Angela's Ashes | Study Guide

Frank McCourt

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Angela's Ashes | Chapter 13 | Summary

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Summary

Frank bargains with Laman to borrow his bicycle for a trip with schoolmates; Laman agrees if Frank cleans his chamber pot and runs errands for him. One day on an errand in the library, Frank gets so engrossed in a book that Miss O'Riordan sends home a note home telling his mother he is a smart boy made for the priesthood. Mr. O'Halloran urges Angela to talk to the Christian Brothers to convince them to take Frank after elementary school, but they send him away as the priest did when Malachy Sr. wanted Frank to become an altar boy. Angela's "face tightens and she's angry. You are never to let anybody slam the door in your face again." Frank, however, is glad he can now become a telegram boy and make money.

At night Frank hears his mother go up to the loft with Laman's tea. Often she stays, and Frank realizes they are having sex. He himself is masturbating, which he believes is a sin. He looks for a priest who will absolve the sin with the easiest penance.

The day before the bicycle trip, Frank forgets to empty the chamber pot. Laman refuses to give him the bike, they get into a fight, and Laman kicks him out. When his mother climbs to the loft to plead with Laman, "she cries and begs till there's whispering and grunting and moaning and nothing." Frank leaves that night, runs into his Uncle Pat, and moves in with him. He is so hungry he licks the grease off the newspaper that wrapped his uncle's fish and chips.

Analysis

This chapter goes beyond lamenting the McCourts' poverty and introduces a critical note about the forces that ensure the world will remain divided into classes. Frank's exceptional intelligence, his academic and literary curiosity, as well as his eloquence, have been mentioned throughout. In this chapter representatives of the educational system take note: Miss O'Riordan and Mr. O'Halloran believe Frank should continue his education. When Frank is rejected by the Christian Brothers, Mr. O'Halloran laments the state of Ireland, "disgusted by this free and independent Ireland that keeps a class system foisted on us by the English, that we are throwing our talented children on the dungheap." He is an obvious fan of America, and it becomes clear why. While Ireland is stuck in a strict class system that puts more faith into family background and tradition than personal achievement, America offers chances to anyone willing to try. With this realization, he sees America as the only hope for his students who want to achieve.

Angela directs her anger at the church. While raising her sons in the Catholic faith, she does not necessarily believe all the dogma and instead practices Christianity by sharing the last bit of food with those who have less. When the hypocrisy of the church becomes palpable, as Frank is turned away despite his obvious talent, Angela makes her son promise not to let anyone close a door on him again. This act underscores her support for Frank and determination he rise above the limits imposed on him in Limerick.

Even Laman, thus far a seemingly helpful relative, uses his relative power to exploit Angela and her family and his true character is revealed. In exchange for free lodging, Angela has to be at his beck and call, even in his bed. Angela's self-esteem is so low that when Laman refuses to keep his promise to give Frank his bike, she tries to plead with him and offers her body in exchange. Frank can take no more humiliation and defeat. He leaves, angry with Laman for abusing his power and angry with his mother for letting him do it.

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