Angela's Ashes

Angela's Ashes Summary and Analysis of Chapters XVI-XVII


Frank delivers a telegram to Mr. Harrington, whose wife has just died. He has been drinking and wants company so he pours Frank a glass of sherry. Mr. Harrington leaves Frank in the bedroom with Mrs. Harrington's body while he fetches more alcohol. Guilt-striken over the state of Teresa Carmody's soul, Frank wonders whether he can make up for the soul he has damned by baptizing Mrs. Harrington's protestant body. He decides to use the sherry to baptize her. Mr. Harrington returns in the midst of the baptism, becomes drunkenly enraged and forces a ham sandwich down Frank's throat. Frank vomits and jumps out the window. Harrington reports him and Frank is fired but rehired when the priest writes a letter.

Next, Frank delivers another telegram to a moneylender, Mrs. Finucane, who offers Frank the job of writing letters to her debtors. Frank steals writing supplies from Woolworth's and relishes his new job. His choice of words intimidates the debtors-"I'm sure you don't want to languish in the dungeons of Limerick" (331)-and they pay their bills to Ms. Finucane's delight. She hordes money, saving up to buy masses for her soul to be said after she dies. Soon, Frank begins to help himself from her purse when she drinks too much in the evening. Angela complains that everyone is talking about his letters and Frank tells himself that he is only saving money for America.

Frank plans to take the examination to become a permanent worker at the post office. Pa Keating, however, tells him what a future in Limerick entails: "You'll be dead in your head before you are sixteen" (355). Frank decides against the examination and gets a new job delivering The Irish Times, a Protestant newspaper. Mrs. O'Connell at the post office is offended when Frank decides not to be a postal worker. She calls him "Mr. High and Mighty" (337), insinuating that Frank is too uppity for the post.


Irish feelings of antagonism towards the British inform McCourt's prose throughout the novel. Just as he subtly castigates the Catholic Church, so too he illustrates English oppression with examples rather than sermons. For instance, the priests and the English both refuse a poor telegram boy a tip, revealing their petty disregard for manners and charity.

McCourt paints English oppression as a matter of Irish psychology, not just as history. For instance, Mr. Harrington, who was born and bred in Limerick, has internalized the English account of Irish inferiority. He considers himself English because he is protestant and feigns an English accent, and he brutalizes Frank, insisting that all Irish people are ghoulish, starving alcoholics, responsible for killing his wife with "their" consumption. Frank wants lemonade to drink and turns down Harrington's offer of food, but Harrington forces alcohol and a sandwich him, thereby mirroring the way that he forces his assumptions on the poor boy. Frank, however, vomits up the English man's food and drink, just as he vomited up the first communion wafer. Moreover, Frank vomits on Harrington's roses, which are a symbol of England. Both Catholicism and English oppression, McCourt suggests, are hard for the Irish to swallow.

This theme of internalized oppression continues in the figure of Mrs. O'Connell at the post office. Mrs. O'Connell is wholly and solely impressed by authority. First she fires Frank at the request of Harrington, whom she calls a "lovely Englishman." Then she reinstates Frank at the request of a higher authority, a priest. Her compliment to Frank when she reinstates him-"You struck a blow, McCourt" (329)-rings hollow given her eagerness to please Mr. Harrington just a few pages earlier. Mrs. O'Connell is at the mercy of the two oppressive forces in Irish life: the English and the Church. She has no life or mind of her own, instead leaning on authority. This, indeed, is the existence that Frank hopes to escape in America.