Let the Great World Spin

Let the Great World Spin

Let the Great World Spin Book One, Chapter 1: All Respects to Heaven, I Like it Here Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
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 edge of Dublin Bay by their single mother. Their father abandons the family when the boys are very young, his only presence reduced to a weekly check addressed to their mother and a wardrobe full of his old suits.
Pulling abruptly away from the tightrope walker’s first step on the high wire, this sudden transition to Corrigan’s life leaves us, much like the pedestrians in the previous scene, holding our breath. As Corrigan’s story takes center stage, we intuit his importance as a character.
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At night Corrigan recites his prayers on the top bunk in the boys’ shared room. These prayers are unlike anything Ciaran has ever heard: they are punctuated by laughter and sighs and are frantically rhythmic, like incantations. They are entirely unique. Ciaran, on the other hand, knows only the standard Catholic prayers and doesn’t care much for religion; much to his chagrin, Corrigan often prays like this throughout the night, stopping only momentarily when Ciaran kicks the bed or tells him to shut up. Sometimes Ciaran wakes in the morning to find his brother in bed beside him, still reciting his prayers.
Corrigan is quickly established as eccentric and kind, and he seems to have an intense (and not always pleasant) relationship with God even from a young age. Although he ignores his brother’s plea that he stop praying during the night, the tenderness between the two boys is evident. Despite Corrigan’s kindness, though, it seems that he is categorically unwilling to compromise or sacrifice his faith and religion to appease the people he loves.
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Corrigan is a charismatic, charming boy. People are naturally drawn to him. One night when Ciaran is eleven and Corrigan is nine, Ciaran wakes up to a cold rush of air. He moves to shut the window, but it is closed. In the middle of the room Corrigan is bent over, the smell of cold air and cigarette smoke rolling off his body. He tells Ciaran to go back to sleep and returns to his bed. In the morning, when Ciaran asks where he went, Corrigan tells him that he was “just along by the water.” Despite Ciaran’s insistence, he claims that he did not smoke.
Corrigan’s magnetic personality bears with it traces of mystery. A wildness and strong sense of autonomy edge into his general disposition, and this seems to trouble Ciaran, as evidenced by his understandable eagerness to know his brother’s nighttime whereabouts.
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Later that morning, when their mother walks them to school, Ciaran notices his mother’s eye catch something on the other side of the road. It is a man wrapped in 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 sort it out after school. Ciaran doesn’t receive an answer from Corrigan, either, who disappears into his classroom.
Ciaran’s curiosity about his brother’s private life increases in this moment, and one gets the sense that after this he becomes intensely attuned to Corrigan, becoming a silent observer of this peculiar and vivacious boy. It’s suggested that Corrigan gave one of his blankets away to the homeless man.
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When the 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 mother, and nods. She touches his face and says, “Never again, understand?” This is the last that is said about the event until two years later, when Corrigan gives the new blanket away to another homeless man on a frigid Dublin night. This, Ciaran says in retrospect, is the first inclination of what his brother will become when he’s an adult helping “the whores, the hustlers, the hopeless” in New York.
Yet again we see that Corrigan is unwilling to compromise his values, even if they make his loved ones—like his mother—uncomfortable. It is notable that Ciaran mentions “the whores, the hustlers, the hopeless,” ultimately revealing that Corrigan will move to New York. This foreshadowing is significant as we try to piece together how Corrigan’s story relates to the tightrope walker’s, which, of course, also takes place in New York City.
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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 with a bottle of wine and hands it around to the hardened drunks of Dublin. They laugh at him and use him for his money, sending him out for more alcohol or cigarettes. Sometimes he comes home sockless or shirtless, runs up the stairs, brushes his teeth, and comes back downstairs just sober enough to evade his mother’s full suspicion. When asked where he was, he answers, “God’s work.”
Once again, Corrigan’s faith rules his life while causing his loved ones to worry. In keeping with the strange and unconventional prayers he uttered as a young child, his idea of religion—of “God’s work”—is quite unique and difficult to understand, as getting drunk with vagrants doesn’t seem to have much in common with the normal tenets of religious life.
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Soon enough Corrigan becomes a regular in the flophouses with the seasoned drunks. He listens to their long stories of hardship as if he is an apprentice trying to learn the ways of poverty, trying to take on some of the burden. And although Corrigan never mentions it, Ciaran can tell that some of this behavior also has to do with the absence of their father.
