Let the Great World Spin

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John Andrew Corrigan (“Corrigan”) Character Analysis

A Catholic monk from Ireland who moves to the Bronx in order to serve in the government housing projects as a religious missionary. Known as “Corrigan,” he has a complex conception of what it means to be religiously faithful. He is interested first and foremost in the struggle of everyday life, thinking that the purest kind of belief arises from the most difficult and seemingly godless moments. From a very young age he displays a compassion for those less fortunate than him, and this compassion often drives him to put himself within the same context as the people he hopes to help, ultimately thinking that he might be able to ease their burdens by struggling alongside them. As an adult in New York he becomes a loyal and dedicated friend to many of the Bronx’s prostitutes, frequently bringing them water and allowing them to use his bathroom between their clients. His honor to his religious Order—and the various vows of celibacy and dedication he has taken—is ultimately challenged when he falls in love with Adelita shortly before dying as the victim of a hit-and-run car crash on the way back from trying to get two prostitutes, Jazzlyn and Tillie Henderson, out of jail.

John Andrew Corrigan (“Corrigan”) Quotes in Let the Great World Spin

The Let the Great World Spin quotes below are all either spoken by John Andrew Corrigan (“Corrigan”) or refer to John Andrew Corrigan (“Corrigan”). For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Random House edition of Let the Great World Spin published in 2009.
Book One, Chapter 1: All Respects to Heaven, I Like it Here Quotes

He still drank with them, but only on special days. Mostly he was sober. He had this idea that the men were really looking for some type of Eden and that when they drank they returned to it, but, on getting there, they weren’t able to stay. He didn’t try to convince them to stop. That wasn’t his way.

Related Characters: Ciaran Corrigan (speaker), John Andrew Corrigan (“Corrigan”)
Page Number: 17-8
Explanation and Analysis:

Having been caught drinking by his mother, Corrigan has recently promised to stop getting drunk with the local alcoholics. Despite this promise, though, he is seemingly unable to stay away from the drunks. It is significant that he frames his time with these vagrants in terms of religion. Rather than approaching their addiction as a vice, he believes that these men are tragically searching for happiness—a happiness that might otherwise be accessed through religious practice and an aspiration to regain the divine paradise of Eden. And although Corrigan’s religious outlook is developing quite strongly, he maintains the kindness and patience necessary to allow others to live differently than him, marking him as a gentle and accepting soul.

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“It’s like dust. You walk about and don’t see it, don’t notice it, but it’s there and it’s all coming down, covering everything. You’re breathing it in. You touch it. You drink it. You eat it. But it’s so fine you don’t notice it. But you’re covered in it. It’s everywhere. What I mean is, we’re afraid. Just stand still for an instant and there it is, this fear, covering our faces and tongues. If we stopped to take account of it, we’d just fall into despair. But we can’t stop. We’ve got to keep going.”

Related Characters: John Andrew Corrigan (“Corrigan”) (speaker), Ciaran Corrigan, Jazzlyn Henderson
Page Number: 29-30
Explanation and Analysis:

In this moment, Corrigan explains to his brother that Jazzlyn and Tillie and the other prostitutes are not bad people, but rather individuals who have spent their entire lives in dire circumstances that are difficult to overcome. Corrigan outlines the trying aspects of life in the Bronx, ultimately attempting to show his brother that fear is an ever-present aspect of daily life, an inescapable and oppressive force that everybody chooses to deal with differently.

It is notable that Corrigan includes himself in his analysis of fear, tacitly admitting that he too is affected by it; he says that “we can’t stop,” that “we have to keep going.” As such, it is evident that, unlike his brother, Corrigan does not seem himself as so different from the prostitutes, ultimately speaking to a universal human experience rather than maintaining the prejudiced assumption that only the poor or “criminal” undergo such hardships.

We seldom know what we’re hearing when we hear something for the first time, but one thing is certain: we hear it as we will never hear it again. We return to the moment to experience it, I suppose, but we can never really find it, only its memory, the faintest imprint of what it really was, what it meant.

