The Theme of Struggling for Survival in Angela's Ashes and The Street

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858 words

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Table of contents

  1. Symbolic Features of Wind and Characters in "Angela's Ashes and The Street"
  2. Conclusion
  3. Works Cited

Angela’s Ashes and The Street both deal with the theme of struggling for survival. Unlike other survival themed works these specifically focus on poor people in urban settings. McCourt and Petry both use characters, events, and settings to develop this theme in their stories.

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The excerpt from The Street, begins by like most survival stories by introducing some chaotic, unstoppable force of nature that is wreaking havoc on people’s lives. This merciless antagonist in The Street, however, is just the cold North wind. 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 did everything it could to discourage the people walking along the street”.

Symbolic Features of Wind and Characters in "Angela's Ashes and The Street"

Basically, the wind is just the neighborhood bully who goes around inflicting harm on everyone it encounters. This is a seriously lame antagonist. Anywhere else this wind would be little more than a background detail. However, on 116th Street the wind, “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”. Clearly the streets have not been paved in years, thus they are full of grit. To make it worse, the people who live there do not care where they throw their garbage so the wind weaponizes this litter using it to bushwhack anyone who comes by. For a person to need to walk down a street as decrepit as this says a lot about just how bad off Lutie must be. This is how we are introduced to our protagonist. Lutie’s struggles against the paltry force of nature the only events in this passage. Yet they are used to further define who Lutie is and allow the reader to sympathize with her. The wind, “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”.

In Angela’s Ashes, McCourt builds his theme by employing an entire village of support characters along with such a furious onslaught of events that there is only time for the most critical details about the setting to be given. McCourt gives no physical description of his mother. Instead he uses the whirlwind of events at the start of the passage to build her character, “Mam sits by the fire, shivering, and we know something is wrong when she makes no move for a cigarette,” and, “The bed creaks all night with her twistings and turnings and she keeps us awake with her moaning for water,” then, “she stays in bed, still shivering”. Clearly the mother is dying a slow painful death, thus, “there’s no money in the house, not even for bread in the morning”. His grandmother will not help them because she is an old, bitter zealot who, “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… 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”. This also makes it clear that the boys have no other family to turn to for support as, “there is no more bread and we’re hungry, the four of us”. This drives the author to go out begging for and then stealing food and lemonade. Also events like washing, “down the food with cold tea because we have no fire to heat it,’ and mixing lemonade, “with water to stretch it,” paint a clear picture of just how miserable the family is.

The miserable descriptions of McCourt’s family members are in total contrast to all of the other families he sees during his desperate search for food, “sitting there digging in all smiling the mother crisp and clean in her apron everyone washed”. This is the only time a setting is described, “how cozy it is in their kitchens with fires glowing or ranges black and hot everything bright in the electric light”. This further develops their characters and widens the chasm that separates McCourt and his brothers from them.

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Characters, events, and settings are important parts of any good story. When a writer is trying to show just how hard a person’s is having to struggle to survive these aspects are critical to communicating the plight that the characters are struggling to overcome.

Works Cited

  1. McCourt, F. (1996). Angela's Ashes. Scribner.
  2. Petry, A. (1946). The Street. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  3. Bloom, H. (Ed.). (2009). Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes. Infobase Publishing.
  4. Hine, D. C. (2017). The American Historical Association's Guide to Historical Literature. Oxford University Press.
  5. Wagner-Martin, L. (Ed.). (2017). Critical Insights: The Street by Ann Petry. Salem Press.
  6. Benson, J. (Ed.). (2010). The Short Oxford History of English Literature. Oxford University Press.
  7. Manju, V. (2015). The Concept of Struggle for Survival in Ann Petry’s The Street. IJELLH (International Journal of English Language, Literature and Humanities), 3(4), 181-186.
  8. Hartman, C. O. (2001). A Companion to African American Literature. John Wiley & Sons.
  9. Kearney, M. R. (2003). A Place for Everything: Critical Thinking and the Writing Process. Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.
  10. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. (2016). W. W. Norton & Company.
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The Theme Of Struggling For Survival In Angela’s Ashes And The Street. (2021, Jun 09). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 27, 2023, from
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The Theme Of Struggling For Survival In Angela’s Ashes And The Street. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 Sept. 2023].
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