The Making of a Masterpiece When a critically acclaimed Irish writer wins numerous literary awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, for an autobiography, one becomes intrigued as to what made this man's life so interesting. Everyone has heard the rags-to-riches story of the poor boy that grows up to become a success. Frank McCourt defines his own level of despair when the introduction to Contemporary Literary Criticisms says, "McCourt's childhood was so bleak and impoverished that the months he spent in the hospital recovering from typhoid fever seemed like a vacation' (Contemporary 147). The story of Frank McCourt's childhood is a marvel in itself, but a great story can be forgone if the person telling the tale is not exceptional himself. McCourt has been appraised to be as wonderful as old Irish writers such as Yeats and Joyce. The exposure these two writers have given Ireland has been unmatchable until now.
Along with Seamus Heaney, a Nobel Prize winner for poetry, Frank McCourt has given a fresh new breath for the revival of enchanting Irish literature. Literary critic Michiko Kakutani writes, "Writing in prose that's pictorial and tactile, lyrical but streetwise, Mr. McCourt does for the town of Limerick what the young Joyce did for Dublin' (Kakutani 151). Being compared to such literary genius is an incredible complement to McCourt. Frank McCourt has the literary tools needed to capture the reader's interest and heart while keeping the vision of a child alive. This uniqueness sets him apart from many other authors who tell the tale of an impoverished child's life.
Literary critic Malcolm Jones defines McCourt's talents by saying, "McCourt uses virtuosic black humor and a natural-born storyteller's instincts to induce in his Zack 2 readers a blissful literary amnesia' (Jones 148). When words of praise are as common as his childhood's food-less days, one has to wonder where he acquired this special gift. There were three major influences in McCourt's childhood that came together to shape the way McCourt relives his childhood in his novel. In Frank McCourt's novel, Angela's Ashes, Frank's country, religion and family gave him the literary tools necessary to become a writer.
The pride of the Irish can arguably be unsurpassable by any other mans pride for his country. The Irish are known for their exuberant celebrations and feasts on such joyous occasions such as St. Patrick's Day and not so joyous occasions such as a Wake. At either gathering, the nationalist songs and boastful stories are sung and shared over a good pint of Guinness with anyone who would care to listen. This strong sense of pride in the Irish causes harsh judgement upon any man who would dare to threaten their way of life. Frank's adjustment from the New York life to the life of a child growing up in Ireland was not made easier by the biased Irish opinions.
Just making it past his schoolteachers was hard enough, especially since he came from the "sinful' county of America. "That's right McCourt. Not bad for a Yank from the sinful shores of Amerikay' (McCourt, Angela's 122). While living in America during the early years of his childhood, Frank listened to his father tell magical stories of the one and only Ireland. The Irish mythological character Cuchulian inspired Frank to love the same land that his hero fought for. ' I hear they put up a new statue of CuChulian to honor the men who died in 1916 an I'd like to show it to my son here who has a great admiration for CuChulian' (McCourt, Angela's 55).
The constant ramblings of his father's devotion to Zack 3 Ireland set the foundation for Frank's Irish pride while living in America. The time finally came for the Mccourt to move to their native country of Ireland, but when they landed on the shores of the Emerald Isle, their dreams were not coming to fruition. Life was hard in Ireland and literary critic Denis Donoghue writes, "De Valera's Ireland was in the throes of economic war with England, and life was hard' (Donoghue 148). The family had no money, and no place to stay. Their only hope was for the father, Malachy, to receive a payment for his services in the IRA years before. This light of hope would soon be extinguished.
The IRA could find no records of Malachy's former services for the IRA. With that, the family would not receive any money. Worst of all was the image of Frank's father. The stories that kept him entertained during his nights in America were not being supported by reality. His first taste of Ireland was a form of rejection. "Remember this Francis.
This is the New Ireland. Little men in little chairs with little bits of paper. This is the Ireland men die for' (McCourt, Angela's 52). The stories of Ireland were starting to diminish. For a child, this is disappointing, but Frank did not realize the seriousness of the family's situation at the time.
All was forgotten when he had the chance to gaze at a statue of his hero and nighttime companion in his dreams, CuChulian. One of the major influences in shaping Frank's life was the motif of death. Frank grew up surrounded by death. Frank lost a sister and two twin brothers while he was a child.
