Angela?s Ashes: The Setting effects the actions of the Characters

lauren karam

The autobiography Angela?s Ashes by Frank McCourt tells the life of the McCourt family while living in poverty in Limmerick, Ireland during the 30?s and 40?s. Frank McCourt relates his difficult childhood to the reader up to the time he leaves for America at age nineteen. The book has many prevailing themes, but one of the most notable is the settings relationship to the family. The setting of the book ultimately influences the choices and lifestyle of the McCourt family in many ways.


Living in poverty and not being able to meet basic needs leads the characters to result to desperate measures such as stopping Frank McCourt?s education and taking a job to support the family. Frank is forced to take the job mostly because his father is an alcoholic and uses all the dole money and his wages to buy beer instead of feeding his family. Frank describes this pattern of drinking away the money by saying " When Dad comes home with the drink smell there is no money and Mam screams at him till the Twins cry."(42) This situation lasts until Mr.McCourt leaves to work in England and is never heard from again which forces Frank to take a job at fourteen years old. Frank takes on the role of the head of the family proudly and comments " Its hard to sleep when you know you know the next day you?re fourteen and starting your first job as a man." (p.309) Frank?s ability to provide financial stability leads to greater comfort and living conditions for the family.


The members of the McCourt family are also forced to beg and steal in order to help the family?s well being. Mrs.McCourt begs charities especially the St. Vincent de Paul Society for help with basic necessities for the family such as food, clothing, and furniture. Mrs.McCourt is even forced to beg for the family?s Christmas dinner. The butcher who she begs to tells her " What you can have now missus, Is black pudding and tripe or a sheep?s head or a pig?s head."(97) Mrs.McCourt reluctantly accept the pig?s head and is ridiculed walking home it. Also, the children are forced to pick up scraps of coal for the fire from a road on Christmas Day. Frank describes the children?s humiliation by saying, " Even the poorest of the poor don?t go out Christmas Day picking coal off the road." (99)


Unlike their mother the McCourt children would rather steal than beg for what they need. The children are subjected to constant humiliation for begging and receiving goods from charity. Frank and his brothers steal food and money when situations become desperate and their parents provide no support. Frank steals bananas from a store for his hungry baby brothers and describes the situation by saying " I make sure no one is looking, grab a bunch of bananas ?and we feast on them in a dark corner" (p.32). Also, Frank and his brothers steal lemonade for their sick mother who begs them for lemonade after a miscarriage. Frank is motivated by his mother?s desperation for the lemonade, " I try to find the music in my own head but all I hear is my mother moaning for lemonade."(236) Stealing for Frank and his brothers was not their first choice of providing necessities but a last resort.


Living in poor housing also influences the thoughts and actions of the McCourt family in various ways. Most of the houses the family lives in throughout the book are shabby and unsanitary and promote the family?s unhealthiness. One of the houses the McCourt family lives in is characterized by the comment " dad tells them the lavatory could kill us with every class of disease, that the kitchen floods in the winter and we have to stay upstairs to keep dry" (p.104) . Because the lavatory smells so bad and the first floor floods in the winter, the McCourt family moves up to the second floor which they refer to as Italy because it is warm and clean. The charity societies visit the Mc.Courts and realize how desperate the situation is for the family. One charity worker exclaims, " That?s not Italy upstairs, that?s Calcutta." This realization allows for more charity and personal humiliation to be received by the McCourts.


Houses the