Angela’s Ashes and Tis
- Pages: 14
- Word count: 3288
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This essay mainly focuses on the language and the style of the author Frank McCourt within his two memoirs “Angela’s Ashes” and “‘Tis”. It covers mainly the differences and the similarities within McCourt’s writing style in both of the books. The memoirs have interested me because it is a human compulsion to record the past, to preserve what’s changing and to celebrate accomplishment and since I’ve studied Angela’s Ashes in my english class and now, I’m able to reflect what I’ve learned in this essay.
To write this essay, I had to read the second memoir, “‘Tis” and then scan the first memoir “Angela’s Ashes” to find relevant passages and styles. The most difficult part was to learn how to analyze McCourt’s Style in both memoirs. In order to do that, I had to talk to a teacher who gives lectures about writing. Analyzing McCourt’s style was not as easy as it looks. In both memoirs, The reader is able to observe Frank McCourt’s growing up and the development of his ideas.
Rather than telling the events of what happened to him, good or bad, he chooses to show what happened to him by using colloquial language; which makes both of the memoirs more belieable. Furthermore, the lack of punctuation marks, such as quation marks, reminds the reader that since McCourt writes his past, he might not remember the exact speechs of his characters. These kinds of innovative styles made him achieve the Pulitzer award for “Angela’s Ashes” and made both of the books a “bestseller”.
Angela’s Ashes – ‘Tis Angela’s Ashes” and “‘Tis” are autobiographical memoirs written by Frank McCourt about his childhood from his early years in Limerick, through his adolescence in New York. Both memoirs are charactarized by various aspect of style. The stages in Frank McCourt’s life have been reflected in different styles within these two memoirs in parallel with his aging. McCourt maintains his unique writing style by using humorous tone and writing with a perspective of a little child but more significantly, by using a colloquial language.
Frank McCourt uses a colloquial and informal language throughout both of the books. Using the colloquial language enables him to communicate with his audience like he’s talking to a friend; the reader is able to become a part of the story. McCourt writes like a little child talking and uses a straightforward dialogue. “We’re on the seesaw. Up, down, updown. Malachy goes up. I get off. Malachy goes down. Seesaw hits ground”1 This shows how Frank McCourt uses a basic sentence structure. McCourt writes his text as if the information that is given is heard and interpreted by a child.
In “Angela’s Ashes”, Frank meets Mrs. Leibowitz, a kind neighbor who lives in the same building with the McCourt family, who says, “Nice Chewish name, have apiece of cake, eh? Why they give you a Chewish name, eh? “2 This is the most significant style of Frank McCourt which is a typical interpretation of a child because the reader knows that the word “Jewish” is spelt as is it heard. Frank McCourt chooses to show the events instead of telling them. Memoirs are like scrapbooks or photo albums. There are snapshot views of one’s life.
He explores moments on the way to growing up and becoming oneself-both good moments and bad ones. To have the reader care about the events in the memoir and their meaning, the writer must provide detail and description. He and his family have Irish accents and the oldest brothers, Malachy and Frank, have accents that are enough Irish to make them alienated in New York and ”Yank” enough to distinguish them from the native Irish. Frank’s father has a strong North Ireland accent that marks him immediately an outsider whether in New York or in the southern parts of Ireland.
McCourt establishes the significance of the Irish accents in different ways. In the beginning, he emphasizes them in such phrases as ”half five”? in sentences whose context allows no room for misunderstanding. Later, he includes the stories themselves to emphasize the accents upon the reader’s consciousness. When Malachy McCourt decided to register Frank’s birth, he took Frank to the clerk for a birth certificate. The clerk was so confused by McCourt’s alcoholic mumbling and ”North of Ireland accent” that ”he simply entered the name Male on the certificate. ‘
In addition to that, Frank demonstrates a New York accent and points the reader to the both accents; “a New York bartender speaks of the ”history o’ da woild” and a shopkeeper shouts, ”Jeez. Polite kid, eh? Where ja loin dat? ‘”‘ Later, when the family returns to Ireland, McCourt continues this distracting method of achieving the sound of the Dublin dialect. When the McCourt family, tired and penniless, is allowed to spend a night in the police station, drunken prisoners started to make fun of their accents: ”Jasus, will ye listen to them.