Death was not a shocking event during his childhood. One might say that the numerous deaths that he had to face as a child made him desensitized to such a terrible phenomenon. After another death in the family takes place young Frank says, "I don't know what to do tough I wonder if anyone will light the fire in the grate so that we can Zack 4 have tea and bread because it's a long time since we had the porridge' (McCourt, Angela's 74). Frank had to deal with many deaths in his childhood, but the one death that he had the most trouble with was his own. The constant referral to his own death haunted him almost every day. While trying to sleep at night, his father would come into the home stumbling drunk and make his boys promise to die for Ireland.
Singing about the woes of his poor country, Malachy wanted his boys to be martyrs for Ireland. Because he loved the mother land, Because he loved the green He goes to meet a martyr's fate With proud and joyous mien; True to the last, oh! True to the last He treads the upward way; Young Roddy McCorley goes to die On the bridge of To ome today. You " ll die for Ireland wont you boys? We will dad. (McCourt, Angela's 40) This act of patriotic insanity affected Frank for the rest of his life. Frank's vow for death could not end with the country. When Frank attended school, he was taught to die for something else, his faith.
Frank has a simple answer for this problem. "I wont be able to die for the faith because I am already booked to die for Ireland' (McCourt, Angela's 187). With all of these people telling him what to die for, he is confused and doesn't know why he should. The focus of his childhood in Ireland was primarily on death. When Zack 5 it came down to rationalization, Frank finally got to thinking about what his life was worth.
He wanted to know why there was such a focus on death in his life. "The master says it's a glorious thing to die for the Faith and Dad says it's a glorious thing to die for Ireland and I wonder if there is anyone in this world who would like us to live' (McCourt, Angela's 113). The motif of death comes out of Ireland. From the "River Shannon that kills' to the many diseases that plague the Irish death is a part of Frank's everyday life.
Ireland, and all the broken promises and death that came out of it, shaped the way Frank McCourt tells his story. Through the eyes of a child, the innocence with which he tells his story is possible because the harsh realities and stern views of the Irish people toughened him as a child allowing him to tell his story now. "The happy childhood is hardly worth your while' (McCourt, Angela's 11). Growing up poor in Ireland was tough enough but Frank had to live the life of a poor Irish Catholic.
"Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood' (McCourt, Angela's 11). The religion of the Irish people has a history of being a major influence in their lives. The fighting taking place in Ireland today is profoundly influenced by religion. The people who live in the northern part of Ireland, correlated with the British crown, are mostly Protestant. Those Irish who live in the southern part of Ireland are predominantly Catholic. The disputes between the two have been running rampant for a very long time.
Frank McCourt was raised in an Irish Catholic environment. For years he was subject to the teachings of the Catholic Church. At one point in the novel young Frank talks about how the Protestants were doomed. "I watch them go to church, the Protestants, and feel Zack 6 sorry for them, especially the girls, who are so lovely. I feel sorry for the beautiful Protestant girls, they " re doomed' (McCourt, Angela's 172). The Church of Ireland during Frank's childhood was very strict and orthodox.
The schools were correlated with religious teaching, and every mother in the Limerick heard their child's ill-spoken words no matter how far enough away they thought they were. All of this had an enormous effect on how Frank grew up. Receiving Holy Sacraments and speaking to an angel in his prayers "Do not fear says the voice. Tell the priest your sin and you " ll be forgiven' (McCourt, Angela's 125) are signs of his religious devotion. Frank was taught to believe in a higher power in life. Today, he still believes in the teachings of the Catholic Church and its traditions.
The religious connotations and themes from his childhood show up in his everyday experiences today. McCourt recently commented in Worth Magazine about the way he invests his newly found money. "The high priests of Wall Street have my money and, along with that, my faith. I light candles for them' (McCourt, "Power' 110). Frank did not always feel like he could always turn to the Church for guidance. There were some good moments in his life involving religion, but he had to endure the bad before he could enjoy the good.
Frank was raised in the Catholic tradition as a child and that was not an easy way to live. From the schoolmasters at Lea my to the expectations put on him by his family, growing up Catholic for Frank was not fun at all. When Frank vomits the consecrated host given to him on his first communion, his grandma makes it a point to take him directly to confession. "She dragged me through the streets of Limerick. She told neighbors and passing strangers about God in her back yard. She pushed me into the Zack 7 confession box' (McCourt, Angela's 129).
