Angela's Ashes | Study Guide

Frank McCourt

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Angela's Ashes | Chapter 18 | Summary



Three years pass. Frank has kept working for Mrs. Finucane writing collection letters and dropping off money at the churches in town to pay for masses in her name, keeping a few pounds here and there to put in his savings account. When she dies, Frank steals 40 pounds for his fare to America. He also steals the ledger and throws it into the river so her customers don't have to pay. One of the customers is Aunt Aggie. "The ledger is gone, no one will ever know what they owe and they won't have to pay their balances. I wish I could tell them I'm your Robin Hood."

Now 19, he buys passage to America. He has mixed feelings about leaving his family and spends time walking around Limerick to remember it all. His mother throws him a farewell party, the first party she has ever given. On the ship he meets a priest from Limerick who lives in Los Angeles; he tells Frank homesickness never quite goes away. Frank has doubts about his decision: "Surely I should have stayed, taken the post office examination, climbed in the world."

When the boat is redirected to Albany, they are invited to a party in Poughkeepsie the night before the boat can anchor. At the party, he has sex with a married American woman. The priest knows and quietly disapproves. Back on the boat, one of the officers reminisces about the party and expresses his contentedness and boundless optimism.


This chapter wraps up Frank's time in Limerick. For years, he has been instrumental in Mrs. Finucane's collection business, but the moment she dies his compassion wins, and he does what he can to free her customers from their debts. Comparing himself to Robin Hood, he commits a crime: he steals some of her money to help the poor—himself—and throws the ledger into the River Shannon; the ledger that has brought grief to poor people of Limerick will join the other harmful components of the river and be washed away to sea, lingering in the polluted waters and not returning. Happy to repay his Aunt Aggie's kindness, in particular, and forgive her debt, Frank feels no remorse when he helps himself to money that is not his, stealing some of what Mrs. Finucane would otherwise have left to the church. With biting sarcasm he argues that his, the prayers of a sinner, might work just as well, revealing the promise of heaven is a privilege of the rich: all along Mrs. Finucane has been paying for what the priests have sold as God's forgiveness. Addressing such moral ambiguities throughout, McCourt claims nothing is a clear cut as it seems.

Similarly ambiguous are Frank's feelings. Despite years of saving and dreaming, he thinks, "Now there are days I don't want to go to America." Finally able to leave Limerick and his life in poverty behind, Frank becomes, perhaps uncharacteristically, sentimental about the city, wandering about "to get pictures of Limerick stuck in my head in case I never come back." Going around town, trying to remember as much of his life in Limerick as possible—good as well as bad—speak not only to the rather commonplace notion of homesickness but also to Frank's ties to the life that has shaped him. Yes, he will miss his family, once again emphasizing the close connection the McCourts have always felt for each other. Yet the desire to remember everything is more: it is an acceptance of the place he is coming from. Although some in Limerick accuse him of being "too good for the post office," Frank is not and does not want to be. He remains humble, accepting his poor beginnings and committed to his family. All these feelings suggest Frank is not running away from a past but running toward a better future.

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