Frank McCourt - A poor but otherwise happy childhood in Limerick?

Pre-University Paper, 2005

15 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of content

1. Introduction
1.1. The subject and the materials used
1.2. A happy childhood
1.3. Life in Ireland at that time
1.4. Summary

2. Characterization of Frank McCourt

3. Analysis
3.1. Influences in his childhood
3.1.1. Poverty
3.1.2. His family
3.1.3. The Church
3.1.4. School life
3.1.5. Other social contacts
3.2. What would happen if he lives today in Ireland?

4. Conclusion
4.1. A poor or a happy childhood?
4.2. Personal opinion


1. Introduction

1.1. The subject and the materials used

The book “Angela’s Ashes” depicts the childhood of Frank McCourt, who is the author and at the same time the main character of the story. The question we want to ask is whether he had a poor or a happy childhood in Limerick.

In the following text I will describe what denotes a happy childhood, give a short summary of the story and a description of how the people lived in Ireland in the 1930s of the 20th century. Then I will characterize Frank McCourt and analyse the factors, which influence him in the process of growing up.

The materials used are first of all the book “Angela’s Ashes”, written by Frank McCourt, which was published in 1996 in New York, and the internet.

Frank McCourt was born in New York in 1930 and emigrated 4 years later with his parents to Ireland, where he grew up in very poor circumstances. At the age of 19 he had saved enough money to return to his native country America. He studied in New York and taught at a High School.[1]

I find the subject is very interesting, because you get to know, how the Irish people, especially the children, lived in former times. Today you cannot imagine how dreadful life was, because many things have changed. Yet after reading “Angela’s Ashes” you learn what signifies a poor childhood.

1.2. A happy childhood

I think the most important point is that a child gets enough love, especially from his parents. They should be there for their children in all kinds of situations, care for them and talk with them about their problems instead of abusing them.

Moreover, it is important that while the child is growing up, he is not disturbed by sufferings such as poverty, famine or diseases.

Besides this, a child needs contact to other children of the same age for playing, talking etc. Good friends are needed not only as a child but also as a teen or as an adult.

I am of the opinion that a happy childhood is when an older person can say:

”Yes, I had a happy childhood and I enjoyed it”, no matter in what kind of circumstances.

1.3. Life in Ireland at that time

In the 1930s of the 20th century life was very different, because there was a strict social structure. On the one hand there was the upper class, which consisted of the Protestants and some English, who lived in Ireland. On the other hand there were the lower classes, who were principally the Irish. Most of the Irish people were Catholics. So there was a big gap between the Protestants and the Catholics. On the whole the catholic Irish lived in worse circumstances than the Protestants. Lots of Irish people lived in poverty, because they did not find any kind of work and moreover did not have a good education. Therefore many Irish people emigrated to America or England.

Most of the Protestants were very wealthy, but even a few Catholics were wealthy, too. The main work at that time was farming, so most of the wealthy people were landowners. They visited private schools, received a good education and could do any work they wanted.

Furthermore, the Church dominated and had a big influence over the people. The priests could be comparable with a mayor, because they had the authority and respect of the people who believed them, no matter what they said.

The political situation was very tense. In 1922 the first parliament was voted and since then there has been a democracy. But the Irish felt badly treated and so a lot of civil unrest and violence developed.[2]

Life was very difficult for the children who lived in poverty. Most families were very large with many children. Sometimes the parents did not have time for their children and because of the poverty they suffered starvation or many diseases. Often the children went out of the house in the morning and returned at evening, totally worn out and hungry. They were on their own and could not count of any help or support.

Frank McCourt represents this situation from the children in the 1930s in his book “Angela’s Ashes”.

1.4. Summary

The book “Angela’s Ashes deals with Frank McCourt, who describes his memoirs of his childhood.

The story starts in Brooklyn, where he and his four younger siblings are born, and ends with his return to his native country at the age of nineteen.