Ciaran thinks Corrigan is overcompensating in order to make up for the loss of their father. This viewpoint ultimately betrays Ciaran’s skeptical approach to religion and, perhaps, a frustration that his brother won’t let him in on his private, mysterious life.
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On his fourteenth birthday Corrigan gets too drunk to hide it. His mother catches him and makes him promise not to drink again, imposing a new curfew on Fridays. But two weeks later he returns to his regular routine, though now he doesn’t drink as much. Instead, he just spends time with the drunks, thinking that they need him there, as if he is “a mad, impossible angel.”
In this phase of Corrigan’s life, it is unclear whether his drinking is a vice—a growing addiction—or if it is truly what he says it is: “God’s work.” The fact that he continues spending time with the drunks even when sober, though, proves that his main concern is helping shoulder the vagrants’ various hardships.
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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 in the doorway. Corrigan refuses to embrace him, rushing by him out of the room. That night, Corrigan doesn’t allow their father to sleep in the master bedroom, instead forcing him to spend the night on the couch. The night before their mother’s funeral, Corrigan gives away all of their father’s old suits to the city’s homeless drunks, who appear on the front lawn the next morning.
Corrigan’s refusal to embrace his father validates Ciaran’s original theory that Corrigan has (at least partly) been trying to make up for the parental absence in his childhood. That Corrigan spites his father by showing kindness to others is in perfect alignment with his charitable ideals; even in moments of anger, he is looking for ways to help less fortunate souls.
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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 the money and lives off of charity, all the while studying the teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi. Not long afterward, he goes to Emo College in County Laois to study with the Jesuits. Here he becomes even more ascetic and serious, attending early morning Mass and engaging in long hours of theological study.
No longer a boy with his own ideas about religion, Corrigan now takes serious steps toward theological maturity. Saint Francis of Assisi was a famous proponent of living a religious life in poverty, devoted to peace, humility, and kindness to others.
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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 to Brussels to join an Order of young Catholic monks. He takes vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience and continues studying religious poetry and liberation theology (a doctrine that emphasizes helping the poor and marginalized). He drives a fruit truck for a co-op and lives a simple life with minimal furniture. When the Order assigns him a posting in New York City in the early seventies, Corrigan begrudgingly packs his bags, for he thinks his time would be better spent somewhere in “the Third World.” Nonetheless, he boards a plane headed for America.
Part of maturing as an adult includes discerning the complicated particulars of one’s belief systems. This is what Corrigan undergoes when he decides to leave Emo College to study liberation theology, which allows him more room to remain self-directed in his faith. It is evident that, despite his studies, Corrigan maintains the same odd and feverish zeal that set his religious predilections apart as unique even when he was a child.
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By this time Ciaran has dropped out of university, lived for a short time as a late-blooming hippie, and has taken an office job despite his desire for a wilder lifestyle. One day he goes to an outdoor market to buy a bag of marijuana and is caught in a bomb explosion. He loses the tip of his ear but is otherwise unharmed. Seeing that the violence of the Northern Ireland Conflict has finally made its way south to Dublin, he decides to join his brother in America.
Although Ireland had been embroiled in violent conflict for quite some time, Ciaran had been relatively unaffected until the market bombing. Although it makes sense that he should flee this violence, the fact that he decides to visit Corrigan in America is somewhat uninspired and arbitrary, ultimately insinuating a possible lack of direction or motivation.
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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, Ciaran makes his own way to his brother’s address in the Bronx. On the subway he stares at a black woman, realizing that he has never seen a black person so close before. When Ciaran finally reaches the Bronx, he gets in a cab that is reluctant to drop him off at his brother’s address in the government housing projects. The cab drives in circles and finally lets him off at a curb near Corrigan’s building, speeding off immediately after Ciaran gets out.
Once again, New York City’s chaos and squalor comes to the novel’s foreground. Suddenly Ciaran encounters people and lifestyles of which he has never even fathomed. Because Ireland is less racially diverse than the United States, he is naïve and ignorant when he encounters people from different backgrounds and cultures, and his behavior shows this.
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Prostitutes line the streets. One in particular holds a parasol and calls out to Ciaran, who immediately says, “I’m broke.” She calls him an asshole and keeps moving. Perplexed, he watches her before moving toward the projects, stepping over heroin needles as he goes.
In this moment, Ciaran is still trying to come to grips with his new environment, but he is overwhelmed by its intimidating features.
