The Concept of Poverty in Angela's Ashes

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While poverty can affect a child’s life tremendously, it does not control the outcomes of a child’s life nor prevent the child from succeeding in the world. As demonstrated with the novel, Angela’s Ashes written by Frank McCourt who writes about the difficulties he endured as a child because of his poor social class status. Throughout the story, Frank gives bleak views of what is occurring, such as his family having to sleep at a police station, his family having to sleep on one mattress in Limerick and his mother Angela having to cut down wallboards from their home to use as firewood.

These challenges revolve around the lack of suitable housing for their family which forces Angela to depend on others and carry out extreme measures. While Frank could let these hardships define who he is or make him resent his family, he does not and instead, tries to carry on with his life. Additionally, he decides to move forward by not holding a grudge against his parents who cannot provide a better life for him.

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Furthermore, despite growing up with many difficulties, Frank still adores his family and is able to get a job to support his mother and siblings. In the novel, Angela’s Ashes author Frank McCourt focuses on the lack of suitable housing for the poor people, such as with his family, and shows how despite having to find shelter in unbearable environments, he still shows regard for his family by wanting to financially support them and give them a chance at a better life.

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Therefore, it is important that children not let their difficulties define their lives; but instead, learn from the challenges so that they can make a better life for themselves and their family. At the very beginning of the story, Frank McCourt shows the challenges with housing by how his father has no money to be able to put a roof over his children’s heads, but instead, they have to get help from others. This situation is shown in chapter two when Frank’s father Malachy takes Frank to the IRA pension office to try to get money.

Unfortunately, Malachy does not get any money, and so his family is left feeling hopeless with no place to live or sleep for the night. They meet a guard who sympathizes with them and allows them to sleep at the police barracks where they receive food and shelter. Frank says about the situation, “At the police barracks the sergeant tells us we can spend the night. He’s sorry, but all he can offer is the floor” (McCourt 55). This scene demonstrates how the McCourts are too poor to afford housing or even a place to sleep for the night and now they must depend on the aid from others. Furthermore, Angela and the children depend on Malachy for housing and Malachy cannot be trusted to carry out his duty of providing shelter for his family or being there for his family in general. Angela is disappointed with her husband’s lack of effort and now feels guilty, as a mother, that she did not work harder to get her children a better place to sleep for the night.

Now Angela feels embarrassed for having to get help from others, but she is also grateful that the guards are willing to allow them to sleep there. These guards eventually can collect enough money to be able to pay for their train fares to Limerick. Angela reacts with tremendous gratitude for their kind actions and Frank seems to learn from these challenges they endure here, as well as, from the kind actions of others. Frank McCourt uses this situation to show the inequality with housing for poor people and how those who did not have any money are left with no shelter or they have to be at the mercy of others for providing any lodging, as demonstrated with the guards giving them a place to sleep.

Although, circumstances with finding proper shelter does not improve much when they arrive in Limerick. When the family reaches Limerick, finding adequate housing becomes another challenge with their poor status as they must sleep on one mattress together in a single room on Windmill Street as this is the only place they can financially afford. As demonstrated in chapter two when Frank says, “It didn’t matter that there were six of us in the bed, we were together, away from grandmothers and guards, Malachy could say ye ye ye and we could laugh as much as we liked” (McCourt 59). While it is not the greatest living conditions for the McCourts as they are crowded into one tiny room, Frank seems to look past this obstacle and enjoys having his family around in such a close environment.

Furthermore, this shows that Frank is very close to his family because despite living in a poor housing environment, he is not angry at his parents but instead, enjoys having his family around. During this time, it was common for the poor to have to live in crowded settings, but Frank seems to manage with it. Additionally, while sleeping on the mattress, the family notices that they are being bitten by fleas and Frank says, “We slapped at them and slapped, but they hopped from body to body, hopping, biting” (McCourt 59). Having to deal with flees is another difficulty that the poor had to manage within unsanitary living situations unlike those who were amongst the middle or wealthy class.

Therefore, showing the inequality in a suitable housing and how the poor either did not have any shelter or had very little that was unsafe and put their health at risk. Author Frank McCourt shows how the poor, such as his family, did not have many choices in terms of suitable housing and so they often had no other opportunity but to take whatever they could afford, even if the living environment was unbearable, unsanitary and too crowded for a family. The McCourt family takes the risk of living in this small, one-room apartment and despite the challenges, they grow closer together, and Frank seems to enjoy the close intimacy they all have together. Although, Frank realizes that this housing is not sufficient enough for his family; but he does not let these obstacles affect his life and instead, he learns from the challenges his family endures so that he can eventually give himself and his family a chance at a better life.

