In this hard world where winning is more important than participating you would sometimes almost forget to be generous from time to time. But when I read Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt I got a completely different view on generosity and the importance of it. This memoir is about the miserable Irish Catholic childhood of the writer. And I think that after this essay you will see that acts of generosity can make the lives of the poor better and that those people afterwards can also help other poor people. Firstly, it were rough times for the McCourt family.
Dad -Malachy- was drinking the dole, the family lived in a bad house and children kept dying. The only way the McCourt’s could keep their heads above water was getting help from others. One thing that helped them in their struggle for survival was the St. Vincent the Paul Society. On page 79 they get help for the first time. I quote “The man in the middle says he’s giving Mam a docket to get a week’s groceries at McGrath’s shop on Parnell Street. There will be tea, sugar, flour, milk, butter and a separate docket for a bag of coal from Sutton’s coal yard on the Dock road. In my opinion this is generous because I think that generosity means to help someone without gaining profit from it yourself and the St. Vincent de Paul Society doesn’t get anything back for this. That this gift of the St. Vincent de Paul Society is very helpful for the McCourt’s is confirmed by this “Mam wipes her face at the back of her sleeve and takes the docket. She tells the men, God bless you for your kindness”(page 79). Even though they get some support from the St. Vincent de Paul Society the McCourt family didn’t have enough to be very happy or to not have hunger.
Therefore it is very good that others also helped the family sometimes. Another gift that I found generous was that some shopkeepers also gave food to the family for free. “A few shopkeepers give bread, potatoes, tins of beans... ” (page 90). This, in my opinion, is very generous because those shops are there to make profit and handing out food isn’t profitable for them at all. It’s however very helpful for the McCourt’s. Further on in the book you can also read that Angela could also get credit at Kathleen O’Connell’s shop. Mam says she can now pay off the few pounds that she owes at Kathleen O’Connell’s shop... ” (page 133). Of course you could say this isn’t real generosity because Mam has to pay the money back, but I think it is quite generous to give credit to a family that doesn’t have a steady income. Secondly, when Frank is a little older –at the age when he can start working- you can discover a different kind of generosity. The kind of generosity that is more like giving a fishing rod instead of a fish.
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The first time when you will encounter this type of generosity is when Aunt Aggie buys the new clothes for Frank for his job as a telegram boy. “She takes me to Roche’s Stores and buys me a shirt, a gansey, a pair of short pants, two pairs of stockings and a pair of summer shoes on sale. She gives me two shillings to have tea and a bun for my birthday. She gets on the bus to go back up O’Connell Street too fat and lazy to walk. Fat and lazy, no son of her own, and still she buys me the clothes for my new job” (page 392).
I think this is generosity because he now has a suit in which he of course will make a better impression at his new job and he can start making money of his own. In my interpretation Frank appreciated this gift very much because he even cries from happiness “I turn towards Arthur’s Quay with the package of new clothes under my arm and I have to stand at the edge of the River Shannon so that the whole world won’t see the tears of a man the day he’s fourteen” (page 392). Then after a while he gets fired because he has to deliver a telegram to Mr.
Harrington, but he gets falsely accused for stealing ham and sherry. Because of a generous deed of the parish priest he gets his job back. “She gets a letter from the parish priest. Take the boy back, says the parish priest. Oh, yes father, indeed, says the post office” (page 416). Then when he delivers a telegram to Mrs. Brigid Finucane she asked Frank if he can write letters to her costumers to give her back the money she had leant them. This job yielded him some extra money, so his trip to America came closer and closer. She says, I’ll give you threepence for every letter you write and another threepence if it brings a payment” (page 418). I think it’s very generous from Mrs. Finucane to give this job because it brings Frank closer to his target, going to America. Because of all these acts of generosity towards the McCourt’s and especially Frank McCourt they aren’t the poorest of the poorest. Because they aren’t you can discover some acts of generosity from Frank himself. One generous gesture by him was that he gave his raisin away. I wanted the raisin for myself but I saw Paddy Clohessy standing in the corner with no shoes and the room was freezing and he was shivering like a dog that had been kicked and I always felt sad over kicked dogs so I walked over and gave Paddy the raisin” (page 148). I think it’s very generous to give your food away to someone that has it even worse than you even if you don’t have much yourself. The quote says that Paddy has no shoes. Without acts of generosity towards Frank he probably wouldn’t have them either, so he would have probably eaten the raisin himself.
Something else happens much later in the book and that is that Frank throws Mrs. Finucanes’ ledger in the Shannon. This means that a lot of people don’t have to pay her back. ”Aunt Aggie’s name is in the ledger. She owes nine pounds. It might have the money she spent on my clothes a long time ago but now she’ll never have to pay it because I heave the ledger into the river” In my opinion this is a very clear act of generosity because he helps a lot of poor people with this. This is maybe a bit like Robin Hood even.
Finally, now we have had a look at how acts of generosity changes the course of events and of lives I think we can conclude that generosity can really change the life of some people. Wouldn’t the McCourt family have died from starvation without generosity? Would Frank McCourt have ever gone to America without generosity? Would Frank have ever been generous to others without generosity from others? I would answer no on all these questions. I also think that generosity leads to more generosity. I hope you will understand this when you look at the last paragraph, because Frank is generous because others have been generous to him.
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