Angela's Ashes

Angela's Ashes Summary and Analysis of Chapters VIII-IX


At the age of ten, Frank prepares for Confirmation, a sacrament that will make him "a true soldier of the Church" (187). Meanwhile, he and Mikey Molloy, now fourteen, accept an offer from Peter Dooley-who they call "Quasimodo," because he has a hunchback-to watch his sisters undress for a shilling. Mikey masturbates outside their window but then has one of his fits and falls to the ground. Peter's mother appears and locks him in the coal cellar, where he cries out about the rats getting at him. She tells Frank's mother, who sends him to Confession. Angela also forces Frank to swear before a picture of Pope Pius that he didn't see the naked girls.

After his Confirmation, Frank gets a nosebleed and is too sick to make the traditional Collection from neighbors and friends. Dr. Troy diagnoses him with typhoid fever and forces him into the Fever Hospital. His illness is very serious, bringing him attention, which he loves: the priest gives him Extreme Unction, the Confraternity boys pray for his recovery and his father kisses him for the first time. Frank also makes friends with the janitor Seamus and a fellow patient named Patricia Madigan, who is dying of diphtheria at fourteen. Patricia gives Frank a book that introduces him to Shakespeare, which affects him deeply. She also recites verses from the popular poem, "The Highwayman." The nurse doesn't like the two ill children speaking, however, and moves Frank to a ward by himself. There he learns that Patricia has died. Frank has Seamus ask his pub friends what happens at the end of "The Highwayman," and Seamus memorizes the last verses for Frank.

A month after he turns eleven, Frank is allowed to return home from the hospital. With a basis for comparison, he notices how shabby his home is after the white clean sheets, good food and sanitary conditions in the hospital. Because of his lengthy absence, Frank remains behind in fifth class. He is still feeble and supports himself on the walls when he walks; it takes him an hour to walk to the Church St. Francis, where he lights a candle to St. Francis and prays to be promoted. He writes an essay titled, "Jesus and the Weather," arguing that if Jesus had he been brought up in Limerick he'd be dead from consumption in a month, and it so impresses his teacher Mr. O'Dea that he moves Frank up to the sixth class. Frank returns to thank St. Francis. The new teacher Mr. O'Halloran, the principal, proves to be a godsend for Frank. A true teacher, he encourages questions and remains unbiased in presenting historical fact. In addition, Mr. O'Halloran organizes a raffle for the boys without shoes to get boots for the winter.

Despite Malachy's "bad thing," as Frank calls the behavior exhibited by Malachy when he drinks, Frank loves his father. Malachy tells his son how the English at one time closed the schools and denied the Irish an education. The Irish subverted their efforts by teaching in the ditches. His father also advises Frank to return to America where he will get a good job.

At the beginning of chapter nine, Angela says, "I'm worn out. That's the end of it. No more children" (216). This means no more sex and Malachy denounces her for neglecting "her wifely duties" (216). The second World War is underway and many men have gone off to England to work in munitions factories and send home their wages to their families. Malachy also leaves for England for work and the McCourts see him off at the train station. They look forward to the money he will send and begin to dream of food. In particular they are to have one egg each a week and finally get electricity. The money never arrives. Though desperate, Angela resists the available public assistance from the Dispensary because it is considered more shameful than the dole. Because she is incapable of supporting her children, she lives in fear of losing them.

Frank develops pink eye and his Grandma, who believes his constant reading is the cause, berates him. Frank, at this point hardly able to see, winds up in the hospital again where he meets his old friends the janitor Seamus and old Mr. Timoney. Seamus reads poetry to Frank until he too leaves to work in England and Mr.Timoney advises him to keep reading. After a month Frank returns home. Gossip spreads that Malachy has "gone mad" with drinking in England and Angela is forced to attempt to get assistance from the Dispensary. Once there, a sanctimonious official named Mr. Kane accuses her of claiming aid her family does not deserve because they have a father working in England. "He didn't send us a penny in months," Angela cries desperately, to which he cruelly suggests that perhaps Malachy has taken up with another woman (233). She eventually secures the assistance, but only after shaming her family.


In the Roman Catholic Church, Confirmation is a sacrament performed by a bishop and received by children who are deemed old enough to reaffirm, or confirm, the decision made for them at Baptism to become part of the Church. Once more, McCourt presents sacred and profane side by side: as he prepares to be confirmed he simultaneously spies on naked girls. Later, Frank stands in front of a picture of Pope Pius swears that he did not see Mona Molloy naked. His very curiosity is a grave sin. This apparent distinction of sexuality and religion becomes ironic given that meanwhile Malachy tells Angela that she is not a good Catholic when she ends their sexual relationship. This confusing orientation toward sexuality instills more guilt in Frank than it does clarity.

Frank McCourt the teacher also emerges in this section, delivering a lecture on Irish history, especially the Irish famine (1845-1850) and the importance of Education. During this time, the potato provided much of the large Irish population with its primary source of nutrition while most of the grain, butter, cheese and meat were sent to England. When the potato crop failed due to a virulent blight, the rural Irish began to starve. More than a million Irish people starved to death while massive quantities of food were still exported to England. A half million faced eviction while one and a half million emigrated to England, America and Australia. McCourt uses Frank's child's voice to bring this terrible tragedy to light without seeming bitter and shrill. In addition, the English colonizers attempted to keep the Irish from any sort of education, closing schools all over Ireland. However, this action made the Irish cherish education more; they taught their children in the ditches or behind bushes. Time and time again McCourt demonstrates the importance of education.

We also see the beginning of Frank's literary life. Frank's reading helps him to escape his miserable life and to imagine a better one. Patricia Madigan, the girl who dies from consumption, introduces him to Shakespeare, thus setting him on the path that eventually, perhaps, resulted in his being a teacher. Through his reading he learns the history of his county, about poetry, about geography. However, some authority figures attempt to dissuade Frank from reading-after his first communion, a priest tells him reading is dangerous and his grandmother also chides him for reading. This dissuasion emphasizes the power of education-those who are comfortable with the status quo don't encourage reading, because it leads to examination of authority.

Also particularly poignant in this section is Frank's attempt to understand his father through his exposure to the Holy Trinity, which Roman Catholic dogma explains as three entities in one, an idea explained by Saint Patrick through the shamrock's three leaves. In his effort to come to terms with Malachy's behavior, Frank figures that his father is one person at breakfast, one at night when he tells stories and one when he does the "bad thing," that is, spends all the family's money on alcohol.