chair, misses work in the morning, loses the job at the cement factory, and we're back on the dole again.

Related Characters: Frank McCourt (speaker), Angela Sheehan McCourt (speaker), Malachy McCourt Sr.
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Malachy Sr. tries to turn a new leaf by getting a job at a cement factory. He attempts to drink less, but fails miserably: he comes back to his home late at night, extremely drunk. Angela's behavior toward her husband shows that she knows full-well the harm he's doing to his family: because he's blowing through so much money on alcohol, his children are literally starving. And yet Angela is powerless to do much about her husband's drinking problem. She can be angry with him, but she can't stop him from spending the money he earns on beer.

At this early point in the novel, we're still getting a feel for the pattern of Malachy's drinking: every so often, he resolves to stop drinking, gets a job, then starts drinking again and loses his job. Because the novel is told from a child's point of view, McCourt doesn't offer any judgment for his father's behavior. Interestingly, the absence of any big statement about Malachy Sr.'s selfishness makes Malachy's behavior seem even more despicable.

Chapter 5 Quotes

Dad holds my hand going through the streets and people look at us because of the way we're saying Latin back and forth. He knocks at the sacristy door and tells Stephen Carey, This is my son, Frank, who knows the Latin and is ready to be an altar boy.
Stephen Carey looks at him, then me. He says, We don't have room for him, and closes the door.
Dad is still holding my hand and squeezes till it hurts and I want to cry out.
He says nothing on the way home. He takes off his cap, sits by the fire and lights a Woodbine. Mam is smoking, too. Well, she says, is he going to be an altar boy?
There's no room for him.

Related Characters: Malachy McCourt Sr. (speaker), Stephen Carey (speaker), Frank McCourt
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Malachy Sr. takes Frank to one of the local Catholic schools—one of the best schools in the area—and tries to obtain a place for Frank. By this time, Frank has shown aptitude as a writer and a thinker; he'd probably make an excellent student. And yet Frank is turned away from the school without any explanation beyond "We don't have room."

While McCourt never explicitly says so, it's strongly implied that Frank is turned away because of his father's unpopularity. Malachy is well-known to be a North Irishman; in spite of his proven commitment to the IRA, Irish independence, and Catholicism, nothing he does can change the fact that he's an outsider. As a result, Malachy is treated like a second-class citizen, and his children, by extension, aren't offered a good education. Malachy is a lazy, loutish man, but it's possible to feel some sympathy for him: even if Malachy were a responsible father, he'd still be treated like an enemy (and it's also probable that this treatment contributes to the alcoholic behavior that makes him a bad father).

Chapter 7 Quotes

I'm hungry but I'm afraid to go home till I find my father.
He's not in Naughton's fish and chip shop but there's a drunken man asleep at a table in the corner and his fish and chips are on the floor in their Limerick Leader wrapping and if I don't get them the cat will so I shove them under my jersey and I'm out the door and up the street to sit on the steps at the railway station eat my fish and chips watch the drunken soldiers pass by with the girls that giggle thank the drunken man in my mind for drowning the fish and chips in vinegar and smothering them in salt and then remember that if I die tonight I'm in a state of sin for stealing and I could go straight to hell stuffed with fish and chips but it's Saturday and if the priests are still in the confession boxes I can clear my soul after my feed.

Related Characters: Frank McCourt (speaker), Malachy McCourt Sr.
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Frank steals some food from a passed out drunken man, and then struggles with his Catholic sense of guilt. The scene suggests that Frank adopts something like a "shoot first, ask questions later" attitude toward sinning: he doesn't make a point of sinning, but when his need is great enough, he'll sin, reasoning that he can always repent later on.

In general, the quotation dramatizes the way that Irish youths must learn to navigate their ways through poverty and religion. As a boy who never has enough food, Frank is often put in a position where he has to sin to save his own life: there are times when he has to steal food or risk starving to death. But by this point, Frank is a practicing Catholic—he has plenty of doubts about the religion, but he still goes to confession and attends church on Sundays. Frank has the strong sense that he's doing something wrong by eating the food in this scene—according to the Catholic rules he's been taught, he could be risking going to hell forever. And yet because his hunger is more pressing than his faith in this particular moment, he takes the risk.

Chapter 8 Quotes

I know when Dad does the bad thing. I know when he drinks the dole money and Mam is desperate and has to beg at the St. Vincent de Paul Society and ask for credit at Kathleen O'Connell's shop but I don't want to back away from him and run to Mam. How can I do that when I'm up with him early every morning with the whole world asleep? He lights the fire and makes the tea and sings to himself or reads the paper to me in a whisper that won't wake up the rest of the family. Mikey Molloy stole Cuchulain, the Angel on the Seventh Step is gone someplace else, but my father in the morning is still mine. He gets the Irish Press early and tells me about the world, Hitler, Mussolini, Franco. He says this war is none of our business because the English are up to their tricks again. He tells me about the great Roosevelt in Washington and the great De Valera in Dublin. In the morning we have the world to ourselves and he never tells me I should die for Ireland.

Related Characters: Frank McCourt (speaker), Malachy McCourt Sr. , Angela Sheehan McCourt, Mikey Molloy
Page Number: 208-09
Explanation and Analysis:

In this complex passage, Frank tries to come to terms with his father: a man who's both a good, loving father, and an unbelievably neglectful alcoholic. Frank can't deny that his father is endangering his (Frank's) own health by spending so much money on alcohol instead of food. Yet he also admires his father for his intelligence, his talent for storytelling, and his kindness towards Frank in these private morning sessions.