Related Characters: Ciaran Corrigan (speaker), John Andrew Corrigan (“Corrigan”), Adelita
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

Ciaran has just learned that Corrigan has fallen in love with Adelita, but he hasn’t yet internalized the information. What he’s hearing from his brother is a confession of sorts, since Corrigan’s religion should keep him from falling in (romantic) love. The significance of this confession is somewhat stunning, and Ciaran reflects on the nature of memory, upholding that certain experiences—especially those that are unexpected and that carry great significance—are often fleeting. A reaction can’t be crystallized and perfectly preserved, because our internal emotional lives are ever-changing and mutable. This is an important observation in a novel that seems to often purposefully evade presenting concrete meanings or interpretations; the idea that we can only really ever find “the faintest imprint” contributes to the novel’s constantly evolving emotional tenor and its approach to time’s mysterious influence on the past.

We have all heard of these things before. The love letter arriving as the teacup falls. The guitar striking up as the last breath sounds out. I don’t attribute it to God or to sentiment. Perhaps it’s chance. Or perhaps chance is just another way to try to convince ourselves that we are valuable.

Yet the plain fact of the matter is that it happened and there was nothing we could do to stop it…

Related Characters: Ciaran Corrigan (speaker), John Andrew Corrigan (“Corrigan”)
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

This rumination comes after Ciaran reveals that Corrigan has been in a car crash on the FDR, bringing to the forefront the notion of life’s inscrutable simultaneity and the ways in which we are, as humans, often desperate to find meaning in even the most trivial serendipities. Ciaran, a nonreligious man, is left searching for significance in his brother’s death. Without a god of any sort, though, he is overwhelmed by the tragedy and by the fact that it is possible to pass a pleasant and happy day while something horrific is unknowingly happening to a loved one. When he says rather begrudgingly that the “plain fact of the matter is that” the accident happened, he emphasizes the sad immutability of the situation—so much of life, it seems, is out of our hands, and this is what Ciaran hints at when he says that “perhaps chance is just another way to try to convince ourselves that we are valuable.” Even chance, it seems in this moment, romanticizes the idea that somebody might be able to find meaning in life’s unforgiving cruelty and randomness. Ciaran’s skepticism here indicates his unwillingness to view the world sentimentally and, in a way, religiously.

Book One, Chapter 3: A Fear of Love Quotes

The moment he turned to check the front of the car I recall thinking that we’d never survive it, not so much the crash, or even the death of the young girl—she was so obviously dead, in a bloodied heap on the road—or the man who was slapped against the steering wheel, almost certainly ruined, his chest jammed up against the dashboard, but the fact that Blaine went around to check on the damage that was done to our car, the smashed headlight, the crumpled fender, like our years together, something broken, while behind us we could hear the sirens already on their way, and he let out a little groan of despair, and I knew it was for the car, and our unsold canvases, and what would happen to us shortly, and I said to him: Come on, let’s go, quick, get in, Blaine, quick, get a move on.

Related Characters: Lara Liveman (speaker), John Andrew Corrigan (“Corrigan”), Jazzlyn Henderson, Blaine
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

Lara reveals that, immediately after hitting Corrigan’s van, she knew her relationship with Blaine was doomed. Blaine’s concern about the car—“the smashed headlight, the crumpled fender”—is indicative of his obsession with all that is superficial. He is unable empathize with others, unable to look beyond the things that directly affect him. Lara recognizes this after the crash, and it is clear that this is perhaps the first time she is able to articulate to herself that she and Blaine are ill-suited for one another, as they clearly have opposing values. It is strange, then, that she ushers him along by telling him to get back in the car in order to flee the scene of the accident. This ultimately speaks to her own fear and guilt, but also her empathetic capacity, for in this moment she finds herself sympathizing with Blaine’s fear—his “little groan of despair” for “what would happen to [them] shortly”—while simultaneously disagreeing with him.

Book Three, Chapter 10: Centavos Quotes

I know already that I will return to this day whenever I want to. I can bid it alive. Preserve it. There is a still point where the present, the now, winds around itself, and nothing is tangled. The river is not where it begins or ends, but right in the middle point, anchored by what has happened and what is to arrive. You can close your eyes and there will be a light snow falling in New York, and seconds later you are sunning upon a rock in Zacapa, and seconds later still you are surfing through the Bronx on the strength of your own desire. There is no way to find a word to fit around this feeling. Words resist it. Words give it a pattern it does not own. Words put it in time. They freeze what cannot be stopped.