Frank’s parents, Angela and Malachy, who are immigrants from Ireland, try to live a happy life in New York together with their four children. But this trial fails. Margaret, their little baby, dies shortly after her birth and the family lives in extreme poverty. So they return to Ireland.

But even there the sufferings continue. Very often they move, but all places of residence are dreadful. They do not have money and therefore no food, clothes or a warm flat. These occurrences lead to diseases and finally to the death of Frank’s brothers Oliver and Eugene.

Malachy comes from the North, so it is very difficult for him to find a job. But even when he has a job, he drinks his money in pubs and finally he is out of work again. When he is in England for the war effort, Frank undertakes the father’s role in the family. He leaves school and does a lot of jobs to bring home money, and also to save some money to fulfil his dream of moving back to America.

During his childhood in Ireland Frank makes lots of experiences, for example, with his first love Theresa.

All the time Frank tries to flee from the poverty, but this he does not manage before he returns to his native country America.

2. Characterization of Frank McCourt

Frank McCourt is the protagonist in his own novel ”Angela’s Ashes”. He was born in New York on August 19, 1930 (p.316, ll.29-30). The book, being an autobiography, describes his life from his age of three to the age of nineteen.

Frank is the son of Angela Sheehan and Malachy McCourt, who are both emigrants from Ireland. They have married in New York and after four years they have returned.

Frank once had six brothers and sisters. But now three of them have died of the consequences of the poverty they are living in.

Frank McCourt has “brown eyes like his father, black hair and white cheeks”.[3]

Furthermore, he does not have the best education. When he is a child he goes to the primary school, the National Leamy’s School (p.95, l.13). Therefore he can read and write. Yet, hating school, he does not continue his education although he is intelligent (p.364). Instead he becomes a telegram boy in the post office to earn money (p.365, l.23).

Frank has not the best relationship with his family. His parents do not care for him and sometimes he feels a bit disadvantaged to his siblings, as seen on page 38 in line 1, when he says “They are talking about Margaret now and I’m forgotten”.[4] The reader also gets the feeling that Frank is sometimes jealous of his brother Malachy, because he has humour and is more open-minded. The boys in school mention this, too, as they say to Frank: “Your little brother is smart and you’re a stupid Yank”.[5]

The reader gets the impression that Frank becomes more and more responsible during the process of growing up. His parents, not spending much time with their children, leave Frank to care for his siblings although he is a child himself (p.89, l.21). In getting food for them, he even becomes a criminal, which is shown to the reader on page 35 when “he grabs bananas outside the Italian grocery shop”.[6]

At home, very often he gets to hear the request “Go out and play”[7], which conveys the impression that Frank is very obedient because he always does as he is told. In addition to that Frank is very industrious. Even as a child he works hard at home, which can be seen on page 122, when he has to find coal on the streets on Christmas Day.

Besides, Frank is described as a boy, who is very modest. So he is delighted in trifles, which is shown to the reader on page 62, when he is happy to have “hot sweet tea and thick slices of bread slathered with butter and jam”.[8]

A further character trait is his faith, which is expressed in different ways. On the one hand he believes in God, which shows that he is very religious, as you can see on page 156, when he has his First Communion. In addition to that he believes in the “Angel of the seven step”, to whom he can tell all his troubles (p.153, l.21). His father tells him that this angel is the one who brings the babies (p.125, l.6). This passage underlines his kind of simplicity, because he believes what he is told. A further example can be seen on page 319, when Mikey Molloy tells him he is doomed and a bastard.



[2] Interview by John Kavanagh

[3] Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt, 1996, p.22, l.35

[4] idid., p.38, l.1

[5] idid., p.96, ll.1-2

[6] idid., p.35, ll.30-31

[7] idid., p.23, l.21

[8] idid., p.62, ll.6-7

Excerpt out of 15 pages


Frank McCourt - A poor but otherwise happy childhood in Limerick?
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ISBN (eBook)
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Frank, McCourt, Limerick
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Kirsten Sommer (Author), 2005, Frank McCourt - A poor but otherwise happy childhood in Limerick?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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