So how can Frank love and hate someone at the same time? The paradox of loving and hating simultaneously lies at the heart of Frank's childhood. Again and again, he's put in a situation where he both loves and fears something, whether it's God, his father, his education, or his family. As a young man, Frank tends to move back and forth between love and hatred for his father, and it's only much later (as an adult, when he's writing this novel) that Frank looks back at his family and accepts that his father was both despicable and admirable at the same time.

Chapter 10 Quotes

The three of us burst out laughing and Alphie grins with his dirty face and says Goo goo again till we're helpless and Aunt Aggie roars out of the room pulling her dress down and gives me a thump on the head that sends me against the wall baby and all. She hits Malachy too and she tries to hit Michael but he runs to the other side of her round table and she can't get at him. Come over here, she says, and I'll wipe that grin off your puss, but Michael keeps running around the table and she's too fat to catch him.

Related Characters: Frank McCourt (speaker), Malachy McCourt Jr. , Michael McCourt , Aunt Aggie , Alphonsus Joseph “Alphie” McCourt
Page Number: 242
Explanation and Analysis:

In this amusing scene, Frank and his siblings rebel against their family in the most satisfying of ways: they outrun their Aunt Aggie, since she's too fat to catch up. Aggie is irritated that Frank and his siblings are disturbing the new baby, Alphie, but McCourt makes it clear that Aggie is overreacting—there's no reason for her to threaten to hit her nephews.

The scene is a good example of how McCourt mixes comedy and tragedy into the same family scenes. On one level, this scene is hilarious—we can picture a bunch of little kids outrunning a fat old lady. On another level, however, the scene becomes rather tragic: the children are clearly used to corporal punishment (the norm in Ireland at the time), and they're running to save themselves from pain, not just to amuse themselves. The prevalence of corporal punishment in Frank's family reminds us that the family isn't just a site of love and affection—family life can be intimidating and frightening. Aunt Aggie seems not to love her nephews in the slightest, even though she takes care of them: she's acting out of a sense of family obligation, a rigorous code that everyone in Limerick is bound to follow.

The next Saturday there's no telegram nor the Saturday after nor any Saturday forever. Mam begs again at the St. Vincent de Paul Society and smiles at the Dispensary when Mr. Coffey and Mr. Kane have their bit of a joke about Dad having a tart in Piccadilly. Michael wants to know what a tart is and she tells him it's something you have with tea.

Related Characters: Frank McCourt (speaker), Malachy McCourt Sr. , Angela Sheehan McCourt, Michael McCourt , Mr. Coffey , Mr. Kane
Page Number: 249
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Frank describes how his father leaves Limerick to find work in London. The fact that Malachy doesn't send letters or telegrams of any kind seems to suggest that he's abandoned his family altogether: never really at home in Limerick (where he's shunned by his territorial neighbors), Malachy makes a new life for himself in a new city. There are even rumors that Malachy has taken a new lover—rumors that are too adult for Frank's little brother, Michael, to understand, as is shown in this tragicomic discussion of the "tart."

The passage is a good example of how Frank has grown over the course of the book. A few chapters ago, it would have been Frank, not Michael, who failed to understand the meaning of the word "tart" (a promiscuous woman). But Frank is maturing emotionally and sexually, and so he has some understanding of the fact that his father might be having an affair. Most heartbreaking of all is Angela's behavior in this quotation: although she's surely frightened that her husband is abandoning her altogether, her first priority is protecting her children from the truth about their father. As Frank describes it, she steers Michael away from a conversation about sexuality without batting an eye.

It isn't corned beef at all. It's a great lump of quivering gray fat and the only sign of corned beef is a little nipple of red meat on top. We stare at that bit of meat and wonder who will get it. Mam says, That's for Alphie. He's a baby, he's growing fast, he needs it. She puts it on a saucer in front of him. He pushes it away with his finger, then pulls it back. He lifts it to his mouth, looks around the kitchen, sees Lucky the dog and throws it to him.

Related Characters: Frank McCourt (speaker), Angela Sheehan McCourt, Alphonsus Joseph “Alphie” McCourt
Page Number: 251
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, the new baby, Alphie, is given the best piece of meat of anyone in the family. By this point, the McCourts are on the brink of starvation. And yet they all agree that the best food available should be given to Alphie, since he needs good nutrition to grow. Alphie's reaction is at once hilarious and tragic: even though the entire family is starving, he throws the meat on the ground.

The scene is touching, because it reminds us that Alphie is too young to know how miserable his own life is—he's too young to know that every bite of food could make the difference between life and death. Nevertheless, the scene is comical as well. Frank, now a grown man, looks back at the episode from his childhood—and though it must have been horrifying at the time, it's amusing now.

Chapter 12 Quotes

He's not coming, Mam. He doesn't care about us. He's just drunk over there in England.
Don't talk about your father like that.

Related Characters: Frank McCourt (speaker), Angela Sheehan McCourt (speaker), Malachy McCourt Sr.
Page Number: 269
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Frank finally speaks his mind about his father. Although Frank has previously admired his father and loved him despite his flaws, it becomes increasingly clear to Frank that Malachy is an alcoholic, lazy fool who's probably abandoned his children to starve. Frank's behavior indicates that he's coming of age very quickly, and as he grows up, Frank is forced to think more and more about how to support himself and his brothers. As he looks for work and begins making money, Frank begins to despise his father for not doing the same thing.