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Corrigan’s apartment is on the fifth floor of a twenty-story building. Ciaran opens the door—which is unlocked—to find a room empty except for a ripped sofa, a table, and a wooden crucifix above a single bed. He collapses on the couch and sleeps until he is suddenly awoken by the prostitute who had been carrying the parasol on the street. She comes through the door and slinks out of her coat, suddenly naked except for her boots. She looks at herself in the mirror, goes to the bathroom, and comes out with freshly applied lipstick and perfume. She leaves, but over the course of the afternoon five or six other prostitutes come in and do similar things.
Corrigan’s apartment does nothing to soothe Ciaran’s worries or culture shock. Neither does the prostitute who comes inside to use the bathroom. In this way, the intimidating elements of the outside world invade the apartment, a space Ciaran may otherwise have viewed as a sanctuary of sorts. As such, it becomes clear that Corrigan has been living his life fully immersed in the most difficult elements of New York City’s underserved areas—a fact that, in truth, should not surprise Ciaran in the least.
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Later that night Corrigan finally comes home. He wakes up Ciaran to say hello. Corrigan is even thinner than he always has been and his hair is long. His face is cut and bruised and he looks older than he should. The two brothers reacquaint themselves, and Ciaran discovers that Corrigan leaves his door unlocked so that the prostitutes, whom he has befriended, can use his bathroom between clients. Ciaran asks about his brother’s bruised face, and Corrigan tells him that the pimps sometimes beat him up as a way of showing him their power—they don’t trust the way he helps the prostitutes and are suspicious of his intentions. Corrigan shrugs this off, insisting that it isn’t a big deal to let them use his bathroom from time to time. He makes his brother tea and prays.
Once again, Ciaran is put in the position of trying to understand Corrigan’s outlandish commitment to charity. The lengths he goes in order to help others, it seems, have grown considerably since he was a child; even physical violence can’t keep him from helping the prostitutes.
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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. Another clearly younger woman is named Jazzlyn. The third is named Angie. They flirt and joke with Corrigan, clearly displaying their affection for him. When Jazzlyn starts preparing to shoot up heroin, Corrigan reaches across and puts his hand on her, saying, “Not here, you know you can’t do that in here.” When the women leave, Ciaran is astonished that his brother shows them such lenience and kindness, saying that they’re all a “mess,” a statement Corrigan refutes by arguing that they’re good people simply racked by fear.
Corrigan’s ability to see anybody as an equal—as worthy of his time—surfaces in this moment. Despite their vices, he shows the prostitutes his kindness. This transcends a racial divide and an implicit bias against impoverished young black women that his brother is, as of yet, unable to overcome. By calling the prostitutes a “mess,” Ciaran seeks to dismiss them without considering their humanity, a sentiment Corrigan is at odds with.
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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 scriptures were read, and Ciaran can’t remember. He asks Corrigan what he would have used, and this leads to a short but explosive standoff in which Corrigan yells, “I don’t know! Okay? I don’t fucking know!” The fact that his brother curses stuns Ciaran, and Corrigan is instantly ashamed. Ciaran delights for a moment in the fact that his brother has a flaw so major it simply cannot be contained. He determines that Corrigan wants to take on other people’s pain but cannot deal with his own. Then he too feels shame for deriving pleasure from Corrigan’s unhappiness. The two brothers tersely make up with one another, apologizing for what they said.
Ciaran’s delight in Corrigan’s momentary lack of composure may seem to indicate that he resents his brother, and this is certainly partly true, but it is also a moment in which the two brothers are more connected than they normally are; since Ciaran doesn’t share Corrigan’s strict religious values, it is reassuring to see his brother shift away from them, even if only for a moment. In Corrigan’s outburst, Ciaran discovers an emotion he recognizes, a response he can relate to. In short, Corrigan is humanized by his short fall from grace and therefore seems less enigmatic to his own brother.
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Days pass, and Ciaran slowly acclimates to life in the Bronx and the housing projects, though he remains uncomfortable about the prostitutes, especially the 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 park, allowing them some outdoor time. Ciaran accompanies him. One day, after dropping the elderly off at the nursing home again, Corrigan tells Ciaran that he has another job to do—but he won’t disclose what it is. Corrigan leaves Ciaran at the projects and then drives away. He doesn’t return until late that night looking thin and exhausted.
Corrigan’s mysterious private life once more emerges as something that ultimately keeps Ciaran from his brother. Whatever is going on behind the scenes seems to be taking its toll on Corrigan’s health, as evidenced by his feeble appearance upon returning. And given his history of destructive behavior in the name of charity, Ciaran has reason to worry about how the Bronx might be affecting Corrigan.