Related Characters: Adelita (speaker), John Andrew Corrigan (“Corrigan”)
Page Number: 278-9
Explanation and Analysis:

In the wake of Corrigan’s death, Adelita finds herself returning time and again to the memory of the first night he spent at her house. The notion of a nonlinear timeline is very much alive in this passage, as Adelita eschews the notion that what has already happened is fully finished. Rather, she prefers to think of the present and the past as inextricably intertwined, and she places an emphasis on the mind’s ability to freely roam, closing large gaps of time and enormous distances.

Adelita considers the way language interacts with memory, asserting that “they freeze what cannot be stopped.” In order to remember Corrigan linguistically, she would need to think in the past tense, and this gives the memory “a pattern,” a false imposition upon the actual experience. This is, of course, similar to Ciaran’s idea that words so often fail to say what something is not: in this case, Adelita’s experience of that slow morning with Corrigan is not over.

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John Andrew Corrigan (“Corrigan”) Character Timeline in Let the Great World Spin

The timeline below shows where the character John Andrew Corrigan (“Corrigan”) appears in Let the Great World Spin. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book One, Chapter 1: All Respects to Heaven, I Like it Here
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Ciaran provides a detailed account of his brother Corrigan’s life, beginning with their shared childhood in Dublin, Ireland, where they are raised on the... (full context)
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At night Corrigan recites his prayers on the top bunk in the boys’ shared room. These prayers are... (full context)
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Corrigan is a charismatic, charming boy. People are naturally drawn to him. One night when Ciaran... (full context)
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...a large red blanket. An obvious drunk or vagrant, the man raises his hand, and Corrigan waves back. Ciaran asks who it is, but his mother doesn’t answer, saying that they’ll... (full context)
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...boys return home from school that day, there is a brown paper package waiting for Corrigan on his bed. Inside it is another blanket. Corrigan unfolds it, looks up at his... (full context)
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At around the age of twelve or thirteen Corrigan starts getting drunk after school on Fridays. He goes to the seedy parts of town... (full context)
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Soon enough Corrigan becomes a regular in the flophouses with the seasoned drunks. He listens to their long... (full context)
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On his fourteenth birthday Corrigan gets too drunk to hide it. His mother catches him and makes him promise not... (full context)
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The boys’ mother dies of cancer when Ciaran is nineteen and Corrigan is seventeen. As they stand over her dead body at the hospital, their father appears... (full context)
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As the boys grow older, Corrigan becomes more devoutly religious. When they sell the house, he gives away his share of... (full context)
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The religious institution at Emo College is not a good fit for Corrigan’s unique faith, which requires room for doubt. As such, he leaves the school and moves... (full context)
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Ciaran arrives at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City. Corrigan, who said he would meet him, is nowhere to be seen. Overwhelmed by the city,... (full context)
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Corrigan’s apartment is on the fifth floor of a twenty-story building. Ciaran opens the door—which is... (full context)
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Later that night Corrigan finally comes home. He wakes up Ciaran to say hello. Corrigan is even thinner than... (full context)
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Three prostitutes enter the room while Corrigan is praying. One of them is the woman with the parasol, whose name is Tillie.... (full context)
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Finally, when the conversation dies down, Ciaran brings up the fact that Corrigan didn’t come to the funeral when their father died several months before. Corrigan asks what... (full context)
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...way they are always high on heroin and sauntering into the apartment. During the day Corrigan drives a van to a nursing home and takes elderly people for rides to the... (full context)
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...his second day. Afterward, he sits and prays in the apartment for two straight days. Corrigan finds him too serious, too simple-minded when it comes to God. “It’s like he’s got... (full context)
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...the presence of the prostitutes in his brother’s apartment, Ciaran begins locking the door. When Corrigan asks him to leave it unlocked, the two brothers have a tense conversation in which... (full context)
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...thought is followed by the feeling that the Bronx will ruin him. He wonders how Corrigan can stand it. (full context)
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When Corrigan comes home late that night, he is lethargic and his eyes lazily roll in their... (full context)
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Ciaran once again accompanies Corrigan as he drives the elderly around. In picking them up, he meets Adelita, a nurse... (full context)
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It is evening when Corrigan parks the car and fills his brother in on the real story. It turns out... (full context)
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Corrigan explains that the idea of being sick doesn’t bother him very much, though the initial... (full context)