Angela's response to Frank—"don't talk about your father like that"—suggests that in spite of her own anger with Malachy, she doesn't want her children to grow up resentful and miserable because of Malachy's actions. Undoubtedly, Angela has thought of far worse things to say about her husband, but she has enough self-control—and perhaps a desperate kind of naïveté regarding the family unit—to keep them to herself. Instead of complaining to her friends and family, she continues to stand by Malachy. Angela exhibits a calm, even heroic devotion to her family, Malachy included.

The Irish army is looking for boys who are musical and would like to train in the Army School of Music. They accept my brother, Malachy, and he goes off to Dublin to be a soldier and play the trumpet.
Now I have only two brothers at home and Mam says her family is disappearing before her very eyes.

Related Characters: Frank McCourt (speaker), Angela Sheehan McCourt (speaker), Malachy McCourt Jr.
Page Number: 283
Explanation and Analysis:

This quotation establishes the tragedy of Angela's life. As she raises her children into adulthood, she's forced to watch as they leave the town of Limerick to find work elsewhere. Here Malachy Jr. goes to Dublin, prompting Angela to mourn the "disappearance" of her family.

While's it clear enough that Angela's complaints aren't exactly reasonable—the family's life in Limerick is miserable, and any kind of escape is probably a good thing—it's easy to sympathize with what she's saying. Angela has worked phenomenally hard to take care of her children--going to charities, begging in the streets, encouraging her husband to work harder, etc. After her husband, Malachy Sr., abandons her to move to London, Angela continues to devote herself to her children. So when her children move away, Angela is understandably shaken. She can't help but compare her children to Malachy Sr.—she can't help but fear that she'll never see them again.

Chapter 13 Quotes

I can't stop interfering with myself. I pray to the Virgin Mary and tell her I'm sorry I put her Son back on the cross and I'll never do it again but I can't help myself and swear I'll go to confession and after that, surely after that, I'll never never do it again. I don't want to go to hell with devils chasing me for eternity jabbing me with hot pitchforks.

Related Characters: Frank McCourt (speaker)
Page Number: 292
Explanation and Analysis:

As Frank grows older, he begins to feel sexual desires. But for an Irish Catholic boy, sexual desire is a hideous sin that must be escaped at all costs. When Frank goes to church, he's told again and again that he'll go to hell for enjoying any sexual pleasures outside of marriage. (The passage seems to refer to masturbation—something that Frank believes could get him sent to Hell for eternity, and an act that also "puts Jesus back on the cross.")

The quotation is psychologically accurate in the way it shows Frank promising himself that he'll masturbate "one last time" and then give up masturbation forever. (Of course this never really happens.) In an eerie way, Frank's behavior in this scene is meant to remind readers of Malachy Sr.'s drinking: again and again, Malachy Sr. promises himself he'll give up drinking altogether, only to fall back on his old ways. (The difference is that by drinking, Malachy Sr. hurts his entire family, but when he experiences sexual pleasure, Frank hurts no one else, and probably isn't even hurting himself.) The pressures of Catholic life lead Frank to hate himself and feel a constant sense of guilt.

I can hear Mam crying when she blows into the globe of the paraffin oil lamp and everything goes dark. After what happened she'll surely want to get into her own bed and I'm ready to go to the small one against the wall. Instead, there's the sound of her climbing the chair, the table, the chair, crying up into the loft and telling Laman Griffin, He's only a boy, tormented with his eyes, and when Laman says, He's a little shit and I want him out of the house, she cries and begs till there's whispering and grunting and moaning and nothing.
In awhile they're snoring in the loft and my brothers are asleep around me.

Related Characters: Frank McCourt (speaker), Angela Sheehan McCourt (speaker), Gerard “Laman” Griffin (speaker)
Page Number: 294-95
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Frank hears the sound of his mother sleeping in the same bed at Laman Griffin, discussing Frank's future. As Frank listens, we the readers become aware that Angela and Laman are having sex—the implication being that Angela is pleasuring her cousin in order to protect Frank; i.e, to ensure that Laman will continue to give Frank food and shelter. Frank himself, as a boy growing quickly more mature, also seems to recognize the implications of what he hears.

The quotation shows how other people in Limerick—not just Frank—struggle to reconcile their Christian faith with their real-world needs and desires. Angela is still married to Malachy Sr., meaning that she's forbidden from having sex with anyone else. And yet because of her desire to provide for Frank, her child (and also her own desire to survive), she has sex with Laman. For all her Catholic faith, Angela's priority is always her family's survival. In this way, Angela and Frank are kindred spirits: as we've seen, Frank almost always favors his own literal needs over the spiritual requirements of his religion. Angela will do anything to protect her children—even endanger her own soul.

Chapter 14 Quotes

I can't tell her about Mam and Laman Griffin and the excitement in the loft. I tell her I was thinking of staying here a while because of the great distance from Laman Griffin's house to the post office and as soon as I get on my feet we'll surely find a decent place and we'll all move on, my mother and brothers and all.
Well, she says, that's more than your father would do.

Related Characters: Frank McCourt (speaker), Aunt Aggie (speaker), Malachy McCourt Sr. , Gerard “Laman” Griffin
Page Number: 308
Explanation and Analysis:

Frank chooses to leave Laman Griffin's house, because he can't stand arguing with Laman, and can't stand the idea that his mother is sleeping with him. Instead, Frank goes to stay with his Aunt Aggie, a woman whom he dislikes greatly. Frank gives Aggie a half-truth: he claims that he's moving to be closer to work. To Frank's surprise, Aggie praises Frank for his determination and drive.

