Study Guide

Angela's Ashes Religion

By Frank McCourt

Religion

According to a 2011 census, "84% of the people of the Irish Republic described themselves as 'Roman Catholic'" (source). That's a whopping chunk of the community and the percentage was likely higher during Frank's childhood. In Angela's Ashes, religion controls many aspects of Frank's life and the church often uses scare tactics, guilt, and peer pressure to ensure that Frank and his schoolmates become good Catholics. A priest tells Frank that Jesus watches him every minute, ready to punish sin. Young Frank is terrified of going to hell for some of the things he does, even if he does them to feed his little brothers. A couple of times when he tries to go to confession, he gets kicked out of the church. As he grows up he becomes disillusioned with the Catholic Church and tired of being afraid. Another issue is that Catholicism is strongly tied to Irish identity, to distinguish you from the English or even from those Presbyterian-influenced Northern Irish like Malachy, Sr.

Questions About Religion

  1. Religion plays a formative role in Frank's life. How would his life be different if he wasn't religious or if he came from a different religious background?
  2. Frank is more concerned about Theresa's soul than his own. Is that because he feels guilty that she's dead or because he's truly concerned about what happens to her in the afterlife?
  3. The priest at the Franciscan church tells Frank that he needs to forgive himself before God can forgive him, which sounds like good advice. Do you think Frank would feel differently about religion if the priests he encountered earlier in the memoir were more like the Franciscan priest?
  4. At the end of the memoir, does Frank feel remorse for having premarital sex?

Chew on This

The Church isn't much material help to the poor of Limerick. All it does is judge them and induce guilt.

Religion gives people hope, and people in desperate circumstances can't live without hope.

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