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Continuing his story, Corrigan tells Ciaran that Tillie, Jazzlyn, and Angie threw a “not-dead” party for him, which he... (full context)
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Once Corrigan has unloaded this information about his love for Adelita, he feels somewhat freed. In the... (full context)
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...early one morning, the cops rounding up the prostitutes in great numbers and arresting them. Corrigan is incensed. He demands to know where the women are being taken, but the police... (full context)
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Corrigan asks Ciaran to pick up the elderly patients from the nursing home while he goes... (full context)
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Tillie takes the blame for the robbery, and Jazzlyn is released. Corrigan is there to take her home. On the ride back to the Bronx, however, they... (full context)
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Unaware of the accident Corrigan and Jazzlyn have been in, Ciaran and Adelita finish their day at the beach. Ciaran... (full context)
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At the hospital Ciaran and Adelita find Corrigan while Adelita’s children sit in the waiting room. Frantic, they pull their chairs close to... (full context)
Book One, Chapter 3: A Fear of Love
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...ring with the picture of two black girls, and the driver’s license of John A. Corrigan. (full context)
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...the girl she’d seen in the passenger’s seat died before reaching the hospital and that Corrigan died shortly after arriving. Lara drives away from the hospital in tears. Her original reason... (full context)
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Lara lies and says that she works for the hospital and that she is returning Corrigan’s belongings. When she finds out that Ciaran is about to leave for Jazzlyn’s funeral, she... (full context)
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...she used to collect pictures of castles from magazines. One day, years later, Jazzlyn told Corrigan about her fantasy of living in a castle, and he said that he used to... (full context)
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...did together. Then the other women—the other prostitutes in the procession who were close to Corrigan—come to him and hug him. Ciaran reaches into his pocket and produces the key ring... (full context)
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Finally answering Ciaran’s question, Lara says she doesn’t know why she didn’t stop after hitting Corrigan’s van. She tells him that there is no explanation. He thinks this over, then tells... (full context)
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...bridge, and this made her think of Blaine’s work. At the bar they talked about Corrigan, and at one point Lara confessed that she hadn’t been the one driving the car... (full context)
Book Two, Chapter 7: This is the House That Horse Built
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From prison, Tillie Henderson narrates that she wasn’t allowed to go to Corrigan’s funeral. She gives a survey of her criminal record, which has fifty-four entries on it.... (full context)
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Tillie remembers Corrigan fondly. She explains that the first time she and the other prostitutes saw him, they... (full context)
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Tillie thinks about the last time she saw Jazzlyn and Corrigan in the Bronx. She thinks about how there is probably no Sherry-Netherlands hotel in heaven.... (full context)
Book Three, Chapter 9: A Part of the Parts
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...then Soderberg asks the white man she’s with whether or not he’s related to her. Corrigan responds in his Irish accent that he is her friend, and Soderberg thinks he is... (full context)
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...She speaks up but Judge Soderberg threatens to increase the sentence to twelve months. Meanwhile, Corrigan tries to make his way to the front of the courtroom, but an officer stops... (full context)
Book Three, Chapter 10: Centavos
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Adelita narrates a memory of a slow Thursday morning spent with Corrigan in her clapboard house in the Bronx. She wakes up and rolls toward him; it... (full context)
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The night before, Adelita and Corrigan made love. It was Corrigan’s very first time. He then wept over having broken his... (full context)
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...sex for a third time after locking the bedroom door and covering the peephole with Corrigan’s black shirt. Adelita already knows that she will forever come back to the memory of... (full context)
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...home from the hospital and takes a number of stray hairs from her sink—they are Corrigan’s, and she meticulously arranges them, already missing him sorely. By then she has seen the... (full context)
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...right now Adelita dwells in the memory of that Thursday morning, when her children greet Corrigan and he sits at her kitchen table. In this memory, she wishes she had a... (full context)
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Later, after the accident, Adelita wonders what it was that Corrigan had seen when he told her that he had encountered a beauty he would never... (full context)
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Of course, Adelita heard about the tightrope walker. She knows that Corrigan spent the night in his van near the courthouse in Lower Manhattan that Tillie and... (full context)
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Adelita admits that she has moments in which she loses hope and thinks that Corrigan must have been speeding home in his van in order to tell her that he... (full context)
Book Four, Chapter 12: Roaring Seaward, and I Go
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...a company and worked in a fancy building in the city. Ciaran told her about Corrigan and took her to a pub. When Jaslyn started crying, Ciaran went to call his... (full context)