Angela's Ashes

Angela's Ashes Summary and Analysis of Chapters XII-XIII


At Christmas, Malachy writes to say he is coming home, swears "he's a new man," and that he has changed forever" (268). Angela and Frank go the train to meet him near midnight. A man in a railway cap asks them to come in out of the cold and takes them to the switching room and gives them cocoa and sandwiches, his own supper. He has two sons himself, he says, fighting for Britain in the war. When Malachy is not on the train, Frank explodes with anger. Malachy arrives the following day with front two teeth missing and a gift for the family-a half-eaten box of chocolates. This year, the family has a sheep's head for dinner. Malachy leaves at the end of the meal.

Frank now becomes increasingly aware of his social status in the class-system of Great Britain and comes to view his own future as one of kowtowing to the more respectable class. Angela continues to be sick and spends much time at home in bed. Sometimes she brings poorer women home with her for a cup of tea and a slice of fried bread and young Michael similarly follows his mother's example by bringing home stray animals and poor old men. However, one such man brings in lice and they make a pact-no more strangers or animals.

Because the family cannot afford a radio, Frank is forced to sit outside a neighbor's window to listen to Shakespeare. Soon she invites him in, feeds him and they listen to the radio together. Frank especially loves American jazz, especially the songs of Billie Holiday, lead him to imagine America: "I Can't Give You Anything but Love, Baby" (275).

One day, in desperation, Angela who is four weeks late with the rent, is forced to knock down and burn one of the inside walls for warmth. She warns her sons not to go near the supporting beam. However, the cold weather forces them to cut into it and the roof begins to collapse around them. When the landlord's agent checks about fixing the roof, he sees the structural damage done to his property: "There were two rooms up there and now they're gone" (276). To Angela's great shame they are evicted; they sneak away in the night with their belongings around the baby in the pram. They move in with Angela's eccentric cousin, Laman Griffin. The children are delighted to be in a new place where they have their own lavatory. Laman has a cruel streak and insists that Angela clean his chamber pot). Laman also asks Frank, who is thirteen, to fetch him books from the library, a task that allows Frank to obtain reading material for himself as well. Grandma dies of pneumonia after catching a chill on the night the McCourts were evicted from Roden lane. Young Malachy leaves for Dublin to attend the Army School of Music, where he'll learn to play the trumpet and be a soldier.

In the library one day the Frank receives Butler's Lives of the Saints from Miss O' Riordan the librarian and finds the violence fascinating. He realizes that although he has recited the word "virgin" numerous times, he has no idea what it means, so he looks it up in the dictionary and begins to explore the English language in general. The librarian writes to Angela, remarking on Frank's apparent religious zeal.

Mr. O'Halloran also tells Angela that Frank has intellectual gifts and that he should continue his education and avoid "the messenger boy trap," that is, short-term employment that will rob him of a future. He recommends that Angela take Frank to the Christian Brothers to see if they can help with additional schooling. Brother Murray answers and "closes the door in our faces" (289). There is simply no room for such as the McCourts.

The supervisor at the post office gives Frank a job delivering telegrams. He is delighted. Mr. O'Halloran again tells Frank he should return to America at all costs and escape Ireland, where he will be forced into a menial job for the rest of his life. Frank is desperately anxious to finish school and one day when the White Fathers come to the school to recruit for the foreign missions, he applies to become a priest so he can be a chaplain in the Foreign Legion. He needs a physical examination to complete the application but the Doctor tells him he's only thirteen and to go home to his mother.

Frank constantly worries not only about his family's well-being but also about his sexual coming-of-age. The priests constantly lecture about the evils of masturbation and Frank is convinced he is going to hell and seeks out an older priest who cannot hear very well to listen to his confession. He also learns his mother is sleeping upstairs with Laman. Just before he is to leave on his outing, he forgets to empty the chamber pot and Leman becomes so angry he does not allow Frank to use the bicycle to go to Killaloe, as they had agreed. Frank accuses Laman of breaking his word. Laman strikes Frank on the shoulders and head and Frank escapes to his Uncle Pat's. There is no food in the house and Frank licks the newspaper in which his uncle's fish and chips were wrapped.


Clearly, Frank's mother's Angela does not care much for the Catholic Church. In earlier sections, it is Malachy who accompanies Frank to mass, gives him guidance about confession, coaches him in Latin and takes him to the Redemptorist Church to apply to be an altar boy. When her son was refused, Angela attributed the rejection to the Irish class system. Here once more she reminds Frank that this is not the first time a door "was slammed in [his] face by the Church," and then she pleads with him never to let such a thing happen again.

Laman Griffin is another adult male who could be viewed as a father figure, especially in light of his sexual relationship with Angela. But, unlike other father figures Frank encounters, including his own alcoholic father, Laman is a cruel tyrant. McCourt presents the fact of their affair without editorializing, leaving us to sort it out ourselves. Perhaps Angela moves into Lyman's bed because he forces her to-he is after all in the position of power in his household, forcing the others to clean up after his filth. In this reading, Angela's decision might be read as a sacrifice for her children's sake. But perhaps, on the other hand, Angela is genuinely lonely for human contact and takes comfort in her relationship with Lyman. At any rate, the relationship is uncomfortably complicated both for Frank and the reader.