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Angela's Ashes | Study Guide

Frank McCourt

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Angela's Ashes | Chapter 10 | Summary



Angela gets sick. There is no food in the house, they have no more credit anywhere, and they can't go to their grandmother, for "she yells ... all the time because Dad is from the North and he never sends money home from England." Frank steals lemonade for his mother and bread for his brothers from delivery trucks on one day and a whole box of food on the next. They go to a richer neighborhood to beg for coal for a fire but are chased away and called a disgrace for a Catholic country, leaving them no choice but to steal coal from people's backyards. Michael is caught and tells the rich woman his name and address. Soon after, Guard Dennehy checks on them and sends Frank to his grandmother who also calls him a disgrace. Aunt Aggie and Grandma Sheehan call a doctor for Angela, who is diagnosed with pneumonia and sent to the hospital.

The children stay with Aunt Aggie, who has a warm and dry house, electricity, enough food and drink, and a husband with a good job. However she is always in a bad mood, punishes the boys for every infraction, and yells at them constantly. Frank writes to his father, who comes home to take care of the boys but leaves as soon as Angela is back from the hospital. He sends money home one weekend, but then never again. Playing near the Redemptorist Church, Frank discovers his mother begging for leftovers from the priest's table and finds the humiliation "worse than the dole, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Dispensary. It's the worst kind of shame."


The McCourts seem on a never-ending downward spiral. When Angela is sick, Frank as the oldest child quickly takes responsibility for his family in the only ways he knows how: he steals to save them from starvation. Although he justifies this action as a Robin Hood-like move, he knows stealing is wrong and wants to go to confession to save his soul. Likening Frank to Robin Hood, the narrator focuses on the hypocrisy of Christianity. Although Angela and her children are in dire need, nobody wants to help them; instead they are called a "disgrace for a Catholic country." As sanctimonious as the government officials are in the previous chapter, the richer people in the neighborhood are, at best, the same; they show no empathy and accuse the poor people for the effects of their poverty: the children are ridiculed for wearing rags, pushing a rickety baby carriage, and being dirty. Even their own family, Grandma and Aunt Aggie, treat them like outsiders, as if their poverty were their fault.

After a brief reprieve from hunger when Malachy Sr. sends home money—once—conditions deteriorate even more. Up to this point Angela has tried desperately to keep her dignity, hoping to keep her family afloat without begging. She can no longer do so, and the chapter ends with an image of her begging for table scraps at the church. Angela, in her own mind, has become what she never wanted to be: a beggar—a person with no self-esteem. To save face in front of her children and protect them from the grim truth, she claims she received the food from the grocer. Frank cannot admit he knows the truth because such an admission would be tantamount to revealing he has seen her defeat. Out of both love and shame at the same time, he cannot look at her that night. To make matters worse, and to add situational irony to an already desperate situation, Angela's begging is in vain. The food she brought home for her sons goes to waste when Alphie, too innocent to know what's going on, throws the one piece of red meat to the dog.

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