Angela?s Ashes is an autobiographical novel, which takes place in Ireland and in America. This book tells the life of Frank McCourt, his brother Malachy, his mother Angela, and his father Malachy. The story also includes many other characters, including relatives, children, neighbors, and townspeople. McCourt describes his life from the time that he was a child of two years, until he was about twenty-five years old. The amazing thing that he does is that he makes himself the age that he is in the story. For example, when he was four, McCourt records the dialogue how it would actually sound if in fact he was four years old. ?I tell him (Malachy) stop telling that story, it?s my story. He won?t stop. I push him and he cries, Waah, waah, I?ll tell Mam.(31)?
The setting of this story has some significance to the attitude of McCourt and the reader. It seems as if Frank and his family are always trying to get enough money to go back to America. Frank and Malachy were born in America, but they had to go to Ireland, their parents? native country, due to lack of money. McCourt makes America seem like the place to be, while Ireland is just the place where they are stuck for the time being. The problem with the family is that Malachy McCourt, the father, has a drinking problem. Therefore, he spends every Friday salary on alcohol. The wife and children go hungry, and without adequate clothing because of the father. However they cannot stop him. ?She says, Some day we?ll all go back to America and we?ll have a nice warm place to live and a lavatory down the hall like the one in Classon Avenue and not this filthy thing outside our door.(110)?
It?s interesting to hear how the people of different nationalities, classes, or backgrounds speak differently. Frank McCourt and his family swear as they please, but Angela?s proper relatives cringe at those words. They punish the children for using such language, but the children don?t know any better. ?Good God, says Philomena (Angela?s cousin). Those twins are naked. Don?t you have clothes for them??
Malachy says, ?they?re all *censored*ty.?
Delia barks (Angela?s cousin). ?See. That?s what happens. A mouth like a sewer, and no wonder with a father from the North. Don?t use that word. That?s a bad word, a curse word. You could go to hell using a word like that.(43)? The different language of each person adds humor, sadness, and a lot a feeling to this story. The diction that McCourt uses almost makes it possible to hear the characters? voices. This is an incredible talent that he uses, and it draws the reader into the story.
There is a little bit of irony in this story. It is the fact that Frank and his brother Malachy were so young when they moved, that they really don?t remember what America was like before they moved back to Ireland. The irony is that during the course of this work, all that this family wants to do, including the children, is move back to America. They always comment how when they move back, their lives will be so much better. However, only the parents really know how it will be. Frank and Malachy only assume and trust their parents with the well being of their lives. The trust that the children have for the parents in itself is ironic, because the parents are the ones that are responsible for the miserable childhood of their children.
“When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood. (1)”
A point that is made earlier is well supported by many reviews and critics. This is the point that Ireland is made the place that people want to get out of.
?Things, however, were considerably worse in Limerick than they were in Brooklyn.? (Kirkus Reviews) Many critics mention ?the slums of Limerick,? or the ?ramshackled apartment? in which the McCourts had to take shelter in.
?Frank’s mother, Angela, has no money to feed the children since Frank’s father, Malachy, rarely works, and when he does he drinks his wages? Malachy — exasperating, irresponsible and beguiling.? (Kirkus Reviews)
?His ?shiftless loquacious alcoholic father,? Malachy, rarely worked;?(Critical Praise)
The way that McCourt uses language and actions to delve into his character?s age and maturity level, as discussed earlier is also a topic that is hovered over by many critics.
?What is it that transforms a childhood blighted by poverty, death and disease into a story that shines with love and leaps off the page in language of rare energy, music and humor?? (Kathryn Harrison)