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Literature / Angela's Ashes

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Angela's Ashes is the 1996 memoir of Frank McCourt (1930—2009), an Irish-American child growing up in poverty in Ireland. It is a collection of various anecdotes and stories of his impoverished childhood and early adulthood in Limerick, Ireland.

The novel was followed by two further novels continuing McCourt's life story; 'Tis (1999) and Teacher Man (2005).

It was adapted into a 1999 film, directed by Alan Parker and starring Robert Carlyle as Malachy Sr and Emily Watson as Angela.


The book and film provide examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: The book describes Malachy Senior as having thinning hair and collapsing teeth.
  • Alcoholic Parent: Malachy Sr.
  • Alliterative Title: Angela's Ashes
  • Animated Adaptation: In 2017, Brown Bag Films made a half hour prequel called Angela's Christmas. About a child Angela stealing a baby Jesus statue so she can keep it warm.
  • Angsty Surviving Twin: This provides perhaps the most heart-wrenching scene in the memoir when Oliver, one of the young twins dies and the other one, Eugene, keeps pathetically saying his name, wondering where he is, etc.
  • Anyone Can Die: Mostly Frank's younger siblings, but his grandmother and other characters die throughout the book. Frank himself almost dies from Typhoid.
  • Ass Shove: Pa Keating tells the kids that during the war, he shoved a pipe his arse and charged the other soldiers money to heat their water with his farts.
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  • Based on a Great Big Lie: Limerick residents have accused McCourt of exaggerating his poverty and even his mother stood up at a stage reading of the book and shouted that it was all a pack of lies.
  • Big Applesauce: Frank dreams of (and succeeds in) returning to New York.
  • Bumbling Dad: Malachy Sr, definitely not Played for Laughs.
  • Camping a Crapper
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: Frank and his friends regularly go to a rocky, hilly landscape in the wilderness and wank off next to each other (but apparently not 'with' each other). Being Catholic, they have to confess their sins. It helps that the old priest is mostly deaf and doesn't really pay attention to a word they said — until one day Frank slides into the booth all set to confess and finds a new and very alert priest there; the other one had died during the night.
    • A similar moment occurs when one of Frank's friends charges his classmates to spy on his older sisters as they prepare for a bath. One of the boys climbing up the spout gets a little overzealous and ends up pulling the drainpipe off the wall, causing the rest of the boys to be caught in the act as well.
  • Celebrity Lie: Frank convinces his uncle Pat that he was punched by boxer, Joe Louis.
  • Childhood Brain Damage;
    • Angela's brother and Frank's uncle Pat, who is slow-minded and is said to have been "dropped on the head" as a baby.
    • In the book, Malachy Sr's mother claims he's peculiar because he was dropped as a baby.
  • Children Raise You: Frank ends up having to fill the 'man of the house' role because of his father's drinking, irresponsible behaviour, and eventual departure to England for work.
  • Confessional: Frank goes to Confessional for the sin of 'regurgitating God' into his backyard, as he had eaten too much from his First Communion meal and threw up because of it. He's given penance but is then sent back to the confessional by his granny to ask how to clean it up. Upon returning with the answer of 'Water', he is sent back by his granny, again, to know if they are to use normal water or Holy water to clean up the mess. The Priest, frustrated, tells him normal water and to leave him alone.
  • Cool Teacher: Mr O'Halloran, a decidedly modern teacher compared to the others of the time.
  • Cool Uncle: Pa Keating is great with the children and cheers them up with his tall tales.
  • Crapsack World: Of the worst kind. There's a reason he describes it as a "miserable childhood".
  • Cut Himself Shaving: When his uncle Pat notices a bruise on his face left by Laman Griffin, Frank tells him Joe Louis punched him.
  • Daddy's Girl: A tragic example; in the beginning of the book a daughter, Margaret is born to the family. The normally alcoholic Malachy Sr dedicates himself to his daughter. A week later his daughter dies, sending Malachy Sr back to the bottle in grief.
  • Disappeared Dad;
    • Angela never met her father because he ran off to Australia before she was born.
    • Malachy Sr finds work in England and eventually stops visiting or sending money to the family.
  • Doomy Dooms of Doom: Frank cynically observes at one point: "Doom. The favourite word of every priest in Limerick."
  • Earn Your Happy Ending
  • Fat Bastard / Fat Slob: Laman Griffin, Angela's overweight cousin who forces her to sleep with him, makes Frank empty his piss pot and sloppily eats chips while refusing to share them with any of Angela's kids — they have to lick the newspaper he throws out because they are so hungry.
  • The Freelance Shame Squad: The other kids immediately notice and mock Frank's shoes.
  • The "Fun" in "Funeral": During a child's funeral, Pa entertains the kids with funny war stories. His wife chastises him but her usually grumpy mother says it's better than sitting with long faces.
  • Good Shepherd: Father Gregory, who gives Frankie hope again after his breakdown.
