After you read the passages from Angela’s Ashes and The Street, write an essay in which you identify a theme that is similar in both passages and analyze how each author uses the characters, events, and settings in the passage to develop the theme.
Angela’s Ashes (Excerpt)
by Frank McCourt
Angela's Ashes: A Memoir is a 1996 memoir by the Irish author Frank McCourt. The memoir consists of various anecdotes and stories of Frank McCourt's impoverished childhood and early adulthood in Brooklyn, New York, and in Limerick, Ireland. It also includes McCourt's struggles with poverty and his father's alcoholism.
Mam sits by the fire, shivering, and we know something is wrong when she makes no move for a cigarette. She says she feels a cold coming and she'd love to have a tarty drink, a lemonade. But there's no money in the house, not even for bread in the morning. She drinks tea and goes to bed. The bed creaks all night with her twistings and turnings and she keeps us awake with her moaning for water.
In the morning, she stays in bed, still shivering, and we keep quiet. If she sleeps long enough Malachy and I will be too late for school. Hours pass and still she makes no move and when I know it's well past school time I start the fire for the kettle. She stirs and calls for lemonade but I give her a jam jar of water. I ask her if she'd like some tea and she acts like a woman gone deaf. She looks flushed and it's odd she doesn't even mention cigarettes. We sit quietly by the fire, Malachy, Michael, Alphie, myself. We drink our tea while Alphie chews the last bit of bread covered with sugar. He makes us laugh the way he smears the sugar all over his face and grins at us with his fat sticky cheeks. But we can't laugh too much or Mam will jump out of the bed and order Malachy and me off to school where we'll be killed for being late.
We don't laugh long, there is no more bread and we're hungry, the four of us. We can get no more credit at O'Connell's shop. We can't go near Grandma, either. She yells at us all the time because Dad is from the North and he never sends money home from England where he is working in a munitions factory. Grandma says we could starve to death for all he cares. That would teach Mam a lesson for marrying a man from the North with sallow skin, an odd manner and a look of the Presbyterian about him. Still, I'll have to try Kathleen O'Connell once more. I'll tell her my mother is sick above in the bed, my brothers are starving and we'll all be dead for the want of bread. I put on my shoes and run quickly through the streets of Limerick to keep myself warm against the February frost.
You can look in people's windows and see how cozy it is in their kitchens with fires glowing or ranges black and hot everything bright in the electric light cups and saucers on the tables with plates of sliced bread pounds of butter jars of jam smells of fried eggs and rashers coming through the windows enough to make the water run in your mouth and families sitting there digging in all smiling the mother crisp and clean in her apron everyone washed and the Sacred Heart of Jesus looking down on them from the wall suffering and sad but still happy with all that food and light and good Catholics at their breakfast. I try to find music in my own head but all I can find is my mother moaning for lemonade. Lemonade.
There's a van pulling away from South's pub leaving crates of beer and lemonade outside and there isn't a soul on the street. In a second I have two bottles of lemonade up under my jersey and I saunter away trying to look innocent. There's a bread van outside Kathleen O'Connell's shop. The back door is open on shelves of steaming newly baked bread. The van driver is inside the shop having tea and a bun with Kathleen and it's no trouble for me to help myself to a loaf of bread. It's wrong to steal from Kathleen with the way she's always good to us but if I go in and ask her for bread she'll be annoyed and tell me I'm ruining her morning cup of tea, which she'd like to have in peace ease and comfort thank you. It's easier to stick the bread up under my jersey with the lemonade and promise to tell everything in confession.
My brothers are back in bed playing games under the overcoats but they jump when they see the bread. We tear at the loaf because we're too hungry to slice it and we make tea from this morning's leaves. When my mother stirs Malachy holds the lemonade bottle to her lips and she gasps till she finishes it. If she likes it that much I'll have to find more lemonade.
Malachy drifts off and I lie there thinking of jam. Wouldn't it be lovely to have another loaf of bread and a jar of strawberry jam or any kind of jam. I can't remember ever seeing a jam van making a delivery and I wouldn't want to be like Jesse James blasting my way into a shop demanding jam. That would surely lead to a hanging.