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Several days later another monk from the Order arrives in the projects. He is clearly taken aback by the tough environment and is robbed by gunpoint in the elevator on 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 a toothache and he wants God to cure it,” he says. One day Jazzlyn sits in the monk’s lap and flirts with him, an event that sends him into immediate and fervent prayer followed by a torrent of tears. Corrigan asks around and is able to retrieve the monk’s stolen passport, and he drives him to the airport to leave New York once and for all.
The presence of a fellow monk doesn’t seem to please Corrigan very much, a testament to his autonomous religious lifestyle. This serves as yet another reminder that Corrigan has a very specific approach to believing in God, and this approach is perhaps why he is able to withstand the conditions of the Bronx, a feat that his fellow monk seems incapable of, as even a small amount of playful attention from Jazzlyn sends him into crisis. Much of Corrigan’s resilience, then, has to do with his unconventional way of practicing religion.
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Still struggling to accept 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 Ciaran finds out that Tillie is Jazzlyn’s mother. This appalls him, and he finally breaks down and yells at his brother, roundly criticizing his life and values, saying that he is only “placating his conscience” by pretending to help these lost souls. Corrigan does not yell back. He merely replies, “Just leave the door open,” before leaving the apartment.
The idea that Corrigan is just “placating his conscience” is a strong accusation because it undermines his values as a liberation theologian, a practice that uses Christian values to service oppressed populations. There is a hint of callous stereotyping in this accusation, as Ciaran clearly believes that Corrigan—a white man from the middle class—has no good reason to help impoverished black prostitutes.
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Ciaran runs outside after his brother has left. He passes a man teaching a dog to bite, and without wanting to, he thinks, “Nigger.” This thought is followed by the feeling that the Bronx will ruin him. He wonders how Corrigan can stand it.
Ciaran’s implicit bias and racism finally surfaces explicitly. Instead of facing the ugliness of these bitter feelings, though, he projects his scorn onto the environment by blaming his surroundings for his own hateful thoughts.
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When Corrigan comes home late that night, he is lethargic and his eyes lazily roll in their sockets. Ciaran’s bags are packed and he is ready to leave, but Corrigan sets to work taking the locks off the door. Ciaran watches his brother work, and when Corrigan rolls up his sleeve, Ciaran sees markings on his arm—he suddenly feels that things have become clear to him, and assumes that Corrigan is now a heroin user.
Brotherly worry reenters this complicated relationship, somewhat diverting Ciaran’s anger into a sober clarity regarding his brother’s life in the Bronx.
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For the most part, Ciaran is not surprised that his brother is using heroin. He figures that it is the same thing he did as a child when he used to drink with Dublin’s alcoholics; “If he couldn’t cure it, he took it on.” The next day, without much thought to it, Ciaran decides to stay.
Rather than resenting Corrigan, now Ciaran worries about him, and this gives him a reason to stay in the Bronx as a caretaker of sorts. Whereas before he was kept out of Corrigan’s private life, now he can view himself as essential to his brother’s wellbeing and, therefore, part of his life.
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Ciaran once again accompanies Corrigan as he drives the elderly around. In picking them up, he meets Adelita, a nurse at the home for whom Corrigan has an obvious affinity. Throughout the day Ciaran asks Corrigan questions about heroin, trying to gauge his brother’s response. Finally, at the end of the day, he asks Corrigan if he’s been using the drug. Astonished, Corrigan responds convincingly that he would never even go near the substance. What’s really been occupying him, he explains, is the fact that he has fallen in love with Adelita.
As a monk, Corrigan has taken vows of celibacy, so it is significant that he has fallen in love. The fact that he admits to this is another reminder that he approaches his faith uniquely, as most monks—like the one who briefly lived with Corrigan in the Bronx—would deny their feelings, thinking they could make them vanish by praying.
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It is evening when Corrigan parks the car and fills his brother in on the real story. It turns out that he has a rare blood condition known as TTP (Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura), which Adelita diagnosed him with. Corrigan had been helping move furniture into the nursing home when Adelita noticed that his arms were severely bruised. He had ignored these blotches because he had recently been beaten up by a pimp and had chalked up his injuries to the violence. But Adelita pushed her finger into a bruise and said, “You’ve got TTP,” a condition she knew about from studying to be a doctor at night. In Guatemala, her original home, she was a nurse and almost a doctor, but none of her credentials transferred when she moved to the United States. Corrigan takes her advice and has a doctor examine him and it turns out that she was right: he has TTP.
