Monday, May 14, 2012

Angela's Ashes: Parental Conflict

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Conflict between parent and child has been a theme used throughout literature for hundreds of years. It can even be found in relatively recent literature such as Frank McCourt’s 16 memoir entitled Angela’s Ashes. In the case of Angela’s Ashes, the conflict between Frank and Malachy is accompanied by Frank’s understanding of his father and Malachy’s love for his children.

The major cause of conflict is caused by Malachy’s alcoholism. He is never employed for more than a few weeks and every penny that he receives is spent at the pub. His alcoholism eventually causes his impoverished family to go on “the dole” and even resort to begging for and stealing food. After his wife gives birth to Alphonsus, Frank’s grandfather sends the family five pounds. Frank and his brothers try to stop Malachy but their efforts are futile; he spends the baby’s money at the pub. When Malachy goes to find work in England, he again uses the money for “pints”; the only thing the family receives is a half-eaten box of chocolates.

One boy calls his father a drunken oul shit, (McCourt) because he does not send money from England, but Frank and her his family would never even think about speaking of Malachy in this way. Throughout the novel, we are shown that Malachy really does care for his children. We first see it in Frank’s childhood where he and brother’s main source of joy are their father’s stories of the great Irish warrior, Cuchulain. Malachy’s paternal qualities are once again seen when he eats very little to allow his children to get full. Frank understands that his father’s “drink” is his only way of coping with his lost children.

Frank’s fondness of his father starts very strong in the days of the Cuchulain stories. Every lost job and Friday night spent at the pub causes Frank to further lose faith in his father. Malachy’s spending of the baby’s money on “drink” finally puts Frank over the edge as he says to himself “it will be different now.” (McCourt). Through the rest of the novel, he uses this and his fathers other actions to better himself and try to get a better life for his family.

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Throughout his life, Frank has many parental figures that encourage him to better himself. The first role model he meets is Mr. Timoney during his stay in the hospital. He encourages Frank to read and to never stop learning. Mr. Timoney and Frank become good friends, in part because Mr. Timoney respects Frank and treats him like an adult. Later in the memoir, Frank gets a job helping Mr. Hannon carry coal. Mr. Hannon encourages Frank to work hard and get out of Limerick. Through his job, Frank and Mr. Hannon become very close and at the end of his employment, Mr. Hannon truly feels as if he has lost a son. During Malachy’s absence, Pa Keating is the closest thing Frank has to a father. He even takes frank out for his first pint on his sixteenth birthday. He is also the one who finally convinces Frank to save up enough money to get out of Ireland and go to America.

I think my father is like the Holy Trinity with three people in him, the one in the morning with the paper, the one at night with the stories and the prayers, and then the one who does the bad thing and comes home with the smell of whiskey and wants us to die for Ireland. (McCourt). The aforementioned quote perfectly describes Frank’s conflict with his father; he loves the father who talks to him in the morning and tell stories of great warriors, but the father that spends his baby brother’s money of alcohol angers him. He spends much of his childhood which one of these people his father really is until his parental role models guide him to work hard and create a better life for himself.

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