Study Guide

Angela's Ashes Plot Analysis

By Frank McCourt

Plot Analysis

Exposition (Initial Situation)

Goodbye America, Hello Ireland

It all begins where it ends: America. At the beginning of the book, Frank and the McCourt clan are leaving the glistening shores of America after a failed life there and heading back to Ireland, the home country of Frank's parents. We know from the first sentence that returning is a big mistake, but due to Baby Margaret's death both parents are neglecting their surviving children and need all the support they can get from their family back in Ireland.

Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going

In Ireland, the McCourts endure all types of suffering: extreme hunger, biting cold and relentless damp, fleas, prejudice, and a foul-smelling apartment. Malachy Sr. drinks away the little money he gets from public assistance and Angela miscarries one child and gives birth to two more boys. Our protagonist, Frank, tries his best to make money and help the family, but because of illness is forced to quit his job. He's also not allowed to continue studying because the upper echelons of society run the secondary school and they don't want poor boys from the slums, no matter how smart. Malachy Sr. leaves for England, (not before another baby arrives) and Angela's left on her own to raise the kids and keep them all from starving.

Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)

How Could Ya, Ma?

The McCourts' situation worsens when they are kicked out of their home for using the walls as fuel for the fire. Penniless and homeless, the McCourts have their hands tied and have no other alternative but to move in with Angela's alcoholic and abusive cousin, Laman Griffin. Laman's mean to all the boys, treats them like slaves, and to top it off, sleeps with Angela. Frank ends up getting into a fight with Laman and moves out of his house for good.

Falling Action

He Works Hard For the Money So You Better Treat Him Right

Frank's been working on and off since he was nine years old. He's now working two jobs and living with his Uncle Pa. He's just about saved enough money to go to America. After a few months, the rest of the McCourts move in with Uncle Pa and both Malachy Jr. and Angela have jobs. The family finally has enough to eat and a measure of self-respect.

Resolution (Denouement)

I Like to Be in A-mer-i-ca

After a bittersweet going-away party, Frank's on his way to America. Turns out, Frank isn't even off the ship and America's already knocking on his door. While the ship's docked in Poughkeepsie, Frank is invited to a party where he meets a woman who likes his Irishness so much she sleeps with him. After the party, Frank gazes at the lights in the city and thinks about all that lies in store for him.