Angela's Ashes | Study Guide

Frank McCourt

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Angela's Ashes | Chapter 15 | Summary

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Summary

On his birthday, Aunt Aggie purchases a set of new clothes for Frank and gives him enough money for a bun and tea. "Fat and lazy, no son of her own, and still she buys me the clothes for my new job." On the following Monday he starts his job as a temporary telegram boy. His first delivery goes to Mrs. Clohessy, Paddy's mother. Her husband has recovered and is in England with Paddy, sending money home regularly. "If it wasn't for Hitler we'd all be dead." Now that her husband works in England's munitions factories, she has new furniture, nice clothes, and food.

On the first payday, Frank takes Michael to eat fish and chips, to a movie, and to have a bun and tea. Frank vows not to spend all his wages on food but to save money for fare to America. Although Frank is not allowed to run other errands for people, he cannot help himself, given some of his customers are so old and sick they would not be able to cash their checks or buy groceries themselves. Facing the dire situations of others, he risks his job to help them.

The school year starts, and Michael slowly moves in with Frank and Uncle Pat as does Angela. When Malachy Jr. returns from Dublin, having decided he doesn't want to play the trumpet for the Army, the family is together again. Frank hands over his wages to Angela to manage for the family, for she has lost welfare money as a result of Frank's income and not having to pay rent.

When Frank delivers a telegram to Theresa Carmody, a 17-year-old girl very ill with consumption, he falls from his bike. Theresa tends to his wounds, and they make love. For weeks he goes to visit her and their sexual activity continues. When he delivers a telegram to her mother's workplace instead of her home, he learns Theresa is in the hospital. Soon after, Theresa dies. He worries making love to her before marriage has condemned her to hell, and he begs God to save her soul.

Analysis

When his aunt buys him new clothes, Frank is moved to tears by her unexpected gesture: "I have to stand at the edge of the River Shannon so that the whole world won't see the tears of a man the day he's fourteen." If the river is not bringing despair this time, it is, in a sense, consuming the gratitude of a child who must be a man before his years.

Once again, conditions are not as black and white as they may seem. Although Aunt Aggie has been arrogant and abusive to the McCourts, this act of unexpected charity comes at just the right moment—or might she have been moved to action by his wearing her mother's dress, realizing the extent of the family's destitution? Frank can start his job as a telegram boy with his head held high and not be afraid of smelling bad. When he delivers a telegram to the Clohessys, a family he once pitied because they lived in squalor worse than his own, he must realize they are far better off than his family now. Paddy and his father are working in England and sending money back home. The Clohessys, however, had to deal with the results of illness rather than chronic alcoholism and irresponsibility.

Frank realizes very soon that spending all his wages on food will trap him in Limerick forever. Realizing the need to save attests to his foresight, which in turn qualifies him not only as an adult but as a more ambitious and focused adult than his father. "I'm fourteen now and if I save something every week I surely should be able to go to America by the time I'm twenty." He refuses to be a victim of the class system, for he knows he has the power to determine the course of his life. Perhaps his American birth and his parents' American experience have informed his determination, but certainly Frank is not the first person to leave Ireland for opportunities in the United States. Of course, readers should keep in mind the author is also the character, and what he says about himself, whether good or bad, must be understood in a similar way as an author creating a fictional character. Events and people are crafted to engage the reader, as they generally are in memoirs that have become works of literature.

In creating a positive, likable, and noble character, McCourt the author assures readers Frank's ambition does not blind him to others' sufferings. He acknowledges the hypocrisy of the church, whose officials enjoy the good life while they tell parishioners to accept poverty as Jesus accepted the cross. "Lorries driving up to their houses with crates and barrels of whiskey and wine, eggs galore and legs of ham and they telling us what we should give up for lent. Lent, my arse. What are we to give up when we have Lent all year long?" Frank feels more Christian than those he rails against: he gives whereas they receive. In true Christian spirit and compassion he risks his job, and with it hope for a better future, by running errands and helping those who need his help. Like his mother he is willing to sacrifice for other people's well-being.

Sex and the church—a large part of the theme of guilt and forgiveness—plays a major role in this chapter. Frank's first sexual encounter seems like a sin in the eyes of the church and a revelation of the nature of love. Their lovemaking naturally follows Theresa's act of kindness in caring for Frank's wounds even though she will be dying soon. Underscoring the notion of togetherness as a bulwark against death, Theresa and Frank's lovemaking may seem less of a sin to readers. No stranger to death, Frank nonetheless experiences her passing with a flood of emotions stronger than ever before: "With all the people who died in my family and all the people who died in the lanes and all the people who left I never had a pain like this in my heart." A wage earner with his first love gone, he is now a man. Accepting the responsibilities that go with it, he moves on despite his sorrow, for he has "telegrams to deliver."

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