The fact that Ciaran assumed Corrigan’s bruises were from heroin use and never even considered the possibility that his brother is sick indicates just how far Ciaran thinks Corrigan is willing to go in order to inherit and ease other peoples’ pain. On another note, it is notable that Corrigan falls in love with Adelita, the woman who diagnoses him with this ailment. It is as if she represents imperfection, a notion Corrigan has been obsessed with even in regards to religion.
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Corrigan explains that the idea of being sick doesn’t bother him very much, though the initial experience threw him into a struggle with his faith. He felt as if he was losing God. In the nursing home one day Adelita started asking him about his treatment, and then she began rubbing the inside of his arm, saying how important it was to keep the blood flowing. Corrigan was overcome by her touch. He implored himself to rise above the pleasure, to act holy and to not succumb to romance’s temptation. But he let it happen, unable to resist. When he left, he drove aimlessly for hours on end until he reached Montauk, where he looked out at the ocean, hoping for some sort of revelation, which never came. Upon returning to the Bronx, Corrigan closed himself into his room, locked the door, and ignored the prostitutes’ knocks until, worrying that he had died, they summoned the police to break down his door.
In many ways, Corrigan’s love for Adelita takes on the same kind of fervor that he has previously thrown into religion, and this is what sends him into a crisis. Until this point, he has always recognized beauty as something that comes from the divine: beauty in faith, beauty even in doubt. Now, though, he experiences the beauty of love and the secular joys of attraction. This, of course, poses a threat to his previously established beliefs, and this—in conjunction with his sickness—is why he feels like he is losing God.
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Continuing his story, Corrigan tells Ciaran that Tillie, Jazzlyn, and Angie threw a “not-dead” party for him, which he decided to take “as a sign.” But then, to his own dismay, he found himself returning to the nursing home and asking Adelita to rub his arm again. While she rubbed his arm, he kissed her. After that, he started going to her house to visit her and her two kids. He frequently made up excuses to go—telling himself that he was going over to help the kids with their homework—but they refrained from sleeping together, since, after all, he was still in the Order and had taken a vow of celibacy, which Adelita respected.
After failing to have a revelation on the Montauk beach, it is significant that Corrigan allows himself to continue visiting Adelita. Although he makes feeble justifications for seeing her, it is clear that he is, for the first time in his life, not prioritizing his faith.
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Once Corrigan has unloaded this information about his love for Adelita, he feels somewhat freed. In the following days he goes to the nursing home as much as possible in order to visit her, and she starts coming to his apartment, where the two of them insist that Ciaran stay, as if his presence provides an appropriate separation between them so that they remain faithful to Corrigan’s vows. Corrigan is at once overjoyed and distraught, feeling ultimately that he has fallen from grace. Still, he can’t commit to either leaving the Order or leaving Adelita.
Suddenly Ciaran finds himself included in Corrigan’s private life. In fact, he is a necessary component to Corrigan’s ability to indulge his love for Adelita. This is a drastic change, as Ciaran is usually kept from his brother’s affairs, always made to guess at what might be going on. For once in his life, Corrigan is ideologically torn, and he needs his brother.
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Ciaran gets a job as a bartender in Queens. One night on his way home he sees Tillie underneath the expressway in the Bronx. She comes over to him, putting her arm through his and saying, “Whosoever brought me here is going to have to take me home,” which Ciaran recognizes as a line from the thirteenth century Persian poet Rumi. She sees his surprise and explains that her husband studied Persian poetry. Ciaran looks at her, astounded. She tells him to get himself together, saying that the man was actually her ex-husband. Suddenly, Ciaran finds himself wanting to kiss her. Just then, Tillie’s pimp pulls up in a car, and she tells him that Ciaran has already paid for her services. At this, they slink away and have sex.
In a strange, backward way, Ciaran’s night with Tillie signifies that he is finally opening up to the people around him in the Bronx. Rather than harshly judging the prostitutes, he (momentarily) joins in their lifestyle. It is more complicated than this, though, because by sleeping with Tillie he simultaneously ceases to judge her and exploits her. It is notable, too, that he only opens up to her after she impresses him with her intelligence; in order to overcome his various biases, Tillie must subvert the stereotype of an inner city prostitute.
