Let the Great World Spin


Colum McCann

Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on Let the Great World Spin makes teaching easy.

The Tightrope Walker (Phillipe Petit)

A performance artist from France who, after years of training, sneaks to the top of the World Trade Center and walks across a tightrope strung between the north and south towers. Although this character remains… read analysis of The Tightrope Walker (Phillipe Petit)

John Andrew Corrigan (“Corrigan”)

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… read analysis of John Andrew Corrigan (“Corrigan”)

Ciaran Corrigan

Corrigan’s older brother. Less religiously-inclined than his younger sibling, he is often skeptical of Corrigan’s unshakeable trust in drunks and prostitutes. When he moves to New York City to escape the violence of the… read analysis of Ciaran Corrigan

Tillie Henderson

A prostitute living in the same building as Corrigan (whom she has a crush on) in the Bronx. Originally from Cleveland, she is a career prostitute, having begun when she was fifteen. She is remarkably… read analysis of Tillie Henderson

Jazzlyn Henderson

Tillie’s daughter, a beautiful young woman who seems to fascinate all who meet her. Like her mother, she becomes a prostitute at an early age. Jazzlyn also develops a serious heroin addiction, a habit… read analysis of Jazzlyn Henderson
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A nurse at a nursing home where Corrigan picks up elderly patients to give them time outside. She has three young children and is from Guatemala, where her husband died and where she trained to… read analysis of Adelita

Claire Soderberg

A wealthy woman living on the Upper East Side of New York City. She belongs to an informal group of mothers who have lost sons in the Vietnam War. The group meets frequently in each… read analysis of Claire Soderberg


A member of the support group for grieving mothers that Claire belongs to. She also lives in the same government housing project as Corrigan, Tillie, and Jazzlyn. Gloria grew up in the South… read analysis of Gloria

Lara Liveman

A painter from a wealthy family who until recently enjoyed moderate success in New York’s art scene. After several years of partying and experiencing the free love movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s… read analysis of Lara Liveman


Lara’s husband and driver of the car that hits Corrigan’s van. Having garnered attention and praise for his artwork, he is greatly motivated by recognition and praise. He is especially taken by drugs… read analysis of Blaine

Judge Solomon Soderberg

Claire’s husband and a judge in downtown Manhattan. He is well-respected in the legal community and is a relatively good judge despite his rather jaded, discouraged approach. He believes deeply in order and greatly… read analysis of Judge Solomon Soderberg

Sam Peters (“The Kid”)

An eighteen year-old computer hacker who works for a small company in California that builds file-sharing programs and that is also contracted by the United States Pentagon to perform various hacks. In order to settle… read analysis of Sam Peters (“The Kid”)
Minor Characters
Joshua Soderberg
Claire and Solomon’s son, who died in the Vietnam War, where he served as a computer operator tasked with tallying the names of dead soldiers.
A woman who belongs to the same support group for grieving mothers as Claire. On her way to Claire’s apartment on the Staten Island Ferry she sees the tightrope walker.
Another woman in Claire’s support group for grieving mothers. She is hostile toward Jacqueline, one of the other women in the group.
Yet another member of the support group for grieving mothers and the recipient of Janet’s impatience.
One of Jazzlyn’s daughters and Tillie’s granddaughters. She is raised by Gloria and eventually joins the Army.
One of Jazzlyn’s daughters and Tillie’s granddaughters. She is raised by Gloria, and as an adult she works for a nonprofit organization in Arkansas that helps people with tax preparation. She has a close relationship with Claire, visiting her on her deathbed long after the tightrope walk.
An Italian living in Arkansas who works for Doctors Without Borders. He meets Jaslyn on a plane ride to New York City and the two make a meaningful connection.
Claire’s nephew who stays in her apartment while she is sick. He is primarily interested in selling her apartment after she dies, and is rather unwelcoming of Jaslyn.
Fernando Yunqué Marcano
A fourteen year-old obsessed with photographing graffiti tags, especially those inside New York City’s subway system. He is credited as the photographer of a picture of the tightrope walker on the high wire included in the novel (though he is a fictional character).
A computer hacker working for the same company as The Kid. He does the majority of the talking when the group calls payphones around the World Trade Center.
The owner of the company that The Kid works for.
Another employee of the company that The Kid works for.
Sable Senatore
A twenty-nine year-old librarian living in New York City. She picks up one of the payphones near the Twin Towers that The Kid and the rest of the California hackers call during the tightrope walker’s performance. She politely and gracefully indulges The Kid’s obvious romantic interest in her.
A man who watches the tightrope walker and talks on the phone with the computer programmers.
One of the Bronx prostitutes who hangs out with Tillie and Jazzlyn.
Fernando Yunqué Marcano’s stepfather and boss at the barbershop.
Tillie’s first pimp in New York City.
Tillie’s second pimp in New York City. His name is derived from the fact that he tapes razor blades in his handkerchief. In a fight he takes out the handkerchief and makes a puzzle of his opponent’s face.
L.A. Rex
Tillie’s third pimp in New York City.
Tillie’s final pimp in New York City.
The owner of Judge Soderberg’s favorite restaurant.