Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.
Let the Great World Spin: Introduction
Let the Great World Spin: Plot Summary
Let the Great World Spin: Detailed Summary & Analysis
Let the Great World Spin: Themes
Let the Great World Spin: Quotes
Let the Great World Spin: Characters
Let the Great World Spin: Symbols
Let the Great World Spin: Theme Wheel
Brief Biography of Colum McCann
Historical Context of Let the Great World Spin
Other Books Related to Let the Great World Spin
- Full Title: Let the Great World Spin
- When Written: In the years following September 11, 2001
- Where Written: New York City
- When Published: June 23, 2009
- Literary Period: 21st Century literary fiction
- Genre: Realistic fiction, poetic realism, short story sequence
- Setting: New York City in the 1970s
- Climax: Because there are so many different stories in the novel, there is not simply one traditional climax. But there are two events in particular that are especially significant to the book’s shape: the first is the tightrope walk and its eventual completion, and the second is the car accident that kills both Corrigan and Jazzlyn. Both of these moments greatly influence many of the book’s storylines, either directly or indirectly, ultimately serving as plot points around which everything else is organized.
- Antagonist: The prejudices and stereotypes that wedge themselves between fellow humans and keep them from truly connecting with one another.
- Point of View: The point of view varies in each section, variously including first person and third person omniscient narration.
Extra Credit for Let the Great World Spin
An Author’s Motivation. Let the Great World Spin is Colum McCann’s attempt to respond to and perhaps reframe the personal, national, and global grief over the attacks on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. When the Towers fell, McCann’s father-in-law, who worked on the fifty-ninth floor of the north tower, made it out of the building safely even as the other tower had already fallen. He walked to McCann’s apartment on Seventy-First Street—far uptown—and immediately threw away his clothes, which smelled of smoke. However, he left his shoes by the door, and they remained there until, weeks later, McCann moved them to a cupboard in his writing office, where they remained as he composed Let the Great World Spin.
A Changed Ending. Colum McCann originally wanted to rewrite history with Let the Great World Spin by having the tightrope walker fall from the wire. It seemed, he thought, in keeping with the current political context of George W. Bush’s administration. However, the more he researched the walk—and the more invested he became in the way it could function within the confines of a novel—the more he found himself swept away by the lives of the people on the ground who watched the walker. When Barack Obama was elected into office, McCann decided to infuse the book with a slight sense of hope and optimism, ultimately trying to steer it “toward a point of recovery.”