They sound like bloody . fillum stars. Did yez fall outa the sky or what? ”4 In the memoir “‘Tis”, Irish accents are less considerable since Frank McCourt starts to live in New York and hears less Irish accents. However, he begins to hear American accents and indicates them in the book; such as “Waw. That’s what she says. She really means war but she’s like all Americans who don’t like to say “r” at the end of a word”. 5 Most of the times, Frank McCourt says the first thing that comes into his head without really thinking it through.
In “Angela’s Ashes”, his perspective as a child makes the story exceeedingly believable and reinforces the naive view of the child within the context of the depression. Actual reality becomes less important than McCourt’s perception, as a little boy, of reality. McCourt is not telling the story of what happened, but rather indicates how the events had related to his own development. He draws the reader into himself by writing in the first person and using a personal tone.
He surrounds himself with the depressing truth about his home, his family, and the poverty but brings in each item of truth with his own explanation, often humorous, thus exposing himself only to his interpretation of reality. Frank McCourt is able to use comic relief esthetically. When his family is faced with death, when rain has turned one half of their home into a cesspool, when the rent is unpaid, when his father has drunk the dole money, McCourt provides comic relief for readers. He does this not through invention or game. He does this by becoming a child and writing the scenes through a child’s eyes.
Accordingly, rather than being continually surprised by Frank’s and his brothers’ treatment at the hands of their alcoholic father who wakes them in the middle of the night and makes them swear to die for Ireland and incensed by the oppressive teachers who encourage them to die for the Faith, readers are encouraged to laugh at them all, while laughing with young Frank who exclaims, ”I wonder if there’s anyone in the world who would like us to live. ”6 The humor occurs not only in humorous situations and events but in the way young Frank strives to understand the world and and what happens in it.
On one occasion, when he is eleven or twelve, he discovers his parents’ marriage certificate and notes that they were married on March 28, 1930. But this mystifies him: “I was born on the nineteenth of August and Billy Campbell told me the father and mother have to be married nine months before there’s a sign of a child. Here I am born into the world in half the time. That means I must be a miracle and I might grow up to be a saint with people celebrating the feast of St. Francis of Limerick. “7 Furthermore in ‘Tis”, McCourt continues to use humorous tone which makes the memoir a “page-turner”.
When he visits Limerick to show off his uniform, everyone gushes over him: “Even Mrs. Purcell is telling me I’m looking grand and she’s blind”8 and others warn him not to be too cocky: “Don’t be putting on airs here. Mick, I knew you when the snot hung from your nose to your kneecaps. “7 The opening pages provide a foundation for Frank McCourt, himself, and for his perception, enabling the reader to follow his sentences throughout the book. He gives a preview of the book’s content on the first page, giving the reader an idea of what he is getting into.
McCourt then suddenly interrupts himself (which continues throughout the book) as though he has forgotten to mention some important fact, and then proceeds to introduce his parents. Although he is now writing from his parents’ point of view, the reader is quite aware that this is still McCourt’s interpretation of their story. After briefly establishing both his mother and father’s basic background, he begins his first story of the book. Frank McCourt wisely chooses the story of his parents first meeting, their marriage, and his birth, which all occur in a surprisingly short period of time.
This first story allows the reader to get used to McCourt’s style of writing and also places the reader into the lives and personalities of his parents. His language includes very little actual description, but he implies hundreds of little details that the reader can sense, but must continue to read to understand. Once McCourt is born, he shifts the perspective immediately to his point of view. He begins with his first memory as a little child, conveying his thoughts through simple, short sentences. As he progresses through his childhood, he uses grammar and vocabulary corresponding to his level of knowledge at his current age in the book.