It's important to keep in mind that the compliment Aggie gives Frank ("that's more than your father would do") isn't actually much of a compliment, considering what Aggie thinks of Frank's father, Malachy Sr. Aggie seems not to expect much of Frank, because he's the son of a lazy, drunken Northerner—so she's impressed that he's making any effort at all to provide money for his family. And yet even if Aggie's compliment isn't all that kind, it reminds us that Frank is growing into a responsible young man. Instead of escaping into drink, like many in his community, he turns to hard work to support himself and offer help to his mother and siblings.

Chapter 15 Quotes

What are you supposed to do?
You're told never never go to the post office to cash one of those money orders for anyone or you'll lose your job forever. But what are you supposed to do when an old man that was in the Boer War hundreds of years ago says his legs are gone and he'd be forever grateful if you'd […] cash the money order and keep two shillings for yourself grand boy that you are.

Related Characters: Frank McCourt (speaker)
Page Number: 317
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Frank faces another version of the conflict he's been experiencing for years in Limerick: the clash between morals and rules. Frank has a job delivering telegrams, and he's under strict instructions to do nothing but deliver them. So when an old, suffering man begs Frank to collect money on his behalf, Frank experiences a genuine crisis: clearly, it's the "right" thing to help the old man, but he's under strict instruction to help no one (and to complicate the matter, losing this job would mean losing money for his own family).

The fact that Frank phrases his dilemma in the form of a rhetorical question suggests that he's genuinely confused about what to do: he doesn't know if it's worth risking his job to do the right thing (and ultimately, he chooses to ignore the elderly man and continue delivering telegrams). At this point in the novel, Frank is still young and immature: he's not strong and capable enough to make his own rules, and this means he has to obey the commands of other people (employers, priests, parents), unfair though they might be.

We take our ease on the sofa a while till she says, Don't you have more telegrams to deliver? and when we sit up she gives a little cry, Oh, I'm bleeding.
What's up with you?
I think it's because it's the first time.
I tell her, Wait a minute. I bring the bottle from the kitchen and splash the iodine on her injury. She leaps from the sofa, dances around the parlor like a wild one and runs into the kitchen to douse herself with water.
After she dries herself she says, Lord, you're very innocent. You're not supposed to be pouring iodine on girls like that.

Related Characters: Frank McCourt (speaker), Theresa Carmody (speaker)
Page Number: 324
Explanation and Analysis:

Frank delivers telegrams to the Carmody house, where he encounters a pretty young girl, Theresa. In this passage, Frank has just had sex with Theresa, something neither one of them has done before. Frank notices that Theresa is bleeding, and so he tries to use iodine to make help her "wound."

Theresa's attitude toward Frank is that of an older, more experienced woman to a younger boy. Even though Frank and Theresa are equally inexperienced when it comes to sex, Theresa seems much more confident and self-possessed here: she calls Frank "innocent" (though by Catholic laws he's anything but innocent now!), and her comments about "pouring iodine on girls" suggest that Frank is sexually inexperienced as well (and has in fact caused Theresa pain with his well-intentioned iodine). The irony of the scene is that even after losing his virginity—supposedly a mark of maturity—Frank continues to feel immature, and to act in an amusingly immature way. Indeed, Frank will struggle with feelings of guilt for months to come, due in large part to his belief that any sex out of wedlock is a grievous sin. 

Frost is already whitening the fresh earth on the grave and I think of Theresa cold in the coffin, the red hair, the green eyes. I can't understand the feelings going through me but I know that with all the people who died in my family and all the people who died in the lanes around me and all the people who left I never had a pain like this in my heart and I hope I never will again.

Related Characters: Frank McCourt (speaker), Theresa Carmody
Page Number: 325
Explanation and Analysis:

Theresa—the girl to whom Frank loses his virginity—has died suddenly of tuberculosis. Because Frank had sex with Theresa shortly before her death, he believes that he's condemned Theresa to an eternity spent in hell. Theresa's death represents the first time in the memoir that Frank believes his sinful actions have harmed another person. (He's stolen and masturbated, but in these cases his actions are shown to hurt no one else.)

As misplaced as Frank's guilt might seem to some readers, it's a mark of Frank's growing maturity that he's realizing that his actions have consequences for other people. As Frank explains, he's been surrounded by death for his entire life—but it's not until this moment that he feels truly responsible for another person's pain. The guilt and anxiety that Frank feels for Theresa's damnation outweighs anything he ever felt for Oliver or Eugene, his deceased brothers (although a large part of his sadness probably also comes from the outsized emotions of young love). Frank is growing into a thoughtful, mature young man, but the burden of his maturity is to feel guilty for harming others.

Chapter 16 Quotes

She whispers to Miss Barry and they look at me and shake their heads.
A disgrace he is to Ireland and his poor mother. I hope she never finds out. But what would you expect of one born in America and his father from the North. We put up with all that and still took him back.
She keeps talking past me again to the boys on the bench.

Related Characters: Frank McCourt (speaker), Mrs. O’Connell , Miss Barry
Page Number: 337
Explanation and Analysis:

Frank has a steady job working at the local post office. But instead of attending his exams—exams that would enable him to become a postman—Frank chooses to interview for a job distributing newspapers. When Frank returns from his job interview, he's surprised to find that his employers at the post office are furious with him: they've interpreted his behavior as arrogant and irresponsible.

