Study Guide

Angela's Ashes Writing Style

By Frank McCourt

Writing Style

Colloquial, Irish, Candid

Frank McCourt is, well, frank. When we read Angela's Ashes, we can't help but feel like we're listening to an old friend telling us about his really interesting, albeit sad, childhood. The writing is truthful, funny, and inviting. Much of that has to do with McCourt's maintaining the child's perspective through much of the book. Children aren't as skilled in evasion as we are, and since he's adopted the child's perspective, he's naïve and honest. His colloquial writing style (language that's colloquial is familiar and everyday) makes the book engaging and personal. In other words, it sounds conversational. Take for example when McCourt describes the Clohessy house:

Paddy says, Mind yourself, because some of the steps are missing and there is s*** on the ones that are still there. He says that's because there's only one privy and it's in the backyard and children don't get down the stairs in time to put their little arses on the bowl, God help us. (6.141)

This is just how a kid might talk. Plus, did you notice what's missing in the dialogue? Quotation marks. So why does Frank McCourt decide not to use quotation marks to introduce dialogue? What would change if we rewrote Angela's Ashes using quotation marks, formal language, and more punctuation? Let's find out:

Paddy says, "Mind yourself, Frank. Some of the steps are missing and there is s*** on the ones that are still there."
He then says, "The reason that there is s*** on the stairs is because there's only one toilet, and it's in the backyard. Unfortunately, the children don't get down the stairs in time to use the toilet. As a result, they have accidents on the stairs."
Paddy sighs, "God help us."

Totally different style, don't you think? The dialogue we manipulated is stilted, formal, and unnatural. It doesn't sound like Frank, it doesn't sound Irish, and it's not direct. Frank doesn't beat around the bush, he's direct and to the point. Just look at the first line of the memoir:

My father and mother should have stayed in New York where they met and married and where I was born. (1.1)

Bang. Frank gets right to the point. And that gives his writing lots of oomph.

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