  • The Great Depression / The '40s: When most of the story takes place.
  • Grey Rain of Depression: Limerick is constantly being hit with rainstorms. When it's not raining, it's still miserable and grey. In fact, the only time the weather clears in the film adaptation is when Frank finally has his ticket for America bought.
  • Half-Breed Discrimination: An odd example, not involving ethnicities or nationalities (as Frank is fully Irish), but of cities. Part of the abuse and neglect that Frank and his siblings get from their mother's family is because their father is from Northern Ireland. Apparently having a father from the North makes you worthy of burning in Hell. For good measure, Angela's sister Aggie refuses to take in Oliver for this reason.
    Aggie: I don't want anything of Angela's. I don't want anything that's half-Limerick half-North of Ireland!
  • Ill Girl: Theresa Carmody.
    • Patricia Madigan
    • Margaret McCourt, who dies in early infancy.
  • Improvised Clothes: Malachy Senior repairs his sons' boots using an old bicycle tyre. This gets them mocked at school.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Theresa suffers from one. Justified, as she has tuberculosis and this is a memoir.
  • Infant Immortality: Harshly averted with many of Frank's siblings.
    • His sister, Margaret, dies in New York shortly after being born.
    • His three year old twin brothers, Oliver and Eugene, who die within a few months of each other.
  • Jerkass: Mrs Finucane, the moneylender, who hires Frank to write threatening letters to those who don't pay her back when she expects to be.
    • She eventually dies, and Frank takes some of her money to help him get back to America.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Malachy Sr is a genuinely loving father and wants to do right by his family. He just messes up constantly in his efforts, mostly due to drink.
    • Aunt Aggie is often almost antagonistic towards Angela's children, but she later helps Frank out by buying him new clothes for his job at the post office.
  • Lady in Red: Angela wears a red coat that catches the eye in a city so gray.
  • Loan Shark: Mrs Finucane, who hires Frank to write threatening letters on her behalf.
  • Love Hungry: Theresa, who knows she is terminally ill and has never had a boyfriend.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Patricia Madigan.
  • Misery Lit
  • Mooning: Malachy Jr moons Oliver and Eugene to try and make them laugh.
  • The Needless: Malachy Sr. claims to be able to survive off tea and says that food is a shock to his system.
  • Nun Too Holy: The nuns at the hospital where Frank is under care for typhoid fever are anything but compassionate. Think more along the lines of Stern Nun, only they're nurses instead of teachers.
    • Frank even says, when he is working at the post office, that you would surely die on the doorstep if you waited for a tip from the nuns for delivering their mail.
  • One-Paragraph Chapter: The very last chapter is only one word: 'Tis.
  • Out with a Bang: Frank hears that girls who have contracted tuberculosis have increased sex drives, wanting to experience sex before they die. He sleeps with Theresa Carmody and she dies shortly afterwards.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Angela's mother does not approve of Malachy Sr because he is not from Limerick.
    • Worse than that, it's because he is from Northern Ireland and they constantly accuse him of being a Presbyterian, even though he and his family in the North are devout Catholics.
  • Perpetual Poverty: The McCourts
    • There are families poorer and worse-off than the McCourts.
  • Rasputinian Death: Frank is reading about saints and decides that his favourite is St. Christina the Astonishing because she "takes ages to die". This of course makes sense considering how many of his siblings died while still babies.
  • Sadist Teacher: Mr Benson, Frank's primary school teacher who beats up young boys with a belt.
    • Surprisingly, it may be a subversion. Except Mr O'Halloran, all the teachers beat children because this is how school was at the time. However, when Frank and Malachy Jr arrive and are mocked for their holey shoes, Mr Benson yells at the pupils making fun, saying that they shouldn't laugh at other people's misfortunes.
  • Scarpia Ultimatum: Angela is given a chance to give her family what they need, but she is forced to sleep with her distant cousin Laman Griffin to do so.
  • Shotgun Wedding: Malachy Sr and Angela's wedding.
  • Sex Is Evil, and I Am Horny: Frank is conflicted between his sexual desires and his Catholic faith. He worries, for instance, that he may have jeopardized Theresa Carmody's soul by sleeping with her before she died.
  • Slobs vs. Snobs
  • The Storyteller: Malachy Sr in his good moments.
  • Street Urchin: Mikey Molloy, Frank's buddy.
  • Tender Tears: Frank's family tells him his "bladder must be near to [his] eye" because of how easily he tears up.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Frank refers to sexual relations as 'the excitement'. He and other members of his family refer to his conception (which was up against a wall) as a 'knee trembler'.
  • Wall Bang Her: According to Frank, this was how he was conceived, and he refers to it as a 'knee trembler'.
  • Would Hit a Girl: A drunk Frank slaps his mother when she compares him to his father and immediately regrets it.


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