Although the women at the post office think of Frank as a "bad sort," they're revealing their own small-mindedness as they criticize Frank. There's nothing particularly wrong with interviewing for a newspaper job, but the women at the post office don't like it, because it suggests that Frank thinks he's "too good" for post office work. Furthermore, working at the post office is such a traditional career option for poor Irish boys that to go off the beaten path is, implicitly, to insult all of Irish culture. In short, the post office employees distrust anyone who's different from them—and they try to punish Frank for his independence with this amusingly narrow-minded sort of "guilt trip."

For his part, Frank shows that he's an original, forward-thinking young man: he refuses to take the beaten path simply because lots of other people have taken it before him. Even as a young man, he's beginning to distrust and actively resent life in Limerick: he wants a way out.

Chapter 17 Quotes

But I want to know about Theresa Carmody in hell, Father.
No, my child. She is surely in heaven. She suffered like the martyrs in olden times and God knows that's penance enough. You can be sure the sisters in the hospital didn't let her die without a priest.
Are you sure, Father?
I am, my child.

Related Characters: Frank McCourt (speaker), Father Gregory (speaker), Theresa Carmody
Page Number: 343
Explanation and Analysis:

Frank, still wracked with guilt at having had sex with Theresa Carmody before her untimely death, confesses his sin to Father Gregory. To Frank's surprise and relief, Gregory assures Frank that Theresa would have confessed her sins to a priest before her death—in other words, her soul is in no danger of damnation.

Even more important than the information that Frank receives from Father Gregory is the fact that Frank is confessing to a priest in the first place. In the past, Frank struggles with obeying the tenets of Catholicism—indeed, McCourt suggests that some of these tenets are ridiculous and unfair. But in this passage, McCourt suggests that there are many aspects of Irish Catholicism, particularly the confession, that serve a useful purpose (particularly in the hands of an empathetic priest like Father Gregory). Frank has been feeling guilty about Theresa for months and he feels tied up in Theresa's disease and death. By finally confessing that he and Theresa had sex, then, Frank is choosing to move on from the past. Frank admits that he's sinned, and in the act of admitting this, his sins become past. No longer burdened with a sense of guilt and involvement in Limerick life, Frank is free to look forward to a new life in America.

Chapter 18 Quotes

Frieda tells the priest I had a bit of a dizziness after going to the bathroom, that's what happens when you travel and you're drinking a strange beer like Rheingold, which she believes they don't have in Ireland. I can see the priest doesn't believe her and I can't stop the way the heat is coming and going in my face. He already wrote down my mother's name and address and now I'm afraid he'll write and say your fine son spent his first night in America in a bedroom in Poughkeepsie romping with a woman whose husband was away shooting deer for a bit of relaxation after doing his bit for America in the war and isn't this a fine way to treat the men who fought for their country.

Related Characters: Frank McCourt (speaker), Frieda (speaker), Angela Sheehan McCourt, Tim Boyle
Related Symbols: America
Page Number: 361
Explanation and Analysis:

Frank sets sail from Limerick for America. When he arrives in America, he's greeted by a Catholic priest, Tim Boyle. Despite Boyle's warnings, Frank is immediately seduced by and has sex with a woman named Frieda, whose husband, Boyle tells us, is away hunting deer. In essence, Boyle represents everything that Frank has been trying to escape: Catholic guilt, family obligation, patriotism (the reference to "doing his bit" reminds us of the IRA officials who still grumble about the sacrifices they made for their country), etc.

In spite of Boyle's presence, however, Frank seems remarkably relaxed. Although Frank looks back on his time in Ireland with affection and even nostalgia, he also chooses to leave his country behind in favor of a new place. By the same token, he makes the conscious choice not to listen to the authority figures who bossed him around as a child. Thus, after years of being made to feel guilty for his sexuality, here he decides to embrace sexuality without regret. Frank's new sense of freedom and power is emphasized by the contrast with Tim Boyle. Although some of the other priests in the memoir are intimidating, larger-than-life figures who fill the young Frank with terror, Boyle only seems petty and incompetent, and one gets the sense that Frank is tuning him out. Frank isn't frightened of priests, or the rules of Catholicism, anymore. He's ready to begin a new life in America—a life that will one day result in his becoming a famous writer.

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Frank McCourt Character Timeline in Angela’s Ashes