The diction used in each literary work is basic. Simple and compound sentences express Frank McCourt’s life clearly, refraining from double meanings or hidden messages. Frank’s unadulterated language describes his perceptions and the actions of those around him in Angela’s Ashes; while he enters into his personal world of thoughts and dreams in ‘Tis.
Frank is contempted at throughout his life, but he only begins to describe how it makes him feel in his second work; he opens up as he matures in ‘Tis, expressing his true feelings. You’d think the professors would be standing in front of their classes telling them that if you go to the Biltmore Hotel front lobby you’re not to be staring at people with red eyes… and I’d like to break my dustpan and broom over their heads till blood spurted and they begged me to stop… “9 Frank’s developing self-confidence is expressed by his intelligence and as the book progress, he starts to use value-laden expressions: “Her face would grow pale, her noise pointed, she’d pick at crumbs no longer there might be a hint of watery eyes. “10
As Frank matures, the dialogue becomes more complicated and somewhat complex and the tone becomes compassionate, as Frank McCourt becomes more aware of the suffering of others. There is an arrangement to McCourt’s sentences with the use of grammar, like commas, that increase the level of complexity within the memoirs. For instance, the sentence “he drinks his tea in the morning, signs for the dole at the Labour Exchange, reads the papers at the Carnegie Library, goes for long walks far into the country… “11 shows a greater level of writing.
In “Angela’s Ashes”, Not shown at the age of four, McCourt starts to give more detail to his writing as the book progress in contrast to his writing at the age of four. Education and personal experiences add to Frank McCourt’s thoughts by making them more involved. Once a child with ignorance and naivety to shelter him, Frank realizes in his early adulthood that he must become educated and take control of his own life. At this age, his thoughts are understanding but they still show how naive he can be but he is gradually maturing.
For example, when his mother, Angela has new child, Frank’s brother Malachy asks why their Mom’s bed is in the kitchen. McCourt writes, “I’m older so I tell Malachy the bed is in the kitchen so the angel can fly down and leave the baby on the seventh step but Malachy doesn’t understand… he’s only eight”12 The fact that Frank still thinks an angel brings newborn babies proves his level of maturity and innocence. Frank McCourt begins to ask more questions and it shows at the age of eleven that Frank is fairly insightful.
For example he starts to question about dying for Faith and Ireland, “I’d love to be big and important… ut I don’t think I’ll live that long the way I’m expected to die for this or that. I want to ask why there are so many… people who haven’t died for Ireland or the Faith”13 Near the end of the book Frank reaches the age of fourteen, and his thoughts and the relationship that McCourt made with the reader reach a point where it all comes together. At this point, the writing has obviously changed compared to the beginning and the middle parts. An example of Frank’s maturation is states when he goes to the cemetery, “Frost is already whitening the fresh earth on the grave and I think of Theresa cold in the coffin, the red hair, the green eyes.
I can’t understand the feelings going through me but I know that with all the people who died in the lanes around me and all the people who left I never had a pain like this in my heart and I hope I never will again. It’s getting dark. I walk my bicycle out of the graveyard. I have telegrams to deliver. “14 It is this shift in narrative style that separates “Angela’s Ashes” from “‘Tis”. The flow of ideas in Angela’s Ashes mirrors Frank’s passivity as a youth; “Oh, all right, take your two pence and off you go to the Lyric Cinema,”15 his mother approves. As he matures, he takes command of his own life.
His thought process in “‘Tis” reflects that of a man who has direction and motivation. “I’m already planning to treat myself to a night out with a bottle of ginger ale and a lemon meringue pie. I’ll be watching Hamlet on the screen at the Sixty-eighth Street Playhouse. “16 The fundamental formation and expression of ideas remains constant in both memoirs. In the first chapter of “Angela’s Ashes”, McCourt conveys his acceptance of his unfortunate circumstances, but with humor and creative interpretation. Frank McCourt presents the people in his book as he sees them.
