Reading guide for Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

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Angela's Ashes

A Memoir

by Frank McCourt

Angela's Ashes
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  • First Published:
    Sep 1996, 360 pages
    May 1999, 255 pages

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Countless memoirs have been published recently, yet Angela's Ashes stands out. What makes this memoir so unique and compelling?
  2. Discuss the originality and immediacy of Frank McCourt's voice and the style he employs -- i.e., his sparing use of commas, the absence of quotation marks. How, through a child's voice and perspective, does McCourt establish and maintain credibility?
  3. Ever present in Angela's Ashes is the Catholic Church. In what ways does the Catholic Church of McCourt's Ireland hurt its members and limit their experience? How does the Church protect and nurture its followers? What is Frank's attitude toward the Church?
  4. McCourt writes: "I think my father is like the Holy Trinity with three people in him, the one in the morning with the paper, the one at night with the stories and prayers, and then the one who does the bad thing and comes home with the smell of whiskey and wants us to die for Ireland." Was this your impression of Frank McCourt's father? How can Frank write about his father without bitterness? What part did Malachy play in creating the person that Frank eventually became?
  5. Women -- in particular mothers -- play a significant role in Angela's Ashes. Recall the scenes between Angela and her children; the MacNamara sisters (Delia and Philomena) and Malachy; Aunt Aggie and young Frank; Angela and her own mother. In what ways do these interactions reflect the roles of women within their families? Discuss the ways in which Angela struggles to keep her family together in the most desperate of circumstances.
  6. McCourt titles his memoir Angela's Ashes, after his mother. What significance does the phrase "Angela's Ashes" acquire by the end of the book?
  7. Despite the McCourts' horrid poverty, mind-numbing starvation, and devastating losses, Angela's Ashes is not a tragic memoir. In fact, it is uplifting, triumphant even. How does McCourt accomplish this?
  8. Irish songs and lyrics are prominently featured in Angela's Ashes. How do these lyrics contribute to the unique voice of this memoir? How does music affect Frank's experiences? How do you think it continues to influence his memories of his childhood?
  9. Frank spent the first four years of his life in the United States. How do his experiences in America affect Frank's years in Ireland?

Recommended Readings

The Horse's Mouth, Joyce Cary
Stop-Time, Frank Conroy
The Barrytown Trilogy, Roddy Doyle
Dubliners, James Joyce
The Liars' Club, Mary Karr
Ironweed, William Kennedy
Up in the Old Hotel and Other Stories, Joseph Mitchell
Mother of Pearl, Mary Morrissey
A Fanatic Heart: Selected Stories of Edna O'Brien, Edna O'Brien
Later the Same Day, Grace Paley
Family Sins, William Trevor
Carry On Jeeves, P. G. Wodehouse
Look Homeward, Angel, Thomas Wolfe
This Boy's Life, Tobias Wolff.

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Simon & Schuster. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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