The timeline below shows where the character Frank McCourt appears in Angela’s Ashes. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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The narrator, Frank McCourt, describes being born in New York to a large family. Frank’s parents moved back... (full context)
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Among all the horrors of an Irish Catholic childhood, Frank explains, “wetness” is the most common. In the city of Limerick, Ireland, there is a... (full context)
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Frank’s father is named Malachy McCourt (Malachy Sr.). He was born in Toome, and had a... (full context)
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Frank’s mother, Angela Sheehan, grew up in Limerick, with a big family. She never knew her... (full context)
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Angela had a rough birth, and caused her mother great pain. Frank imagines how the scene would have unfolded: Angela’s mother screaming in pain, calling out the... (full context)
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...a party. She was attracted to his “hangdog look.” Together, they had a “knee-trembler,” which Frank defines as a sexual encounter in which the man pushes the woman up against the... (full context)
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Frank describes how his parents were married. Malachy Sr. was an unlikely candidate for marrying Angela,... (full context)
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A year after Frank was born, Angela and Malachy Sr. had another child, Malachy Jr. Frank and Malachy grew... (full context)
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Growing up, Frank was an “odd child.” Even his mother told him that he was odd, just like... (full context)
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Sometimes, Malachy Sr. wouldn’t come home at all. When this happened, Angela would take Frank, Malachy Jr., Oliver, and Eugene to look for her husband. They would go from bar... (full context)
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One day Frank is walking around the playground near where his family lives. He’s watching his two twin... (full context)
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Frank notices that his brothers are getting very hungry—in fact, they’re beginning to cry. He decides... (full context)
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At dinner in the evening, Malachy Sr. reads the paper and says that President Franklin Roosevelt will provide every man in America with a job. Angela notices that Frank has... (full context)
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Frank goes to apologize to Freddie. At the Leibowitz home, located in the same building where... (full context)
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The day after Frank apologizes to Freddie, Angela wakes Frank up, explaining that something is horribly wrong with the... (full context)
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...following Margaret McCourt’s death, Malachy Sr. is barely present, and Angela barely leaves her bed. Frank tries to take care of his family, and he changes the twins’ diapers. One night,... (full context)
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The night that his father makes him promise to die for Ireland, Frank dreams about Cuchulain, the Irish hero. In the dream Cuchulain waves a massive bananas at... (full context)
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...care of Oliver and Eugene—wipe their bottoms, change their diapers, etc. The Italian grocer offers Frank more food for his family, and Frank eagerly accepts whatever he can get. Over time,... (full context)
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One day, Frank comes back to his home to find Mrs. Leibowitz, Minnie MacAdorey, and two large women,... (full context)
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Shortly after the letter is sent, Margaret Sheehan sends money for Frank and his family to travel to Ireland. Everyone boards a large ship. When the ship... (full context)
Chapter 2
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...to Limerick, where there should be more work. Before the family leaves, Malachy Sr. takes Frank to see the famous statue of Cuchulain that stands in the center of the town.... (full context)
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...already seeming furious with Angela and Malachy Sr. She criticizes Malachy Sr. for smoking, and Frank can see that she’s angry with her daughter for marrying him. Margaret takes the McCourts... (full context)
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In the evening of their first day in Margaret Sheehan’s house, Frank begins to see how packed his new living situation is. Margaret, his grandmother, lives with... (full context)
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...better the problem by “beating” his mattress, but nothing works. One night, Malachy Sr. shakes Frank awake and tells him Angela is in great pain. The other McCourts wake up and... (full context)
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...a good medicine for young children. Aunt Aggie and Pa Keating also help to support Frank and his siblings—they’re amazed that the children haven’t heard of basic things like porridge. (full context)
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The chapter cuts ahead to one evening when Frank is about to go to sleep. His parents are out of the house, and Oliver... (full context)
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The next day, Frank and his family go to the hospital, where Oliver’s body is placed in a coffin... (full context)
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Frank and his siblings begin going to school. School is a terrifying place—Frank is bullied for... (full context)
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In the coming weeks, Malachy Jr. and Frank try to play with Eugene. Eugene was very close with Oliver, and misses his brother... (full context)
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At Eugene’s funeral, all of Frank’s family is in attendance, including aunts and uncles he’s never met before. Malachy Sr. shows... (full context)
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After Eugene’s funeral, Frank’s life changes. He sleeps with Malachy Jr. in Eugene’s old bed, and thinks about how... (full context)
Chapter 3
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...where her son died. They move to a room that’s farther from school, meaning that Frank gets less time at home in the afternoon. Meanwhile, Angela “sees” Eugene everywhere. Nevertheless, she... (full context)
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...Irish accent and ill-fitting clothing. In the evenings he still drinks sometimes, and still wakes Frank and his brother up to make them promise to die for Ireland. One day, Frank... (full context)
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...is able to keep him alive by sucking the mucus from Michael’s nose, an act Frank finds both wondrous and disgusting. Angela is able to take care of her child by... (full context)
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In school, Frank and his brother are the poorest students by far—sometimes, they don’t even wear boots. Frank’s... (full context)
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...money and food. Hours pass, and Angela begins to cry—her husband still isn’t home. Suddenly, Frank hears his father’s voice, singing a loud, drunken song. Malachy Sr. staggers into his home,... (full context)
Chapter 4
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It’s nearly time for Frank, who is now seven years old, to take his First Communion—in other words, to become... (full context)
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Frank goes to talk with Mikey about the catechism. Mikey sits in the streets, reading a... (full context)
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In school, Frank is trained in the Ten Commandments, the Seven Virtues, and other information he’ll need for... (full context)
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...assembled and sent to church. There, they have their first confession. Inside the confession box, Frank sees a large crucifix. He confesses his sins to the priest: he stole a penny,... (full context)
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On Communion Day, the children wake up early. Frank, however, oversleeps. He’s rushed to church, excited for communion because Mikey has told him that... (full context)
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In the evening, Margaret Sheehan, still angry about Frank’s “sinful” vomiting, forbids Frank to see a film at the cinema. Because of Frank’s sickness,... (full context)
Chapter 5
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After Frank’s vomiting, Angela and Margaret Sheehan barely talk—Angela is furious with her mother for being so... (full context)