The trials and tribulations that Frank had to go through to receive his first Holy Communion was an ordeal in itself. Now on his special day, his grandmother makes a spectacle out of him. But these problems were minor. Every child goes through embarrassing moments in their life, but Frank's problems with the Church continued.
Frank never received the same opportunities that other children had. On two different times, the Church slammed the door on Frank's face. We don't have room for him says Brother Murray and closes the door in our faces. Mam turns away from the door and it's a long silent walk home.
She takes off her coat, makes tea, sits by the fire. Listen to me she says. Are you listening? I am That's the second time the door was slammed in your face by the Church. (McCourt, Angela's 289) When it came down to Frank's reasoning, it was the physical Church to blame for all the hardships that the religion placed on the Irish people. The spirit of the religion never let Frank down. He always felt the guilt of his actions as any Irish Catholic boy would feel, myself included, but he knew deep down that God would forgive him.
On one account in Frank's life before he goes on his own to America, he pours his heart out. It was tough for him to express himself like he did, but a loving priest got him through it. I talk to St. Francis and tell him about Margaret, Oliver, Eugene, my father singing Roddy McCorley and bringing home no money, my father sending no money from England, Theresa and the green sofa, my terrible sins on Zack 8 Carrigogunnell, why couldn't they hang Hermann Goering for what he did to the little children with shoes scattered around concentration camps, the Christian Brother who closed the door in my face, the time they wouldn't let me be and alter boy, my small brother Michael walking up the lane with the broken shoe clacking, my bad eyes that I' ashamed of, the Jesuit Brother who slammed the door in my face, the tears in Mam's eyes when I slapped her. (McCourt, Angela's 344) The Catholic Church was an incredible source in his life. Although the presence of the church was not always what Frank wanted, it was a part of his life.
The church shaped the way Frank is today. His writing shows that he believes in a loving God, and the cruelties of the Church allow him to write openly and satirically about his experience. Frank McCourt had some strong influences in his life, but none of those influences were as strong as his family life. Frank's father was an important character in his life.
Although Malachy Sr. was not the best father in the world, he gave Frank some great literary qualities. Kakutani says that Malachy Sr. "Bequeaths to Frankie two things: a childhood of awful, bone-chilling poverty and a magical gift for storytelling' (Kakutani 150). Many people would argue that Malachy was the worst father a child could have. His actions as a father and provider for a family left much to be desired.
Many nights he would come home stumbling drunk. Singing his Irish songs and demanding that the children give up their lives for Ireland. He could never hold down a job because of his alcoholic habits and the money he did make went towards the drink. In the novel, a young Frank comments about his fathers weakness and how it affect his whole family: Zack 9 She's in bed with the baby. Malachy and Michael are up in Italy asleep. I know I don't have to tell Mam anything, that soon when the pubs close he " ll be home singing and offering us a penny to die for Ireland and it will be different now because it's bad enough to drink the dole or wages but a man that drinks the money for a new baby is gone beyond the beyond's as my mother would say.
(McCourt, Angela's 186) There were times when Malachy would come through for his children. These occasions were not very often but important in Frank's life. In an interview with People Magazine, Frank said, "I had moments with my father that were exquisite-the stories he told me about CuChulian, the mythological Irish warrior, are still magical to me. If it hadn't been for the alcoholism, he would have been the perfect father' (People 84). The stories and brief moments of love between Frank and his father ended up to be some of the most important moments in Frank's life.
They shaped his creative and inquisitive thinking, which gave him the foundation essential to becoming a great writer. The stories of Cuchulian allowed Frank to expand his imagination and think about what kept him interested in his father's words. His loving mother Angela was a solid foundation for his upbringing. Although she had to go through some compromising situations to keep her family together, she always made sure her children would be OK. After Frankie was denied acceptance into the high school, she wanted to make sure he would keep his pride. "Her face tightens and she is angry.
You are never to let anybody slam the door in your face again. Do you here me?' (McCourt, Angela's 290). She kept the family together despite all the torment Malachy Sr. put them through. Frank's family life was not happy Zack 10 but Frank gained something very valuable through his pain. Frank gained experience.
By the time Frank was six he had suffered more than many had in a lifetime. His family life shaped the way he views the world. It shaped the way Frank looks at people today and back when he was a child. His childhood gave him the experiences necessary to become a masterful writer. It was through his suffering that he received so much character and skill. Frank McCourt today is a product of his exceptional upbringing.