Frank soon realizes that these hardships are becoming more intense as he ultimately sees his mother take extreme measures with their shelter. Later on in the story, Angela is put into another difficult situation with their lodging when she has no money to pay for rent or to buy coal to keep her children warm at their apartment. Angela now becomes desperate and decides that the family will have to burn one of the interior walls of their housing for firewood to stay warm. This is demonstrated by Angela’s words to her children, “One more board from that wall, one more and not another one” (McCourt 276). The McCourts are very poor and so desperate to stay warm that they will take the risk of cutting down their shelter. Angela also puts herself and her children at danger if the shelter collapses or if they get evicted by the landlord.

Unfortunately, they burn too many walls, and they cut into the beam that brings the housing down and gets them evicted. While Angela did not want this to happen to her family, she felt like she had no other means of keeping her children warm. Thus, Frank McCourt shows that poor people, such as his family, are often put into challenging situations with finding safe and suitable housing and unfortunately, their society has no public housing assistance for low-income families. Additionally, when they get evicted, the McCourts have no financial means to afford another place to live, and so they have no other choice but to go live with Angela’s abusive cousin Laman Grifin. Thus, the McCourts are left feeling stranded and hopeless as the rich and middle classes always seem to have a place to live or to go live. Frank learns at a young age that poor people are at a disadvantage with finding housing and instead of letting this situation affect him personally, he hopes that his family will achieve a better life in the future.

With the challenges of having to move to different housing situations, Frank realizes that he wants to get a job so that he can support his family and give them a chance at a better life so that housing does not always have to be a problem for them to deal with. Frank gets hired to deliver coal with his neighbor, Mr. Hannon. This job excites Frank as he feels more like a man by taking on further responsibility to help his family in desperate times. Unfortunately, Frank gets coal in his eyes, and they become infected, at which, Angela becomes worried for her son’s health and makes him rest at home. Frank although, is persistent with his mother that he keeps on working despite his poor health as demonstrated by his words to her, “I want the job. I want to bring home the shilling. I want to be a man” (McCourt 261).

Through this quote, Frank shows the maturity of an adult and that he is no longer a naïve little boy anymore. He wants to show his mother that he can provide for his family so that his mother does not have to carry the burden alone of worrying about where they will sleep for the night. Through all of the difficulties that Frank has had to endure growing up, he never showed hatred towards his parents for not being able to provide more and instead, he realizes that his parents tried their hardest, but unfortunately, their poor economic status has limited them in many ways throughout life. Many children would turn their backs on their parents for making them go through hardships as Frank did, but Frank looks at these difficulties as lessons to learn from and as motivation to work harder so that his family and himself does not have to live in destitute forever nor have to move around to different housing situations so often.

Therefore, he now feels like he must keep his job since his father is not around and so he must take his father’s position to give his family a chance at a better life. Angela realizes the stress that Frank carries, and is insistent that Frank stays in bed instead of going to work that day. Angela shows that her son’s health is more important than him working to get money and hence, she cares deeply about her children. This affectionate response back and forth between Frank and Angela shows how strong their relationship is and that Frank would do anything, even if it means putting his health at risk, to give his mother and siblings a better life than what they currently have. Throughout the novel, Frank McCourt shows the difficulties that poor people endure with trying to find suitable housing and that despite having to move around so often, Frank is still optimistic that things will improve for his family.

Early in the story, the audience sees that Malachy is a huge disappointment to his family by how he cannot find shelter for his family and instead, they have to spend the night on the floors at the police barracks. While Angela is embarrassed by this situation, this experience opens Frank’s eyes up to the disadvantages his family endures as poor people and how fortunate his family is for being given aid by the police guards. Additionally, when the family arrives in Limerick, they are forced to sleep on one mattress in a single bedroom apartment because of their financial limitations. While this is far from being perfect, Frank seems to look past the complications and enjoys the intimacy he can have with his family.

Therefore, whether they are moving from one place to another or having their shelter collapse on them, Frank realizes that his family out weights all of the troubles he has endured. Since his family means so much to him, he feels as though he has to be able to provide for them. Frank indeed shows what it means to be a man by working hard and not letting his poor status control the outcomes of his family’s life. Author Frank McCourt uses his younger self to show that even though he was born into poverty, he did not let obstacles make him dislike his family and worked hard so that he could achieve a better life for himself and his family. His story, therefore, is an inspiration to all, that poverty should never be the means to limit a child from feeling like they cannot achieve greatness or a better life.

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The Concept of Poverty in Angela's Ashes. (2022, Jan 24). Retrieved from

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