’s Angela’s Ashes Essay, Research Paper
Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes is a powerful and emotional memoir of his life from childhood through early adulthood. This book is a wonderfully inspired piece of work that emotionally attaches the reader through McCourt’s life experiences. Its effectiveness is primarily due to McCourt’s evolving ‘innocent-eye’ narrative technique. He allows the reader to experience his own life in a changeable form. Through this unique story telling technique, the reader is able to watch Frank grow and evolve. Between the ages of four, eleven and fourteen changes in his writing can be easily identified. It is evident that the written text, McCourt’s thoughts, and the resultant relationship with the reader evolve and become more complex during this part of his life.
When describing his experiences at the age of four, McCourt’s writing style is very much like a story told from a child’s perspective. He uses simple dialogue and a ‘tell it like it is’ approach: “We’re on the seesaw. Up, down, updown. Malachy goes up. I get off. Malachy goes down. Seesaw hits ground” (19). At this point, he demonstrated a basic, staccato-like sentence structure. McCourt presents information as if heard and interpreted by a child. On page38 Mrs. Leibowitz, a kind neighbour who lives in the same building as the McCourt family, says, “Nice Chewish name, have apiece of cake, eh? Why they give you a Chewish name, eh?” The reader knows that the word Jewish is spelled as it is heard and that this is typical of child interpretations.
Just as simple dialogue is used throughout the book, so are simple pattern thoughts. Children have a tangible stream of consciousness and often have a tendency to change subject matter quickly throughout a conversation: “They have their tea…uncle Pa Keating, who is my uncle because he’s married to my aunt Aggie, picks up Eugene” (87). The reader already knows from previous information that Pa Keating is the children’s uncle. Just as children often incorporate needless information into a conversation, McCourt does the same in his writing. The reader acquires an image that a real conversation is taking place.
Frank McCourt also shows the reader, through examples such as on page 16, that his thoughts as a child are quite simple. He tries to describe the anger he feels by stating “a blackness comes over me.” Because of his age, he is unable to clearly describe and fully express his thoughts. This is due to a lack of knowledge. He can only perceive what he knows to be familiar. For instance, he refers to his family standing in the kitchen as “big people” (106). He is easily confused and does not understand complex concepts: “…He can have Malachy and the twins for brothers. He can’t have Margaret anymore because she’s like the dog in the street that was taken away. I don’t know why she was taken away” (43). Concepts such as death and religion are especially difficult for a child to understand. “Mam tells us, That’s the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and I want to know why the man’s heart is on fire and why doesn’t He throw water on it?” (67).
A unique relationship forms between the author and the reader through McCourt’s effective ‘show and tell’ narrative method. This gives the reader more involvement and greater emotional attachment. During the first part of this book, he ‘shows’ the reader, through innocent misunderstandings, that interpretation is needed in order to fully understand the context: “Sometimes he [Mr. Leibowitz] speaks to Mrs. Leibowitz and I don’t understand because strange sounds come from his mouth. Freddie understands…smiles back and makes the strange sounds” (38). Here the reader knows that the ‘strange sounds’ are the Leibowitz’s speaking another language. Frank does not understand that there are different languages that people speak other than just English, but the mature reader is informed.
Proceeding into the section of the book where McCourt is eleven years old, the dialogue becomes less simple and moderately complex. There is structure to his sentences with use of grammatical tools, like commas, that raise the level of complexity to the writing. For instance on page 178, the sentence “he drinks his tea in the morning, signs for the dole at the Labour Exchange, reads the papers at the Carnegie Library, goes for long walks far into the country…” shows an elevated level of writing. Not demonstrated at the age of four, Frank starts to give more detail and description to words during this age. “He coughs and bring up ropes of green and yellow stuff”(204).
Attributes like education and personal experiences contribute by making Frank’s thoughts become more involved. At this age, his thoughts are insightful but they show how gullible he can be but he is slowly maturing. For example, when Angela has new child, Frank’s brother Malachy inquires why their Mam’s bed is in the kitchen. McCourt writes, “I’m older so I tell Malachy the bed is in the kitchen so the angel can fly down and leave the baby on the seventh step but Malachy doesn’t understand…he’s only eight”(223). The fact he still thinks an angel brings newborn babies shows his level of maturity and gullibility.
He begins to exercise his mind with questions and it shows at the age of eleven that Frank is quite insightful. On page 200 he postulates about his Faith and patriotism: “I’d love to be big and important…but I don’t think I’ll live that long the way I’m expected to die for this or that. I want to ask why there are so many…people who haven’t died for Ireland or the Faith”(138).
Reader interpretation decreases as Frank grows up. On page 156, Frank describes a funny scene in a confessional booth with a priest: “There is heavy breathing. The priest has his hand over his mouth and he’s making choking sounds and talking to himself, mother o’ God.” The reader clearly sees the priest is laughing and that Frank does not know this.
Finally arriving at the age of fourteen the written text, thoughts and the relationship with the reader reach a point where all merge to present a mature, complex and an evolved Frank McCourt. In the last part of this book, the writing has changed noticeably compared to the beginning and the middle sections. In contrast from the age of four and eleven years old, the following exert on page 411 is a good example to support the complexity of Frank at the age of fourteen. “Frost is already whitening the fresh earth on the grave and I think of Theresa cold in the coffin, the red hair, the green eyes. I can’t understand the feelings going through me but I know that with all the people who died in the lanes around me and all the people who left I never had a pain like this in my heart and I hope I never will again. It’s getting dark. I walk my bicycle out of the graveyard. I have telegrams to deliver.”
The text is very descriptive and has an involved sentence structure characteristic of a mature writer. His thoughts and his feelings are deeply profound. The relationship with the reader has changed extremely and is quite noticeable. In the beginning and parts of the middle of this book, the reader is ‘shown’, not described, a scenario where the result is often left to be interpreted. This is not so at the end of his memoir. Frank McCourt, instead of using a ‘show and tell’ narrative method, which applies in the beginning, is in a didactic mode where he explains everything in detail and there is nothing left for the reader to interpret. To conclude, there is an evolved Frank evidently noticed from the start through to the end.
As Frank McCourt grows and develops into an adult, so too does his writing. The written text, thoughts and the relationship with the reader indeed evolves and becomes more complex as Frank matures. Examples taken from the ages of four, eleven and fourteen show these noticeable differences. Through an evolving ‘innocent-eye’ narrative technique McCourt is able to establish a powerful emotion connection with the reader.
frank mccourt. angela’s ashes