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A police raid occurs 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 only make fun of him. Eventually they push him to the side and make him stand on the curb. On his way inside, Corrigan picks up a key ring that Jazzlyn dropped. It bears pictures of her two daughters. Ciaran tries to tell his brother that they will get the women later, but Corrigan shows him the key ring, saying that it is the reason they have to act now; Jazzlyn’s children have been left alone.
Corrigan’s characteristic concern for others is showcased in this scene, in which he goes to great lengths to help Jazzlyn and Tillie. The police officers’ indifference is worth noting too, as it is emblematic of the divide between the state-installed structures of power and the people they are meant to serve. That the officers laugh at Corrigan’s distress is evidence of their utter lack of empathy; they can’t even fathom why a white man would care so much about these prostitutes.
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Corrigan asks Ciaran to pick up the elderly patients from the nursing home while he goes downtown to the precinct where Jazzlyn and Tillie are being held because of an outstanding warrant for a robbery they committed together. Corrigan suggests that Ciaran take the elderly patients to the beach. Ciaran agrees and Corrigan leaves. It is then that Ciaran realizes that Corrigan took the van; he rents a different van and goes to pick up the residents.
In leaving Ciaran without the van, Corrigan seems to have tunnel vision in regards to helping Jazzlyn and Tillie, a fact that is in keeping with how he normally lives his life: when something is important to him, he chases it while ignoring all other concerns, whether practical or impractical.
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Adelita, who has her children with her, helps Ciaran take the elderly residents to the beach. Once they get there, Ciaran starts asking Adelita questions in an attempt to discern whether or not she cares as much about Corrigan as he cares about her. Offended by his questioning, she eventually reassures him that her love for his brother is genuine and that she respects him, making it clear that she would never force him to leave the Order and then subsequently leave him.
This is a strange moment in which Ciaran appears to be protecting Corrigan’s faith, something about which he is normally skeptical. By interrogating Adelita about her intentions, he proves that what he cares most about is his brother’s welfare rather than the specific way he leads his life.
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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 get into a car crash on the FDR Drive. A car rear-ends Corrigan’s van, sending it out of control. Jazzlyn flies through the windshield and is flung into the air, landing far from the van in a crumpled heap, instantly dead. Corrigan ends up smashed down under the steering wheel, his body pressing against the accelerator and the brake pedals at the same time. He is still breathing. The only belongings left behind—other than the van itself—are one of Jazzlyn’s yellow stilettos and a Bible that fell overtop it from the glove compartment. At first, the paramedics think Corrigan is dead and load him into a truck with Jazzlyn, but then he coughs a small bubble of blood and he is rushed to the hospital.
The image of Jazzlyn’s stiletto and Corrigan’s Bible represents the ways in which disparate lives—lives that might otherwise have nothing to do with one another—can crash fatefully together. The image is a juxtaposition of two value systems, two very different lives, and this discrepancy speaks to the fact that, in the end, everybody is headed in the same direction: death. And just as Corrigan and Jazzlyn’s lives end while their loved ones live on unknowingly, the van’s brake pedal depresses even as the accelerator continues to whine on and on.
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Unaware of the accident Corrigan and Jazzlyn have been in, Ciaran and Adelita finish their day at the beach. Ciaran drops everyone off and drives back to the projects. At two in the morning a knock sounds on the door, and a woman comes into the room with the news that Jazzlyn has been in a crash. Ciaran bounds out of the apartment and gets in the van, driving directly to Adelita’s, who brings her children along to the hospital.
Although Ciaran was suspicious of Adelita earlier in the day, now tragedy brings them together as they rush to the hospital. This is yet another moment in which two unsuspecting people are brought together, this time in the name of mutual love.
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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 Corrigan. He is trying to speak. He whispers that he’s seen something beautiful. Adelita leans down to him and Corrigan continues whispering to her. Ciaran asks what he’s saying, and she replies that it is nonsense. Blood bubbles at his mouth. Adelita says he’s hallucinating, says that he claims to have seen something beautiful. Ciaran asks if his brother wants a priest. Corrigan tries to lift his head. Weeping gently, Adelita touches him; “Oh,” she says, “his forehead’s cold. His forehead’s very cold.”
In the last moments of his brother’s life, Ciaran is once more left to guess what Corrigan is feeling and thinking. Nonetheless, he knows at least that his brother claims to have seen something beautiful, and although this statement is vague, it seems an appropriate summation of Corrigan’s life, a life that was devoted to finding beauty in even the most unexpected places and times.
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