Angela's Ashes

Angela's Ashes Summary and Analysis of Chapters VI-VII


In fourth class, Frank encounters Mr. O'Neill, the geometry teacher who adores Euclid, and yet is kept from teaching geometry, which is the domain of fifth class. Every day Mr. O'Neill skins his apple in front of his hungry students and gives the peel to the best student. Fintan Slattery wins the peel one day for knowing who stood at the foot of the cross. The curly blonde haired Fintan is the perfect child, accompanying his mother to church daily and offering to pray for anyone who teases him. Everyone hates him. However, Fintan shares the peel with the other boys and this upsets them because they don't want to be friends with Fintan. Then Fintan invites Frank and Paddy Clohessy to his home after school, where Fintan's mother feeds them cheese sandwiches and milk. Paddy exclaims, "I never had a sangwidge in me life"(158). The boys love the food but become upset when Fintan accompanies them to the lavatory and watches them urinate. When Fintan asks them home again they go for the food and become angry when they aren't fed.

Ravenously hungry, Paddy and Frank play hooky and search for food. They steal apples and drink milk from a cow's udders until an angry farmer chases them away. Brendan Quigley informs Frank that his parents are looking for him with a truant officer so he hides out at Paddy's home, where the living conditions are even worse than at his. Stairs are missing from the staircase and the children can't get to the one lavatory on time from four flights up. Paddy's father lies in bed, dying of consumption and spitting mucous into a bucket. Angela and the school guard find Frank there the next day. She recognizes Paddy's mother and the women talk over old times. The Guard warns Frank: "don't be tormentin' your mother, boy" (166). Meanwhile Malachy continues to drink his dole money, unable to hold himself to just one pint, as Frank sadly looks on.

Mickey Spellacy's brothers and sisters die of consumption and Mickey gets a week off from school and money. However, one of his siblings dies during the summer when school is out, so Mickey has Frank and Billy Campbell pray with him that his next sibling will not die until school is in session. In return, Micky invites them to the wake, where they can eat their fill. However, when the Spellacy girl dies they are not invited to the wake. "But Mickey, you promised" (172), they say. Mickey dies of consumption the following year.

At Grandma's insistence, Frank helps Angela's brother Ab Sheehan, whom the family calls Uncle Pat, deliver newspapers, but the man is cruel to Frank and hardly pays him. He gets fish and chips at the Monument Café, but lets Frank go home hungry. One day, when Frank delivers a newspaper to Mr. Timoney, the old man asks Frank to read to him from The Limerick Leader and offers him a job reading to him. Frank begins reading such classics as "A Modest Proposal," the famous Irish writer Jonathan Swift's famous satire: "You'd wonder what he's laughing at when its all about cooking Irish babies" (177). With two jobs, Frank soon gets in trouble for missing the Confraternity meetings. Frank greatly enjoys Mr. Timoney's friendship but the old man, a Buddhist, begins to suffer from dementia and is forced to go to the City Nursing Home after laughing when his dog Macushla bites a priest, the milkman and a nun.

Once again, the McCourt family adds a new member, this time a boy who is named Alphonsus. Frank thinks this is a terrible name. Malachy's father sends a money order for five pounds for his new grandson Alphie. Frank and his brother Malachy, at Angela's insistence, accompany their father to cash it at the post office; he sends them home and heads for South's Pub. An angry Angela insists they find him: "I want you to stand in the middle of the pub and tell every man your father is drinking the money for the baby" (183). As they scour Limerick's pubs, Frank steals a drunken man's fish and chips from the floor of a pub. He later confesses this "sin" to the priest, who says he should not be giving out penances but washing the feet of his confessors instead.

Frank and Malachy finally find their father in a pub, singing a song about Antrim, his home county. Frank is furious but still has feelings of love and pity for his father. However, he realizes that he will feel differently towards his father, because a man that drinks away money meant for his baby son is truly unforgivable.


Death is a familiar guest among the Irish poor, and McCourt's nonchalant tone as he writes about his dying friends and neighbors renders life in Limerick all the more grim. Young Mikey seems to take the death of his siblings in stride, as do his pals in school, who pray that Mikey's sister will wait to die until school starts so he can get a holiday. Frank himself has suffered similarly, having lived through the deaths of three siblings. Dennis Clohessy lies dying helplessly in the midst of his starving family. Malachy and the schoolteachers are always telling the children they must prepare to die for Ireland. The birth of Alfie is little consolation in the midst of this widespread death, as new lives are especially susceptible to such miseries.

Malnutrition is a major cause of early deaths in Ireland and, of course, the poorer families are most at risk. Angela's Ashes is a tale of survival, of Frank's struggle to get enough food to grow up. Frank goes after others' scraps like a dog: he yearns for his teachers' apple peel and digs for a raisin in a raisin bun; he tolerates Fintan for a cheese sandwich and steals fish and chips off a pub floor. And Paddy Clohessy is even worse off than Frank. He's ten years old and he's never had a sandwich. The whole novel rings with allusions to food. It is no accident that Mr. Timoney introduces Frank to the Irish eighteenth-century writer Jonathan Swift's satirical, "A Modest Proposal," which proposed a macabre solution to Ireland's hunger-eat the children.

Once again, Ireland's resentment and hatred for its neighboring colonizers is apparent in this section. The songs Malachy sings while drunk are warring words against the English. The children parrot the adults: the parents, neighbors and teachers who educate them daily. Simply, you can't be Irish if you don't hate England. Dennis Clohessy dies cursing the English. Irish children will grow up hating the English and many will not know why.

McCourt also continues his education, contrasting the petty academic squabbles of Mr. O'Neil and Mr. O'Dea with one of his true teachers, the worldly Mr. Timoney, who encourages Frank to think for himself. Mr. Timoney, married to a woman from India, is likely the only Buddhist in Limerick. McCourt suggests that between his non-conformity and the mischief of his dog, close-minded Limerick cannot tolerate Mr. Timoney and has him essentially incarcerated. Nonetheless, Mr. Timoney treats Frank like an adult, not like a mindless parrot, and thus qualifies as a formative teacher.

McCourt's ambiguous presentation of the Catholic Church continues. In earlier chapters he paints the Church in a dark light. Despite his desire to be an altar boy, the Church slams the door in his face because he looks poor. However, in this section Frank comes across a true priest who comforts him and blesses him when he feels guilt over stealing the drunken man's fish and chips.

A turning point occurs when Malachy drinks with money meant for his new baby's milk. Angela sends her son to the pub to disgrace their father while she waits at home with the baby. This signals that Frank is not only becoming older but that he will shortly become the man in the house. Also, a respectable woman would never enter a pub-a small room called a 'snug' was set aside for women in the pub-so she sets Frank up to confront his father. Frank continues to love Malachy. However, after a day spent looking for his father in the pubs of Limerick, as if he is the parent looking for an errant son, he is filled with rage and he sees for the first time the tragic immaturity of Malachy's behavior. He knows that from then on "it will be different" (185).