In the memoir, Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt, Frankie is a little boy who is raised up in a poor and uneducated family in Ireland. During his childhood, he was living in the worst circumstances. His basic needs, such as, shelter, food and security, were not guaranteed. Most children in the 20th and 21st century assume that our basic physiological needs, Maslow’s hierarchy’s lowest rung, will be guaranteed automatically. However, this was a big struggle for Frankie and his family. Frankie and his family lived in extreme poverty and survival was not assured. The reality of his situation was driven home when his siblings died from tuberculosis. Later in the story, his father went off to war and was never seen again which leaves him alone with his mother and two siblings. In this difficult period of time, Frankie and his family suffer from hunger, poverty and discrimination. As a result of these desperate living conditions, Frankie becomes determined to move out of Ireland to the United States to earn money for his family. In novels such as Angela’s Ashes, conflict plays a major role in moving the plot forward. During this difficult upbringing, Frankie had many different conflicts, which included, his mom’s conflict with his dad, the family’s conflict with the natural elements and finally, Frankie’s conflict within himself.
One major external conflict, which existed throughout the novel, which was instrumental in forming the tone and direction of the plot was character versus character. A good example of this type of conflict was the conflict between Frankie’s mom and dad. Frankie’s dad was a drunk. He would spend all the family’s money which he earned from his jobs to go to bars and drinking alcohol. He left absolutely no money for the wellbeing and education of his children. Frankie’s mother, Angela, would always blame his selfishness for the death and starvation of their children. An example of this conflict would be, “My brothers are dead, and my sister is dead, and I wonder if they died for Ireland or the Faith. Dad says they were too young to die for anything. Mam says it was disease and starvation and him never having a job.” (McCourt, 113). This quote reveals how Angela perceives Frankie’s dad’s as irresponsibility and be unable to satisfy his family’s basic needs. These behaviours and Frankie’s dad’s attitude enrages Angela and it often ends up in a series of conflicts. This dysfunctional relationship resulted in constant conflict and tension between these characters. This is a major conflict which has a significant impact to the development of the plot. This conflict is what motivates Frankie to grow up quickly, move out of Ireland and find a successful career.
A second major external conflict in the novel “Angela’s Ashes” was character versus nature. The McCourt family not only struggled against the lack of food and money, they also experienced a long struggle with nature. Nature in this novel was a relentless foe who showed no favourites and created misery for everybody. “Mam tells us there was a terrible flood, that the rain came down the lane and poured in under our door…There was a sickening stink in the kitchen. She thinks we should stay upstairs as long as there is rain…we can go downstairs in the springtime if there is any sign of dryness.” (118). Clearly the desperate living conditions created by the winter rains and flooded homes proved to be a huge challenge for the family. Not only did they have to fight for survival against starvation, but they were also forced to fight for survival against the elements of winter. Not everyone in the McCourt was so lucky to survive. Nature, in the form of water and bad water, created challenges, which forced the McCourt family to make difficult decisions. These decisions fuelled the direction of the plot and the destiny of young Frankie.
A third and finally conflict, a conflict which is internal and most abstract, would be character versus himself. Life is filled with decisions that people have to make. These decisions require that the individual weighs their options. In Angela’s Ashes, the McCourt family’s desperate situation left Frankie hungry all the time. These conditions set the stage for the next conflict. In the novel, Frankie delivers food to earn some extra money for his family. He faces a dilemma when he was delivering. “The second potato melts in my mouth and I’ll have to try another bit of cabbage, another morsel of bacon. There isn’t much left now, and he’ll get very suspicious, so I might as well finish off the rest.” (84) As a result of his constant hunger, Frankie is faced with an inner conflict which tested his integrity. Should he take the food, or shouldn’t he? Was his integrity going to be compromised by his difficult living conditions? Hunger won out during this inner struggle and Frankie made the decision to take the food. Although he knew it was morally incorrect to do this, he needed to survive. This decision helped us realise that Frankie was just a normal human being who was trying to survive through these difficult times. This novel is about Frankie’s journey through a difficult period of his life. Understanding these inner conflicts help us understand why he did what he did and how desperation can be a huge motivating force when a person is required to make decisions in their lives.
I have personal connection to the conflict described above. Although I am not as poor and unfortunate as Frankie, I also have inner struggles about certain things. A classic example would be the story between me and video games. In the sixth grade, I was completely addicted to video games. It was a drug that I could not get rid of. When I got introduced to video games, I became lazy and I started to lack to motive to study hard, just like the Chinese when opium was brought in from the British. I earned untypical low grades and started to find it hard to catch up in class. I started to feel like there were more pressure that was put on me from my parents and peers. At this point, I knew I had different paths to choose from. One was to continue to slack, and the other was to become a completely different person. Initially, I couldn’t make up my mind. It was hard to abstain completely from video games. So, I decided to continue my usual routine. I chose the wrong path; the craving of pleasure overcame the hardworking part of me during this struggle. Both Frankie and I made stupid mistakes because we are human beings. It was a hard decision because I wanted to become a hardworking person, but, at the same time, video games were just as appealing. This was one situation where I made the wrong choice.
In conclusion, conflict is a major literary element which allows the author to create tension within their writing. Angela’s ashes, written by Frank McCourt was no exception. In this novel, the external conflict of character versus character and character versus nature and the internal conflicts, character versus himself pushed the plot forward and put forth a sad, depressing tone. These conflicts were skilfully developed by the author to illustrate his miserable childhood and the motivations for his later success in life. Frankie’s determination and compassion led his life to be a better one.