Angela's Ashes | Study Guide

Frank McCourt

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Angela's Ashes | Chapter 14 | Summary

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Summary

Frank cannot start his job as a telegram boy before he turns 14. He lives with his Uncle Pat but has to steal food in richer neighborhoods to feed himself; Uncle Pat doesn't share his food and begrudges the costs of having Frank living with him. Michael asks him to come back to Laman's, but Frank refuses. Frank imagines what he will buy Michael once he makes money as a telegram boy. He goes to the library to pass the time until Miss O'Riordan kicks him out for reading what she thinks is "filth." He takes long walks like his father, marvels at the beauty of Ireland, and masturbates. Falling asleep on a park bench, he has a wet dream about the Virgin Mary. Afraid to go to confession, he believes he is doomed.

He washes his clothes in preparation for his new job. Cold at night, he puts on the only thing he can find: his grandmother's dress. When Aunt Aggie brings home a drunk Uncle Pat, she catches Frank in her mother's dress. His outfit becomes the joke of the neighborhood when a neighbor sees him, too. Frank tells Aunt Aggie he is wearing the dress because "I washed my clothes for the big job" and promises to work hard so he can afford lodging for himself and his family. Impressed, Aunt Aggie says, "Well ... that's more than your father would do."

Analysis

Forced to steal every day to survive, Frank feels at an all-time low. His extended family does little to help him; his uncle is miserly. With no help during this interim time in his life, he must survive by whatever means available to him. Yet he feels guilt. Not only is he a common thief, he is also a sinner because nobody can forgive repeated masturbation. "Doom. That's the favorite word of every priest in Ireland." He also sees himself as filthy and ugly and thus unworthy. He worries someone like him might not even get a job at the post office and, in a clear-sighted act of self-preservation, he washes his clothes. It becomes apparent to him he is not like his father. He is determined to make enough money to care for his family and save up for a move to America.

Frank's lonely and desperate attempts to survive are offset with a slapstick episode of Frank in his grandmother's dress. Often the subject of ridicule and abuse, this time the jokes seem good-natured. When Aunt Aggie confronts him, he explains the circumstances and his otherwise strict and humorless relatives realize what Frank already knows: Frank is not like his father; Frank's intellect and talent are paired with ambition, determination, and strength of mind.

In this chapter as in others, McCourt describes the details of poverty: living conditions, wearing rags, and constant hunger more than anything else. He has relinquished food for pride in leaving Laman's house and must steal food, so his unceasing needs inform his vision of what he will do with the money he earns at the post office: give his brother "an egg and take him to the Lyric Cinema for the film and the sweets and then we'll go to Naughton's and eat fish and chips." His wider imagination leads him to think of living in "a house or a flat with electric light and a lavatory and beds with sheets blankets pillows like the rest of the world. We'll have breakfast in a bright kitchen with flowers dancing in a garden beyond, delicate cups and saucers, eggcups, eggs soft in the yolk." The symbol of eggs as a modest and attainable luxury is notable here as they appear in his visions of both the immediate and distant futures.

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