Angela’s Ashes

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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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The minute she losses one child there is another one on the way. We don't know how she does it. She's married four years, five children and another on the way. That shows you what can happen when you marry someone from the North for they have no control over themselves up there a bunch of Protestands that they are. He goes out for work every day but we know he spends all his time in the saloons and gets a few dollars for sweeping floors and lifting barrels and spends the money right back on the drink. It's terrible, Aunt Margaret, and we all think Angela and the children would be better off in her native land. We don't have the money to buy the tickets ourselves for times is hard but you might be able to see your way. Hopping this finds you in fine form as it leaves us thank God and His Blessed Mother.

Related Characters: Delia Fortune (speaker), Philomena Flynn (speaker), Malachy McCourt Sr. , Angela Sheehan McCourt, Margaret Sheehan
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Angela's cousins, Delia and Philomena, write a letter to Angela's mother, Margaret, who lives in Ireland. They use the letter as an opportunity to air their grievances with regard to Angela's husband, Malachy Sr. Malachy Sr. is a drunken, lazy man—but even worse (in Delia and Philomena's eyes), he's from Northern Ireland, the part of the country that's usually associated with British culture and Protestantism—everything that Angela's Catholic family despises.

The quotation is important because it also establishes a hierarchy of loyalty—family comes even before religion and nationality. In spite of Delia and Philomena's hatred for Malachy Sr., they know that Angela is bound to stay married to him forever (due to her strong Catholic convictions), so Malachy is family now. As a result, Delia and Philomena feel a sense of duty to take care of Malachy Sr. and his children (including Frank), and ask Margaret for her help in bringing the family to Ireland. Delia and Philomena seem not to have much affection for Angela or Malachy; rather, they're acting out of a strong sense of obligation to "blood."

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.

Grandma whispers to Aunt Aggie, Who'll put the child in the coffin? and Aunt Aggie whispers, I won't. That's the job for the mother.
Uncle Pat hears them. I'll put the child in the coffin, he says. He limps to the bed and places his arms around Mam's shoulders. She looks up at him and her face is drenched. He says, I'll put the child in the coffin, Angela.

Related Characters: Margaret Sheehan (speaker), Aunt Aggie (speaker), Patrick Sheehan / Uncle Pat (speaker), Angela Sheehan McCourt, Oliver McCourt
Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:

After the death of her child Oliver (Frank's little brother), Angela and the rest of the family attends the funeral. Angela, it's agreed, has a responsibility: bury her child in a coffin. Angela finds herself unable to perform this task, however, as she's too miserable. And yet Angela at least recognizes that she has a duty to place Oliver in the coffin. Her grief and misery contrasts markedly with her husband Malachy Sr.'s drunkenness during the even. Whereas Malachy Sr. escapes or represses his grief with drinking, Angela faces her feelings head-on, painful though this is.

The quotation also demonstrates the power of family in Ireland. When a family member is too weak or sad to perform a duty, it's the responsibility of someone else in the family (here, Uncle Pat) to carry it out. Not for the last time in the novel, another Sheehan will give aid and comfort to Angela and her children.

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 4 Quotes

The priest tells Mrs. Molloy not to worry. God moves in mysterious ways His wonders to perform and surely He has a special purpose for Mikey, fits and all. She says, Isn't it remarkable he can swally all kinds of sweets and buns but if he has to swally the body of Our Lord he goes into a fit? Isn't that remarkable? She worries Mikey might have the fit and die and go to hell if he has any class of a sin on his soul though everyone knows he's an angel out of heaven. Mikey tells her God is not going to afflict you with the fit and then boot you into hell on top of it. What kind of a God would do a thing like that?

Related Characters: Nora Molloy (speaker), Mikey Molloy (speaker)
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Frank introduces us to Mikey Molloy, a young boy who's alienated from his peers because of his violent epileptic fits. Mikey is unable to take communion—a staple of Irish Catholic life—because of the supposed danger that he could have a fit and choke to death on the body of Christ. While technically Mikey's inability to take communion means that he's not a full Catholic, and therefore damned, Mikey insists that he'll be fine—surely no God would send him to hell for something he has no control over.

Mikey is one of the most interesting characters in Angela's Ashes, because he seems especially wise (in a childlike way) when it comes to Catholicism. Mikey can see, very clearly, that it would be wrong for God to send him to Hell simply because he was born with fits—Mikey seems to have a childlike faith in right and wrong, and a justice that extends beyond arbitrary rules. His view of Catholicism avoids the complex tangle of rules and regulations that many of the adults in the community get lost in.

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 9 Quotes

And what's your name?
McCourt, sir.
That's not a Limerick name. Where did you get a name like that?
My husband, sir. He's from the North.
He's from the North and he leaves you here to get the relief from the Irish Free State. Is this what we fought for, is it?
I don't know, sir.
Why don't you go up to Belfast and see what the Orangemen will do for you, ah?
I don't know, sir.
You don't know. Of course you don't know. There's great ignorance in the world.

Related Characters: Angela Sheehan McCourt (speaker), Mr. Coffey (speaker), Mr. Kane (speaker), Malachy McCourt Sr.
Page Number: 233-234
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Angela goes to the local Irish Free State office (a public place where the families of soldiers who fought for Irish independence can collect benefits) and tries to get some money to feed her family. The two men working at the office, Mr. Coffey and Mr. Kane, are polite to Angela at first, but then turn on her when they realize that she's married to Malachy, a Northern Irishman.

Coffey and Kane's taunts remind Frank of the prejudices he's forced to weather because of his father's outsider status in Limerick. Although Malachy drinks away his wages and starves his family, it's important to remember that he's not entirely to blame for his family's poverty: he can barely get a job or collect relief because his town is prejudiced against people from his part of the country. The scene is a stark reminder of the vast importance of geography, culture, and religious affiliation in Ireland.

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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