There's a cold sun coming through the window and I'm sure it must be warmer outside and wouldn't my brothers be surprised if they woke and found me there with more bread and jam. They'd gobble everything and then go on about my sins and the hanging. Mam is still asleep though her face is red and there's a strangling sound when she snores. I have to be careful going through the street because it's a school day and if Guard Dennehy sees me he'll drag me off to school and Mr. O'Halloran will knock me all over the classroom. The guard is in charge of school attendance and he loves chasing you on his bicycle and dragging you off to school by the ear.
There's a box sitting outside the door of one of the big houses on Barrington Street. I pretend to knock on the door so that I can see what's in the box, a bottle of milk, a loaf of bread, cheese, tomatoes and, oh, God, a jar of marmalade. I can't shove all that under my jersey. Oh, God. Should I take the whole box? The people passing by pay me no attention. I might as well take the whole box. My mother would say you might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. I lift the box and try to look like a messenger boy making a delivery and no one says a word.
Malachy and Michael are beside themselves when they see what's in the box and they're soon gobbling thick cuts of bread slathered with golden marmalade. Alphie has the marmalade all over his face and hair and a good bit on his legs and belly. We wash down the food with cold tea because we have no fire to heat it. Mam mumbles again for lemonade and I give her half the second bottle to keep her quiet. She calls for more and I mix it with water to stretch it because I can't be spending my life running around lifting lemonade from pubs.
We're having a fine time of it till Mam begins to rave in the bed about her lovely little daughter taken from her and her twin boys gone before they were three and why couldn't God take the rich for a change and is there any lemonade in the house? Michael wants to know if Mam will die and Malachy tells him you can't die till a priest comes.
The Street (Excerpt)
by Ann Petry
The Street is a novel by African-American writer Ann Petry that was published in 1946. Set in Harlem in the 1940s, it centers on the life of Lutie Johnson. Petry describes a world of trials and tribulations that came with being a single black mother living on 116th street in New York City.
There was a cold November wind blowing through 116th Street. It rattled the tops of garbage cans, sucked window shades out through the top of opened windows and set them flapping back against the windows; and it drove most of the people off the street in the block between Seventh and Eighth Avenues except for a few hurried pedestrians who bent double in an effort to offer the least possible exposed surface to its violent assault.
It found every scrap of paper along the street— theater throwaways, announcements of dances and lodge meetings, the heavy waxed paper that loaves of bread had been wrapped in, the thinner waxed paper that had enclosed sandwiches, old envelopes, newspapers. Fingering its way along the curb, the wind set the bits of paper to dancing high in the air, so that a barrage of paper swirled into the faces of the people on the street. It even took time to rush into doorways and areaways and find chicken bones and pork-chop bones and pushed them along the curb. It did everything it could to discourage the people walking along the street. It found all the dirt and dust and grime on the sidewalk and lifted it up so that the dirt got into their noses, making it difficult to breathe; the dust got into their eyes and blinded them; and the grit stung their skins. It wrapped newspaper around their feet entangling them until the people cursed deep in their throats, stamped their feet, kicked at the paper. The wind blew it back again and again until they were forced to stoop and dislodge the paper with their hands. And then the wind grabbed their hats, pried their scarves from around their necks, stuck its fingers inside their coat collars, blew their coats away from their bodies.
The wind lifted Lutie Johnson’s hair away from the back of her neck so that she felt suddenly naked and bald, for her hair had been resting softly and warmly against her skin. She shivered as the cold fingers of the wind touched the back of her neck, explored the sides of her head. It even blew her eyelashes away from her eyes so that her eyeballs were bathed in a rush of coldness and she had to blink in order to read the words on the sign swaying back and forth over her head. Each time she thought she had the sign in focus, the wind pushed it away from her so that she wasn’t certain whether it said three rooms or two rooms. If it was three, why, she would go in and ask to see it, but if it said two—why, there wasn’t any point. Even with the wind twisting the sign away from her, she could see that it had been there for a long time because its original coat of white paint was streaked with rust where years of rain and snow had finally eaten the paint off down to the metal and the metal had slowly rusted, making a dark red stain like blood. It was three rooms. The wind held it still for an instant in front of her and then swooped it away until it was standing at an impossible angle on the rod that suspended it from the building. She read it rapidly. Three rooms, steam heat, parquet floors, respectable tenants. Reasonable.