In concern with his attitude towards his childhood literary critic Kakutani writes, "There is not a trace of bitterness in Angela's Ashes, though there is plenty a less generous writer might well be judgmental about' (Kakutani 150). It was Frank's harsh childhood that gave him the skills to work hard for what he wanted. Throughout the novel, a young Frank is constantly saving money to go to America. He worked hard for that money for many years. He knew that no one would give him a free ride, so he worked. It was this same work ethic that got him into the New York University.
Frank never did graduate from high school, but he read a lot. By serving time in the U. S. Military, Frank thought he would receive some benefits. In an interview with Frank McCourt titled "Turning Points', Frank talks about how his strong desire got him to where he wanted to go. "I knocked on the door at NYU.
They admitted me on a year's probation. After all, hadn't I done my bit for America by serving two years as a GI in the glorious Bavarian Alps?' (McCourt,' Turning' 37). This statement sounds just like the one Frank's father gave to the IRA official in Ireland. The impact of Frank's family on his life was very strong. It took a while for Frank to come to terms with his childhood. Frank didn't want his mother to know about all his childhood sins.
This is the reason why Frank did not come out with Zack 11 his story until his mother died. In a story from Reader's Digest Frank talks about the reason he waited on writing the novel. "Before it was out of respect for his mother, who would have been mortified to see the darkest and most searing episodes of his childhood in print. But she had died in 1981, and with her had died his excuse' (Dimmitt 66). The unprecedented amount of respect he had for his mother held back the story that millions of people were dying to read.
The success of Angela's ashes was astronomical. After years of teaching English in a couple of New York schools, Frank realized that his life and literary education would not have been complete without that period in his life. In an interview with Newsweek, McCourt said, "Whatever I discovered about myself, I discovered in New York, reading, talking to kids, getting a sense of accomplishment from being a teacher' (Jones 70). It was through his own teaching that he refined his already achieved literary skills.
He needed to find the right way to express himself in the novel. He had tried to write a draft of the novel years before he was a teacher, but it was a mess. Then he realized that he was not capturing the right angle for his story. The tale did not work for Frank McCourt the adult. It was meant to be told through the honest and genuine eyes of a child. In an interview McCourt told McNamara, "I couldn't have written this book fifteen years ago because I was carrying a lot of baggage around? and I had attitudes and these attitudes had to be softened.
The child started to speak in this book. And that was the only way to do it, without judging' (McNamara 300). The true sign of a good writer is one who never stops learning. Frank learned from his students just as much as they learned from him. Today Frank McCourt is working on his next book titled Tis in the comfort of retirement. Zack 12 There is no doubt that is will be as good as his last.
Due to the roots of his childhood, Frank has more stories to tell than a hundred men put together. For it was through Frank McCourt's experiences with his country, religion and family that gave him his literary skills Zack 13 McCourt, Frank. Angela's Ashes. New York: Scribner, 1996. McCourt, Frank. "The Power of Wall Street.' Worth.
Nov. 1998: 110. Hubbard, Kim.' Frank McCourt.' People Weekly. 29 Dec.
1997: 82-84. Jones, Malcolm. "The Arts.' Newsweek. 25 Aug.
1997: 67-70. McCourt, Frank. "Turning Points.' Commonweal. 21 May 1997: 37-41.
Dimmitt, Barbara Sande. "The Education of Frank McCourt.' Reader's Digest Nov. 1997: 63-69. Hunter, Jeffery, et al. , Eds. Contemporary Literary Criticisms 109.
Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Research, 1997. Donoghue, Denis. "Some Day I'll Be Out of the Rain.' Contemporary Literary Criticisms. Eds. Jeffery Hunter, et al. Farm Hills, MI: Gale Research, 1997.
148. Jones, Malcolm. "Hard Luck, Good Tales.' Contemporary Literary Criticisms. Eds. Jeffery Hunter, et al. Farm Hills MI: Gale Research, 1997.
147. Kakutani, Michiko. "Generous Memories of a Poor, Painful Childhood.' Contemporary Literary Criticisms. Eds. Jeffery Hunter, et al. Farm Hills, MI: Gale Research, 1997.
150. Peacock, Scott. Contemporary Authors. Detroit: Gale Research, 1997.
McNamara, Devon "Christian Science Monitor.' Contemporary Authors. Eds. Scott Peacock, et al. Detroit: Gale Research, 1997.