Angela’s Ashes

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Themes and Colors
Irish Social Tensions Theme Icon
Poverty, Survival, and Morality Theme Icon
Catholicism, Sexuality, and Coming-of-age Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Misery, Drunkenness, and Escape Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Angela’s Ashes, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

As Frank McCourt portrays it, his family’s life in Ireland is dominated by the longstanding tensions between England and Ireland, between Protestantism and Catholicism, between Ireland’s North and the South, and between the wealthy and the poor. These constant tensions deeply affect Frank’s life as he grows up, and also shape the way he views the world. For example, from an early age, Frank is taught to despise the Northern Irish, most of whom are…

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Frank McCourt grows up in a family so large and poorly taken care of that he and his siblings often go days without food, and poverty is a huge part of his experience growing up. Because Frank’s father, Malachy Sr., is too drunk and lazy to get a reliable job, the McCourts turn to other methods for making money and surviving. In the course of their struggle to make ends meet, they’re forced to…

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Catholicism is a source of enormous social and political conflict in Ireland, but as a personal religious faith, it’s also the moral standard against which Frank McCourt measures himself. Throughout Angela’s Ashes, Frank comes of age by coming to terms with his Catholic education—deciding which parts of the religion he believes in, and which parts he rejects altogether. In short, Catholicism shapes the external reality of Frank’s life, but also affects his inner life…

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Although the characters of Angela’s Ashes are poor and desperate, they’re surprisingly helpful and generous with each other. When Malachy Sr. and Angela McCourt are struggling to make ends meet, they’re often able to survive by turning to members of their extended family for help. In Ireland, where work and food are scarce, the family bond is exceptionally strong—a guarantee that, if there is any food, money, or shelter to be had, it will be…

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For the characters in Angela’s Ashes, life is—to use McCourt’s own word—miserable. The characters are often too poor to feed themselves, their children and loved ones die of horrible diseases, and there’s a general sense that their lives will never get any better. Why don’t the people of Limerick collapse in despair? How do they find happiness in their miserable lives?

The single most common way that people in Angela’s Ashes cope with sadness…

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