Angela's Ashes: A Memoir is Frank McCourt's acclaimed memoir. It charts the author's childhood from his infant years in Brooklyn, through his impoverished adolescence in Limerick, Ireland, to his return to America at the age of nineteen. First published in 1996, McCourt's memoir won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize in the category of best Biography/Autobiography, and has gone on to become a worldwide bestseller.
McCourt, who for many years taught writing in a New York public high school, waited for over forty years to write about his troubled youth. Arguably, waiting for years before writing his autobiography allowed Frank McCourt to talk about his childhood in the most objective way possible. McCourt treats the subject of his own difficult life with even-handedness and objectivity.
McCourt never downplays the fact that he suffered from acute hunger and deprivation in his youth. He once described this autobiography as "an epic of woe." Nothing about the author's boyhood was easy. But Frank's world is not one of self-pity. Although the protagonist endures a troubled upbringing, it is one that instills in him strong moral values and a healthy sense of humor. McCourt's prose style is ambitious in its scope, yet detailed in his focus; it is prosaic in order to capture everyday life, but poetic in order to evoke a homeland.
McCourt wrote a sequel to Angela's Ashes entitled 'Tis, which describes his experiences as a young man in America. A film version of Angela's Ashes was made in 1999.
The narrator, Frank McCourt, describes how his parents meet in Brooklyn, New York. After his mother, Angela becomes pregnant with Frank, she marries Malachy, the father of her child. The family grows, and Angela struggles to feed her growing family of sons while Malachy spends his wages on drink. Frank's much-loved baby sister Margaret dies, and Angela becomes depressed. The McCourts decide to return to Ireland.
In Ireland, more troubles plague the McCourts. Angela has a miscarriage, Frank's two younger brothers die, and Malachy constantly drinks away the dole money.
McCourt's childhood is characterized not only as a time of great deprivation, but as a time of good humor and adventure. When the first floor of the house floods during the winter, Angela and Malachy announce that the family will leave the cold dam...
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..., priests, family members, and people in positions of authority. Even Frank's father may be seen as an antagonist, since his alcoholism aggravates his family's poverty. However, Frank's true antagonist is not one individual, but the general discrimination he faces because of his poverty
Setting (time) - Late 1930's and 1940's
Setting (place) - Brooklyn, New York (briefly) and Limerick, Ireland
Point of View - First person
Falling Action - Frank earns enough money to leave for America, and says an emotional farewell to Ireland
Tense - Present tense or immediate past; the author writes as though he is experiencing events for the first time, in the present moment
Foreshadowing - The death of baby Margaret seems to anticipate Frank's near-continual state of bereavement in Limerick, as he struggles to cope with the demise of two of his brothers, Theresa, and many other friends and relations
Tone - Humorous, self-effacing, matter-of-fact. McCourt matches his tone to the age of the narrator, becoming more serious and worldly as the narrative progresses
Themes - Guilt, class distinction, hunger
Motifs - Anti-English sentiment, stories and folktales
Symbols - River Shannon, eggs
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