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Margaret Sheehan offers to pay Frank six pence a day for bringing Bill his dinner. Frank is reluctant to accept, but... (full context)
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...to the hospital to remove the false teeth. While at the hospital, doctors notice that Frank has an odd habit of keeping his mouth open, and they realize that he needs... (full context)
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Shortly after he has his tonsils removed, Frank goes to learn how to dance, sent by his mother. At a local dance hall,... (full context)
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Years pass, and Frank is now almost ten years old. A local boy, Brendan Quigley, tells Frank that he... (full context)
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Malachy Sr., who’s been watching Frank’s progress at the Confraternity with some interest, tells Frank that he should become an altar... (full context)
Chapter 6
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Frank is in 4th form at school, and his teacher is Mr. O’Neill. O’Neill—or Dotty, as... (full context)
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...apple. Fintan asks if he can give away some of his apple to his “friends,” Frank, Brendan Quigley, and Paddy Clohessy. Frank is embarrassed by this, since Fintan is unpopular and... (full context)
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Several days later, Fintan invites Frank and Paddy to his house for another meal. They accept, since they’re very hungry, but... (full context)
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Frank ends up spending the night at Paddy’s house. Early the next morning, there’s a knock... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...his unemployment benefits, then goes to spend almost all of it at the bar. When Frank is nine years old, he spends most of his free time with his friend, Mickey... (full context)
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Margaret Sheehan tells Angela that Frank is now old enough to begin working for the family. Angela protests that Frank is... (full context)
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The next day, Frank goes to Mr. Timoney’s house to read him “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift. Frank... (full context)
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Soon afterwards, Frank has a run-in with Declan Collopy, a boy at the Confraternity. Declan says that Frank... (full context)
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At his next meeting with Mr. Timoney, Frank reads Timoney more stories. Timoney is an odd man, and Frank feels comfortable talking to... (full context)
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In July, Frank is startled to learn from his parents that Angela has given birth to a new... (full context)
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Frank realizes that since it’s Saturday, he can go to the church to confess his recent... (full context)
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Frank leaves the church, and finds his father singing drunkenly in a pub. He’s not sure... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Frank is now ten years old, and ready to be confirmed at St. Joseph’s Church. He... (full context)
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Frank knows a boy named Peter Dooley, who the other boys have cruelly nicknamed Quasimodo, due... (full context)
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One night, Frank, Mikey, and some other boys go with Peter Dooley to see his naked sisters. While... (full context)
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The next day is Confirmation. Frank goes through confirmation without any problems, and afterwards he’s excited to go to the cinema... (full context)
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Frank spends days in the fever ward of the hospital. The doctors tell him he’s developed... (full context)
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In the hospital, Frank reads a book about the history of the English kings. Frank also learns songs from... (full context)
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Seamus gives Frank more books to read in the coming weeks. Weeks pass, and soon it is August.... (full context)
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In November, Frank is released from the hospital. Angela tells him that he’ll have to repeat the 5th... (full context)
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One day shortly after Frank’s prayer to his patron saint, Mr. O’Dea, the 5th form teacher, assigns the students to... (full context)
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In the 6th form, Frank studies with Mr. Thomas L. O’Halloran, and learns about history, math, and grammar. O’Halloran is... (full context)
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As Frank goes through the 6th form, he gains more perspective on his own life. He becomes... (full context)
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...that the stench from the nearby toilet will kill them all. On Christmas, Angela sends Frank to eat dinner at the hospital where he stayed in the fall—they’re offering food to... (full context)
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The next morning, Frank walks through the streets with his brother Michael. They pass by a stable, in which... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...money. After much thought, Malachy Sr. decides to go to England after Christmas. He tells Frank that Frank will have to be the man of the house while he’s off making... (full context)
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...by train. He promises to send his family lots of money. Even at the time, Frank senses that Malachy Sr. is leaving to find women in England, not just to make... (full context)
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Frank describes the weekly ritual of waiting for a telegram from his father. Every family in... (full context)
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Shortly after Malachy Sr. leaves, Frank develops an eye infection that makes his eyes look red and swollen. Frank goes to... (full context)
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After a month, Frank is released from the hospital. He returns to his house. See after, he learns from... (full context)
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Angela takes her four children (Frank, Malachy Jr., Alphie, and Michael) to the Dispensary Office early one morning. She greets Coffey... (full context)
Chapter 10
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...and yells out for her dead children: Eugene, Oliver, and Margaret McCourt. Desperate and hungry, Frank steals two bottles of lemonade and a loaf of bread that he finds next to... (full context)
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The next morning, Frank walks to school and notices a large crate lying outside near a building. The crate... (full context)
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...come to talk to Angela McCourt about why her children have been absent from school. Frank explains that Angela is sick and Malachy Sr. is in England, and Dennehy is surprised.... (full context)
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At Frank’s home, Dennehy explains to Margaret Sheehan that someone needs to take care of Frank and... (full context)
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Frank and his siblings go to live with Aunt Aggie. During their first afternoon in their... (full context)
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As the days go on, Frank settles into his new routine with Aunt Aggie. Aggie feeds Frank bread and tea every... (full context)
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After a few weeks, Frank gets word from Aunt Aggie that Malachy Sr. is coming back from England to see... (full context)
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Frank takes on new responsibilities taking care of his younger brothers, while Angela looks for money... (full context)
Chapter 11
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...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... (full context)
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As the chapter begins, Frank is almost twelve years old, and Mikey Molloy is sixteen. Mikey is off to go... (full context)
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In the weeks following his talk with Mikey, Frank begins working for a man named Mr. Hannon, who takes care of horses. Hannon teaches... (full context)
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After work, Mr. Hannon takes Frank to the pub, where Frank finds Bill Galvin and Pa Keating. Hannon buys Frank lemonade,... (full context)
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Angela informs Frank that he must give up his job with Mr. Hannon, since the coal dust is... (full context)
