Study Guide

Angela's Ashes What's Up With the Ending?

By Frank McCourt

What's Up With the Ending?

The memoir ends with Frank and a shipmate standing on the deck of the ship in his first night in America. He's just had a sexual romp with an American woman, with a priest standing outside the door. The shipmate asks him, in the last sentence of chapter 18, "Isn't this a great country altogether?" In the first and only sentence of chapter 19, Frank answers, "'Tis." Turns out 'Tis is the name of the sequel to Angela's Ashes, which means that Frank McCourt's memoir ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. So is this just an ingenious way to end a book, a way to entice the reader to buy the sequel? Many readers see "'Tis" as Frank's agreement that America is, actually, a great country altogether, that it sure beats Ireland in every way. After all, it's what he's been dreaming about for years, right?

Well, a super-smart reviewer named James Rogers over at Etudes Irlandaises (your favorite magazine, we know; it means "Irish Studies, BTW) has some other ideas about it. He doesn't think this was Frank's emphatic statement about America at all. He thinks Frank has pretty mixed feelings about leaving for America. He points out that when the Irish use the word "'tis", it's often just a way to keep the conversation moving, like nodding, or saying "uh-huh." He looked at all the other times the word "'tis" was used in the book and concluded that most of the time the word appeared in "scenes that are freighted with remorse, with future disappointment, and with religious scruples."

He also points out that Frank pauses before he answers—we have to wait for the next chapter to hear him say it. Not to mention that on his first night in America, he does something that he's thought all his life would doom him to hell. (Remember Theresa Carmody?) You can take the boy out of Ireland, but maybe you can't take the Irish out of the boy.

So here's what "'Tis" means according to Mr. Rogers (no, not that one). Frank's cautiously hopeful, maybe a bit ambivalent about his return to America. His parents failed there; his sister died there. As an immigrant, will he find acceptance? Is this sexual freedom going to ruin him? Is he Irish or American? He's not sure. So Frank doesn't answer his shipmate's question with a "You can say that again, dude!" He waits a bit, thinks about it, and says "'Tis."