McCourt’s opinions of people in the novel are expressed through his chosen wording of their common interactions. He uses repetition of certain phrases, revealing a person’s entire character in one paragraph. McCourt’s outlook is mostly humorous or sarcastic, especially when he is contrasting two people in one of their conversations. That technique is demonstrated in this quotation from a conversation between his mother, Angela, and one of her “great breasted” aunts: “If I was you, said Philomena, I’d make sure there’s no more children. He don’t have a job, so he don’t, an’ never will the way he drinks. So… no more children, Angela.
Are you listenin’ to me? I am, Philomena. A year later another child was born. “17 His intuition and honesty about himself and his circumstances break down the mystique of his strength without diminishing its importance. Frank McCourt’s main way of surviving in those conditions is obviously to take himself and his life less seriously, translating into his final goal of “not giving a fiddler’s fart” about what others think. Starting with his early years at the beginning of the novel, an important part of McCourt’s emotional development is his learning how to laugh at himself and at the world even in the most miserable situation.
Furthermore, he does this without crossing the invisible line where silliness ends and seriousness begins. Frank McCourt avoids excessive joking in order to keep a certain respect about the sadness he endured, like the time his mother passed away, as well as to make his humor more effective, using it only where he judges some lightness to be necessary. The amusing tone in McCourt’s writing makes the events of the book less tough, similarly to how McCourt’s sense of humor relieves much of the misery in his life.
Frank McCourt is successful in keeping his book interesting from the first page to the last. He establishes his family’s poverty and emotional instability, which proceed to trouble him throughout his first book. His continuing reaction to these circumstances is revealed early on in his childhood development. The quotation at the end of the first chapter of “Angela’s Ashes” signifies McCourt’s hope for change as well as foreshadowing that the worst is yet to come: “The ship pulled away from the dock. Mam said, That’s the Statue of Liberty and that’s Ellis Island where all the immigrants came in.
Then she leaned over the side and vomited and the wind from the Atlantic blew it all over us and other happy people admiring the view. Passengers cursed and ran, seagulls came from all over the harbor and Mam hung limp and pale on the ship’s rail. “18 Although his conclusion of the first chapter does not follow the true form of a happy ending, it is the beginning of the rest of his life, in America. Frank McCourt writes with a interesting style that never uses direct quotes; even when two people are talking in a conversation. Even when presenting dialogue, McCourt leaves out quote marks.
Perhaps he felt that his memory would not provide enough accuracy to present direct dialogue. For the most part, the reader can differentiate narrative from conversations, but in some cases the reader can’t tell one speaker from another or even Frank’s thought from his speech. Because no quotation marks appear, no visual barriers separate the different speakers. The lack of punctuation marks also allows the reader to see a mental picture of several characters simultaneously. With quotation marks, speakers are so clearly set apart that only two mental pictures are possible.
The effect of this is perhaps to remind the reader that everything in the memoir is being filtered through the consciousness of the child narrator. It is always Frank McCourt who is reporting the speech, whether direct or indirect. Throughout the book “Angela’s Ashes” we see Frank McCourt clearly develop into a young adult from the start to finish. As Frank progresses into adolescence, he explores the feelings and changes he goes through. Such topics as sexuality, adolescence, religion, alcoholism and the outcomes are dealt with.
While this part of the book is very humourous at times, it still strongly reinforces the point of a dysfunctional family and the effects it has on children. As Frank McCourt matures into this young man, his writing also “matures”. The text, thoughts and the relationship with the reader certainly progresses and becomes more complex as Frank grows up. The examples taken from the ages of four, eleven and fourteen prove these obvious differences. Through a growing “innocent-eye” narrative technique McCourt is able to create an influential connection with the reader.
Both “Angela’s Ashes” and “‘Tis” are brilliantly narrated, laugh-one-moment-and-cry-the-next kind of memoirs. Even when the story is sad, bitter and severe, the language of the narrator is as sweet as a really good children’s tale. Always smooth, always flowing. The narrator is a child, he grows up with the story, but his suspecting, questioning, innocent language remains the same. Although one could read this book without having read Angela’s Ashes, it would be preferable to read the earlier book first. One can then appreciate ‘Tis more as a continuation of the story begun in the childhood memoirs.