Chapter 12
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...knowing which train Malachy Sr. is taking). Finally, after hours, the last train arrives, and Frank’s father isn’t on it. Angela wonders if Malachy Sr. is still on the train, having... (full context)
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...Angela shakes her head and accuses her husband of drinking away his wages. This time, Frank and his siblings join in yelling at their father. Malachy Sr. says nothing, but leaves... (full context)
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Frank observes the rich boys who live in Limerick—they go to different schools, and wear tweed... (full context)
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...sleep in different corners of the same room, which reeks of whiskey. Over time, however, Frank realizes that Laman is an intelligent, well-read man. However, Laman is sometimes rude to Angela—he... (full context)
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As Frank turns thirteen, several tragic events occur. Margaret Sheehan dies of pneumonia, along with a number... (full context)
Chapter 13
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Frank and his friends at school plan to go on a bicycling trip to the nearby... (full context)
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In school, Frank does well. His teacher, O’Halloran, tells him that he has a sharp mind, and could... (full context)
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Frank discovers the concept of sex. He has wet dreams, and begins masturbating. In school, priests... (full context)
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As Frank’s education draws to a close, priests attend his school and try to recruit students to... (full context)
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Frank is scheduled to go off on his biking trip to Killaloe tomorrow. That night, Laman... (full context)
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Frank goes to bed, crying and angry. He dreams of leaving Ireland and going to America.... (full context)
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Late at night, Frank wakes up, hungry. He goes wandering through the streets, hoping to run into an uncle... (full context)
Chapter 14
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The next day, Frank wakes up in Ab Sheehan’s house. Ab gives him money to buy bread, tea, and... (full context)
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For the next few months, Frank stays with Ab Sheehan. Angela and Michael visit him and ask him to come back... (full context)
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Frank begins going on long walks. When he’s alone in the forests outside Limerick, he masturbates—a... (full context)
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Frank continues reading the Lives of the Saints. He learns bizarre, sometimes explicit details about the... (full context)
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Frank is about to turn fourteen. He’s found a job at the telegram office, which he’ll... (full context)
Chapter 15
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Frank wakes up early on his fourteenth birthday—his first day of work as a man. He... (full context)
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Frank returns to the telegram office on Monday morning. There, he’s greeted by the woman who... (full context)
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Mrs. O’Connell gives Frank a large pile of letters and telegrams to deliver to the city of Limerick. She... (full context)
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At the end of his first week of work, Frank has earned one pound—“his first pound.” He realizes that for the first time in his... (full context)
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Frank is under strict orders to deliver telegrams and do absolutely nothing else. But there are... (full context)
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Michael begins spending more and more time with Frank, who is still living at Ab Sheehan’s place. Eventually, Michael comes to live with Ab... (full context)
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At work, Frank bonds with the other telegram boys, such as Toby Mackey, by making fun of Mrs.... (full context)
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One day, Frank is given a bicycle and told that he’s responsible for delivering telegrams to a neighborhood... (full context)
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Inside the house, the young woman, introducing herself as Theresa Carmody, tells Frank to take off his pants so that she can dry them. Theresa takes iodine to... (full context)
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Frank continues delivering telegrams to the Carmody house (and having sex with Theresa) for the next... (full context)
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On Sunday, Frank goes to church. He senses that he’s sent Theresa to hell—by taking her virginity, he... (full context)
Chapter 16
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One day, Frank delivers a telegram to the Harrington family. Harrington is an Englishman, and his wife is... (full context)
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Frank returns to the telegram office. There, Mrs. O’Connell berates him for being so slow with... (full context)
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Frank is devastated that he’s going to lose his only source of income when he’s sixteen,... (full context)
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One day, Frank delivers a letter to a woman named Mrs. Finucane. She asks Frank if he can... (full context)
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Frank shows up at Mrs. Finucane’s house, ready to write letters for her. In the coming... (full context)
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As Frank nears the age of sixteen, Mrs. O’Connell, who seems to have forgotten the episode with... (full context)
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Frank walks into the building with the sign. Inside, he meets Mr. McCaffrey, who asks him... (full context)
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When Frank returns to the telegram office, word has already gotten out that he walked out of... (full context)
Chapter 17
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Frank turns sixteen, and goes to a pub with Pa Keating. There he drinks his first... (full context)
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After a long night of drinking, Frank staggers home. Inside, he finds Angela waiting for him. Angela insists that Pa Keating should... (full context)
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The next morning, Frank wakes up and ignores Angela. He goes to the statue of St. Francis, and realizes... (full context)
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After Frank falls silent, Father Gregory waits a few moments, then begins to talk to Frank. Gregory... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Frank settles into his new job. He labels newspaper piles, and sometimes rides a bicycle to... (full context)
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Frank visits Mr. Sliney while he’s seeing his mother. Mr. Sliney is very old, and near... (full context)
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Frank continues with his job. In his spare time, he reads the newspapers, improving his reading... (full context)
Chapter 18
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As the chapter begins, Frank is almost nineteen years old. He’s still working for Mr. McCaffrey and Mrs. Finucane, and... (full context)
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The Friday before his nineteenth birthday, Mrs. Finucane, who’s been employing Frank for almost two years now, calls Frank to her house to celebrate with a glass... (full context)
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Frank uses his new money to arrange travel to America. He finds a travel agency that... (full context)
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Frank continues working during his last weeks in town. He takes walks through Limerick, trying to... (full context)
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Angela throws a party for Frank, saving up shillings from her work for Mr. Sliney. At the party, Frank’s family attends,... (full context)
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The next morning, Frank is on a boat bound for America. As he sits in his room, he wonders... (full context)
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After days of travel, Frank’s boat arrives in New York City. There’s a delay with the ship’s landing, and as... (full context)
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Late at night, Frank and the other immigrants return to their boat and sail from Poughkeepsie back down to... (full context)